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John David Landis (born August 3, 1950) is an American film director, screenwriter, actor, and producer. He is known for his comedies and his music videos with singer Michael Jackson; Landis has also done many horror projects.

Early life and family

Landis was born in Chicagomarker, the son of Shirley Levine (née Magaziner) and Marshall David Landis, an interior decorator. He moved with his family to Los Angelesmarker at the age of four months.

Early career

His career began as a teenager, working as a mailboy at 20th Century Fox. His first noteworthy job in Hollywood was working as an assistant director during filming MGM's Kelly's Heroes in Yugoslavia in 1969. He replaced the film's original assistant director, who suffered from a nervous breakdown and was sent home by the producers. While filming he met actors Don Rickles and Donald Sutherland, both of whom he would later cast in his own films. Following this, Landis worked on many films made in Europe (especially in Italy and England), most notably, Once Upon a Time in the West, El Condor and A Town Called Bastard. Landis also worked as a stunt double. As Landis recalls:

After his experience working as a stunt double, he moved to London and worked as an uncredited co-writer for the film The Spy Who Loved Me.

Career as a director

Beginning of a career

In 1971, Landis returned to the US and made his feature debut as a director with Schlock. He was 21 years old. The film, which he also wrote and appeared in, is a tribute to monster movies. The gorilla suit for the film was made by Rick Baker and this would be the beginning of a long-term collaboration between Landis and Baker.

Schlock was a failure, and Landis was not offered another directing job for some time. In his own words, he "parked a lot of cars" during this fallow period.

In 1977, Landis directed Kentucky Fried Movie. The film was inspired by the satirical sketch comedy of shows like Monty Python, Free the Army, The National Lampoon Radio Hour and Saturday Night Live.

Transition to Hollywood

A still from American Werewolf.
In 1978, Landis directed his first film for Universal Studios, the critically and financially successful National Lampoon's Animal House. This created new possibilities for Landis's career under Universal's umbrella.

In 1980, Landis co-wrote and directed The Blues Brothers, a comedy starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. It features musical numbers by R&B and soul legends James Brown, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker. It was at the time one of the most expensive films ever made (cost: almost $30 million) (for comparison: the earlier Steven Spielberg's contemporary 1941 cost $35 million). Some believe that Spielberg and Landis engaged in a rivalry, the goal of which was to make the more expensive movie. The rivalry might have been a friendly one, as Spielberg makes a cameo appearance in Blues Brothers.

In 1981 Landis wrote and directed another cult-status movie, the comedy-horror An American Werewolf in London. American Werewolf was perhaps Landis' most personal project, a film which he had been planning to make since 1969, while in Yugoslavia. Landis directed the opening teaser and first segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1983.

Accident and trial
On July 23, 1982 during the filming of Twilight Zone, actor Vic Morrow and child extras Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen were killed in an accident involving an out of control helicopter. The National Transportation Safety Board reported in October 1984:

Landis and several crew members were subsequently charged with involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. The prosecutors attempted to show that Landis was reckless and had violated laws relating to child actors by not telling parents and others of the children's proximity to explosives and helicopters and of limitations on their working hours. Numerous members of the film crew testified that the director was warned, but ignored these dangers. After an extended jury trial, Landis, represented by famed Nashvillemarker attorney James F. Neal, and the other crew members on trial were acquitted of the charges. Landis was later reprimanded for circumventing the State of California's child labor laws in hiring the two children killed in the accident. This tragedy resulted in stricter safety measures and enforcement of child labor laws, in the State of California. The parents of the children sued, and would later settle out of court for $2 million per family. Vic Morrow's daughters, Carrie Morrow and actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, similarly pursued a lawsuit that settled for an undisclosed amount purportedly in the $800,000 range.

In regard to the accident John Landis (during interviews with Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan) has said:

Later career

Trading Places, a Prince and the Pauper-style comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy was filmed directly after the Twilight Zone accident. Right after filming ended, Landis and his family were living in London when he was approached by Michael Jackson to make a video for his song, "Thriller". "Thriller" forever changed MTV and the concept of music videos; it has won many awards, including the Video Vanguard Award for The Greatest Video in the History of the World. In 2009, Landis sued Jackson in a dispute over royalties for the video; he claims to be owed four years worth of royalties.

