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Reminder: John Landis Is Terrible

By Dustin Rowles | Celebrity | April 28, 2020 |

By Dustin Rowles | Celebrity | April 28, 2020 |


(The following is being republished because of interest generated by Shudder’s Cursed Films, and specifically a recent episode on the Twilight Zone deaths.)

People have been saying for years that the only reason that Max Landis — accused of emotional and sexual abuse by eight women yesterday and dropped by his management today — even had a career, to begin with, was because of his last name. Max is the son of John Landis, best known for directing a string of successful movies in the late ’70s and early ’80s, including American Werewolf in London, Animal House, Blues Brothers, Trading Places, and ¡Three Amigos!, among others, before his career faded into oblivion long before Max Landis began steady work. While I’m sure that Max Landis’ last name got him in the door, I’m not entirely sure that his father had enough pull left in Hollywood to get Max steady work. By the time that Max had written Chronicle, John was four years removed from directing an episode of Psych. The reality is, in the social media era, it’d be almost impossible for John Landis to work, because 35 years after the Twilight Zone movie, it’s the only thing people talk about online when the name of John Landis comes up.

Go ahead: Try and find an interview or a profile of Landis from the last decade, check the comments, and see how many times Twilight Zone was mentioned (often gruesome). In fact, go to Reddit, and see how many times it is mentioned in the context of Max Landis, so much so that a few years ago, Max Landis lashed out at Redditors:

Occasionally, just occasionally these days, the internet still makes me a little sick to my stomach. The fact that this accident, which claimed 3 lives and gave my father PTSD for my entire time of knowing him (I was born in 1985), is repeatedly retold with apocryphal elements and only cursory mention that there was a huge, well-prosecuted trial that ended in an ACQUITTAL based on YOU KNOW IT BEING AN ACTUAL FLUKE ACCIDENT and that being unequivocably proven in court is horrifying to me.

To be honest, Max Landis defending his father because of an acquittal is like O.J. Simpson’s kid saying that he didn’t murder their mother because a jury said so. There is nothing unequivocal about it. Yes, the incident overseen by John Landis on the set of a Twilight Zone: The Movie that resulted in three deaths was an “accident,” but it was hardly a “fluke.” John Landis’ reckless disregard for the welfare of children, refusal to abide by child labor laws, and his carelessness in planning for a stunt created the perfect storm of conditions for the accident.

In 1982, John Landis ignored child labor laws and hired a six and seven-year-old to work on a stunt scene involving helicopters and explosives that filmed around midnight. He didn’t ask for permission because he knew that permission would not be granted for two young children to work in the middle of the night around a bunch of explosives. In fact, he left casting agents out of the loop and asked the parents of the young children not to inform firefighters of their presence, and he hid the children from the fire safety officer. The parents of the children were reportedly never told there would be helicopters involved before Landis shot the scene.

The scene was dangerous to begin with, even without the presence of kids. It was so dangerous, in fact, that the last words Vic Morrow (the father of Jennifer Jason Leigh) said before the accident was, “I’ve got to be crazy to do this shot. I should’ve asked for a double.”

The scene involved lowering a helicopter over Vic Morrow and the two child actors, who were wading through a river. Explosive effects were designed to go off near the helicopter. How anyone could look at this situation and not believe it put the actors in extreme danger is beyond me, but — according to the mother of one of the child actors — Landis was yelling, “Lower! Lower!” to the helicopter pilot, who was apparently inexperienced and already skittish about this stunt. What happened next may have been an accident, but was a foreseeable one: An explosive went off, blew the tail rotor off the helicopter. The helicopter went into a tailspin. The helicopter blades decapitated Vic Morrow and one of the child actors, while the helicopter itself crushed the other child actor. All three died instantaneously.

Landis and the stunt coordinator were charged but ultimately acquitted of manslaughter. However, the families were awarded millions of dollars in separate civil lawsuits. Landis has never, so far as I have seen, sufficiently apologized for the incident and expressed appropriate remorse.

In fact, film critic Walter Chaw dug up this account on John Landis from Eddie Murphy in a Playboy interview many years ago, which essentially illustrates that not only was Landis not remorseful, he was hostile toward Eddie Murphy for not testifying in his defense during The Twilight Zone trial.

Here are a few select passages (and Murphy, obviously, has his own problematic issues):

PLAYBOY: You could have directed Coming to America but didn’t. Why?

MURPHY: I wanted to help out [the director, John] Landis. I figured I’d give this guy a shot because his career was fucked. But he wound up fucking me.

PLAYBOY: What happened?

MURPHY: As it turned out, John always resented that I hadn’t gone to his Twilight Zone trial. I never knew that; I thought we were cool. But he’d been harboring it for a year. Every now and then, he would make little remarks, like, “You didn’t help me out; you don’t realize how close I was to going to jail.” I never paid any mind.