Next, Landis directed Into The Night, starring Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer and David Bowie (film was stylized to Hitchcock productions; Landis played in this film mute member of the quartet of Iranian hitmen). To promote this movie, he collaborated with Jeff Okun to direct a documentary film called B.B. King "Into the Night". Landis directed music videos for three of King's songs as part of the film:"Lucille", "Into the Night" (specially composed by Ira Newborn for movie Into the Night) and In the Midnight Hour.

His next film, Spies Like Us, (starring co-writer Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase) was an homage to the Road to... films, starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Hope made a cameo in the film as himself. The movie also pays homage to spy movies such as the James Bond series; the crew included special effects makers Ray Harryhausen and Derek Meddings, both of whom had worked on Bond movies. Landis also directed a video for Paul McCartney as part of the promotion for Spies Like Us.

In 1986 Landis directed ¡Three Amigos! for HBO. The film starred Chevy Chase, Martin Short and Steve Martin. Landis was the second choice to direct; Steven Spielberg had refused. The film was a tribute to old Mexican style westerns and musical movies. Randy Newman wrote three original songs for the film, and the film was shot in Technicolor to make it look like older Westerns.

Landis then directed Coming to America, starring Eddie Murphy. This film was a huge commercial success. It was also the subject of Buchwald v. Paramount, a civil suit filed by Art Buchwald in 1990 against the film's producers. Buchwald claimed that the concept for the film had been stolen from a 1982 script that Paramount optioned from Buchwald. Buchwald won the breach of contract action.

In 1991, Landis collaborated again with Michael Jackson on the music video for the song "Black or White". In the same year, he directed Sylvester Stallone in a title role in Oscar. Based on Claude Magnier stage play, it's not a remake of the 1967 film of the same name. Oscar recreates a 1930 era film, including the gestures along with bit acts and with some slapstick, and was a homage to old Hollywood films.

In 1992 he directed Innocent Blood, a horror-crime film. The film stars Anne Parillaud as a vampire who finds herself against a blood-sucking legion of mobsters after biting a notorious crime boss played by Robert Loggia.

In 1994 Landis directed Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop III. They had previously worked together on Trading Places and Coming to America. It is the third film in the Beverly Hills Cop series. In 1996, he directed The Stupids.

Landis returned to Universal to direct Blues Brothers 2000. Next, he directed the Elmore Leonard-style Susan's Plan (with Nastassja Kinski); both in 1998.

Upcoming projects

Burke and Hare

Landis is due to direct this film based on the true story about the famous body-snatchers Burke and Hare. The film follows the hapless exploits of these two Ulster men as they fall into the highly profitable business of providing cadavers for the medical fraternity in 19th-century Edinburgh, then the centre of medical learning. The one thing they were short of was bodies. The film is set to star Simon Pegg as William Burke . David Tennant will reportedly also star.

It will be filmed on location in Edinburghmarker, Londonmarker and at Ealing Studiosmarker.

In 2009, Landis said that his love of British films has lured him back to Britain to make new film.

The script is written by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft, who previously wrote St. Trinian's, also for Ealing, which was the highest grossing British independent film of the last 10 years. The film will be produced by Barnaby Thompson and Executive Produced by James Spring.

During an interview with Larry King, John Landis said that he is now in London preparing his next project.

Some Guy Who Kills People

Landis is set to produce the crime thriller Some Guy Who Kills People, written by Ryan Levin and directed by Jack Perez. Filming is expected to begin in January 2010.


Landis always was fascinated by television. He directed Kentucky Fried Movie, which is a tribute to television. Later he co-directed Amazon Women on the Moon along the same vein. Landis has also been active in television as the executive producer (and often director) of the series Dream On (1990), Weird Science (1994), Sliders (1995), Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show (1997), Campus Cops (1995) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1998), and Masters of Horror. He made also commercials for DirecTV, Taco Bell, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg's, and Disney).


His first documentary, Coming Soon from 1982, was released only on VHS. Next, he co-directed B.B. King "Into the Night" (1985) and in 2002 directed Where Are They Now?: A Delta Alumni Update, which can be seen as a part of the Animal House DVD extras. Initially, his documentaries were only made to promote his feature films. However, later in his career, he became more serious about the oeuvre and made Slasher (2004), Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (2007) and the upcoming Starz Inside: Ladies or Gentlemen (2009). All of these documentaries were filmed for television; Landis won a 2008 Emmy Award for Mr. Warmth.

Personal life

Landis is married to Deborah Nadoolman Landis, an Oscar-nominated costume designer (who is President of the Costume Designers Guild), with whom he has two children: Max (with whom Landis co-wrote Deer Woman screenplay) and Rachel. Landis often thanks them during closing credits of his films.

Landis' favorite book is Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, which he has wanted to adapt into a film for several years.

Style and techniques

Recurring motifs

See You Next Wednesday

One of Landis' trademarks is to insert references to a fictional film called See You Next Wednesday in movies he directs. The line is from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey as the final goodbye from Frank Poole's parents on the video from them he is watching. The line is also mentioned in the opening scene for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" when the police decode a message from Jackson's werewolf character.

When in Hollywood, Visit Universal Studios. Ask for Babs

This is an advertisement for the tour at Universal Studios, from John Landis movies made for Universal. This is also referring (shown at the end of the credits) to the character, Babs, from the movie National Lampoon's Animal House. When in Hollywood.. is showing at the end of the credits, and it consists of three blue cards, the first saying "Universal Studios -- The Entertainment Center of the World", the second saying "When in Hollywood Visit Universal Studios", and the last adding "Ask for Babs". The new version of this advertisement, which appeared in Blues Brothers 2000 (first film directed by Landis for Universal since Amazon Woman on the Moon) includes only one card: "Universal Studios - Hollywood and Florida. See the stars and ride the movies (ask for Babs)". Patrons who "asked for Babs," were once given a certain degree of reward, any promo has long since been discontinued, save a simple smile or acknowledgment from a park staffer. In one DVD release of Animal House there was a Where are They Now? mockumentary which featured, among others, Martha Smith (who played Babs) indeed working the rounds as a tour guide at Universal Studios in Hollywood.

Closing credits

Landis's films often feature a montage either before or during the end credits. These montages show clips or outtakes from the movie, with the names of the featured actors at the bottom of the screen.This device was first used in Animal House, but does not feature in Schlock, The Kentucky Fried Movie, American Werewolf in London, Three Amigos or Beverly Hills Cop III. The montages for Spies like Us and Innocent Blood also contain jokes.

Directors cameos

Landis casts famous film directors in cameo appearances in almost all of his movies (Spies Like Us has several in one memorable scene). He frequently invited director Frank Oz to play small parts in his movies. Other well-known directors also asked by Landis were: Roger Vadim, Paul Mazursky, Jim Henson, Jonathan Demme and David Cronenberg in Into the Night; Terry Gilliam, Joel Coen, Michael Apted in Spies Like Us, Sam Raimi in Spies Like Us and Innocent Blood; Steven Spielberg in Blues Brothers.

Break the fourth wall

Several of Landis' films break the fourth wall. In Animal House, Bluto turns to the camera and raises an eyebrow while peeking through the window of a sorority house. In Trading Places, Billy Ray Valentine shares a glance with the audience while being patronized by the Duke brothers' explanation of commodities markets. In An American Werewolf in London, David stares for a moment into the camera during his first transformation. In Coming to America, Prince Akeem raises his eyes to look at the camera after seeing his new bride make animal sounds at his request. Later in that same movie, Daryl looks up at the camera in surprise as Patrice starts to unzip him after he comes in from the rain. And also Michael Jackson's infamous yellow eyes looking back at the camera at the end of his Thriller music video.

Oldsmobiles and car crashes

Many of his films feature references to the Oldsmobile. It appeared in: Animal House (Mayor Carmine DePasto owns an Oldsmobile dealership and allows his vehicles to be used during the parade), Trading Places (Duke&Duke limousine), Thriller (Jackson's car), Twilight Zone (during Prologue), Into The Night (Dianas' brother's car), Blues Brothers (while driving through the mall, Elwood said: "The new Oldsmobiles are in early this year"), Three Amigos (during scenes in Santo Poco) and Oscar.