PLAYBOY: Did you think he was guilty?

MURPHY: I don’t want to say who was guilty or who was innocent. [Pauses] But if you’re directing a movie and two kids get their heads chopped off at fucking twelve o’clock at night when there ain’t supposed to be kids working, and you said, “Action!” then you have some sort of responsibility. So my principles wouldn’t let me go down there and sit in court. That’s just the way I am. If somebody in my family was guilty of something, I wouldn’t sit there for them in a courtroom and say, “You’ve got my support.” Fuck that. The most it would be is, “Hey, you go work that out. I still love ya; I’m still your friend.”

Murphy talks about how he threw his weight around and got Landis hired, because he felt bad that Landis’ career was in the sh*tter after the Twilight Zone deaths.

PLAYBOY: Was he grateful?

MURPHY: He came in demanding lots of money. Paramount was saying, “Hey, come on, Eddie, we’re getting fucked here,” but I made them pay his money. They bent over backward. But after he got the job, he brought along an attitude. He came in with this “I’m a director” shit. I was thinking, Wait a second, I fucking hired you, and now you’re running around, going, “You have to remember: I’m the boss, I’m the director.”

One of his favorite things was to tell me, “When I worked with Michael Jackson, everyone was afraid of Michael, but I’m the only one who would tell Michael, ‘Fuck you.’ And I’m not afraid to tell you, ‘Fuck you.’” And sure enough, he was always telling me, “Fuck you, Eddie. Everybody at Paramount is afraid of you.”

The situation didn’t improve.

PLAYBOY: Did you confront him?

MURPHY: I kind of ignored it. But every day, it was a new “I told Michael, ‘Fuck you’” story.

Then, one day, I had these two writers who did the screenplay for Coming to America with me. They were writing a TV show called What’s Alan Watching? that my company was producing. They were at our location in New York, and Landis was asking them, “Why are you guys here?” They said, “We’re working on something for Eddie.” And he said [strongly], “The production’s not picking that up.” And they said, “No, we’re working through Eddie’s company. Right now, we’re waiting for the deal to go through.” And Landis said, “So you’re not being paid yet? That company should be paying you! Don’t come to New York unless you’re being paid.”

The whole crew was standing around—extras and actors—and Landis started screaming. “Don’t be afraid to ask Eddie Murphy for his money. You go up and ask for your fucking money!” I walked in and he said, “Eddie! Your company is fucking these guys out of their money! Guys, don’t be afraid to go up to Eddie and say, ‘Fuck you!’” He’s screaming about my deal making in front of the cast.

PLAYBOY: What did you do?

MURPHY: I playfully grabbed him around the throat, put my arm around him and I said to Fruity, one of my guys, “What happens when people put my business in the street?” And Fruity said, “they get fucked up.” I was kind of half joking. Landis reached down to grab my balls, like he also thought it was a joke—and I cut his wind off. He fell down, his face turned red, his eyes watered up like a bitch and he ran off the set. Fuckin’ punk.

PLAYBOY: Did you go after him?

MURPHY: Nah. He came to my trailer later and made this big speech. His voice was trembling. And it all came out: that he didn’t think I was talented, that the only reason he did Coming to America was for money, that he didn’t respect me since I hadn’t gone to his trial and all this bullshit. All this fucked-up shit. Called me ignorant, an asshole.

PLAYBOY: How did you take it?

MURPHY: I’m sitting there shattered; I’m thinking, This fucking guy. I bent over fucking backward to get this guy a job. He probably won’t even acknowledge what happened. He didn’t realize that his fucking career was washed up. So I told him, “The next time you fuck around with me, I’m gonna whip your ass.” His Hollywood shit came out then: “What do you mean, ‘whip my ass’? That’s not in our deal.” So I said, “You’re gonna have to give me either some fear or some respect. I want one of them, because this is my shit and you’re working here. If the only way you can fear me is knowing that the next time you fuck up, you’re gonna get your ass whipped, fine.” But Landis was fucked up: “Is that a net or a true-gross ass whipping I’m gonna get? What kind of ass whipping is it?”

PLAYBOY: Would you have whipped his ass?

MURPHY: If he had fucked up again, I would have beat the shit out of him.

And Murphy follows up on it, saying that he was going to be charged with assault, he’d get his money’s worth. “If it had come to that—me whipping his ass—there wouldn’t have been some headline like “EDDIE MURPHY PUNCHES JOHN LANDIS IN THE FACE.” I’d have beat the shit out of him, put him in the fucking hospital, almost killed him. Then, when the headline read “EDDIE BEING SUED FOR ASSAULT,” I’d have said [humbly], “Yeah, I did give him a horrible ass whipping; he deserves some sort of compensation because I did beat the shit out of him.”


In short, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Assholes beget assholes.

Sources: Walter Chaw, Wikipedia, Lipstick Alley, Reddit

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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