In many Landis movies, there are also cars crashes, for example: during final sequence in Animal House; in many scenes in Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000; during final sequence happening near to Piccadilly Circusmarker in American Werewolf; during opening sequence in Into The Night (while crew's credits are showing), during final sequence in Innocent Blood (when Macelli was run down by bus and taxi) and during one scene in The Stupids (cars crashes due to Mrs. Stupid).

References to old movies playing on television

In many scenes in John Landis movies, actors do something while we see movies/cartoons playing on television or listen the sound from TV set (which is commentary for actors' actions during scenes). That was in: television version of Trading Places (Clarence Beeks drugs a security guard and steals the crop report while Sunset Boulevard is showing); in Into the Night in Hamid's apartment (movie Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein is playing while Ed is looking for Diana and later, when Mr. Morris fighting with Mr. Williams). In Spies Like Us Emmit Fitzhume (Chevy Chase) watching musical She's Working Her Way Through College (from 1952, starring Ronald Reagan), and later during press conferention the clips from this movie are showing on TV. In Innocent Blood in several scenes, f.e. Phantom of the Rue Morgue (from 1954) is showing on television during the morgue scenes (with Macielli). Separately situations are from American Werewolf, and they happening in Cinema, where is showing pornographic movie while policeman is going through the scene.

Image of King Kong

Landis created several characters with similarities to King Kong in his films (including Schlock - the title hero; in Kentucky Fried Movie - animal showing during TV's show; in An American Werewolf in London in ZOO; in Trading Places in train during New Year's Eve) or inserted images of gorillas in his films as part of production designs: in Blues Brothers on promotional poster of fictional movie called See You Next Wednesday (the same situation in The Stupids) and on the poster in Three Amigos (shows as one of adverisement of Goldsmith Studios), in Innocent Blood we may see monkey from movie playing on television; in Blues Brothers 2000 appearing as a huge gorilla's figure in Queen Mousette's House.


According to the Internet Movie Database, John Landis has won or been nominated for the following awards:


Awards won:
  • Schlock won the Best Film award during Fantafestival
  • Into the Night won the Special Jury Prize at the Cognac Festival du Film Policier
  • "Dream On" won a CableACE Award in the Comedy Series in 1992
  • Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project won in the "Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special" category at the Emmy Awards

Landis was honoured by:
  • Frenchmarker government in 1985 (Chevalier dans l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres)
  • Rimini Cinema Festival in Italymarker (Federico Fellini Prize)
  • The Eastman House in Rochester, New Yorkmarker (named a George Eastman Scholar)
  • Sitges Film Festival in Spainmarker (Time Machine Career Achievement Award)

Significant collaborations


With Dan Aykroyd
Aykroyd wrote the original script for the movie The Blues Brothers, which at 324 pages was three times longer than a standard screenplay. Landis was given the task of editing the script into a usable screenplay, and the film was realised in 1980 as a musical comedy and was a huge commercial success. Aykroyd then starred (along with Murphy) in Trading Places. In the same year (1983) he appeared in Twilight Zone: The Movie. Two years later he made a cameo in Into the Night and B.B. King "Into the Night" (as one of B.B. King's band members) and starred in (as well as co-wrote) Spies Like Us. This would be Aykroyd's last role in a Landis film until 1998.

With Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy first collaborated with Landis during Trading Places. Murphy later became a frequent director's collaborator, who appeared also in Coming to America and Beverly Hills Cop III. Murphy made a cameo in Landis's two videos for B.B. King: In the Midnight Hour and My Lucille in which he played band's member as drummer.

With Michael Jackson
When Landis and his family were living in London he was approached by Michael Jackson to make a video for his song, "Thriller". "Thriller" forever changed MTV and the concept of music videos; it has won many awards. In 2009, Landis sued Jackson in a dispute over royalties for the video; he claims to be owed four years worth of royalties.. In 1992 Landis directed a second video for Jackson, "Black or White", in which Landis appeared as himself.

During interview with Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan Landis said:

With Frank Oz
Landis has cast Oz in small roles in several of his movies. Oz played a corrections officer in Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000. He also had roles in An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places, Spies Like Us, and Innocent Blood. Even if he's not appeared in a Landis movie, his name is often spoken in the background. During airport scenes in Into the Night and Coming to America, there are announcements on the PA system requesting a 'Mr. Frank Oznowicz' to pick up the white courtesy phone. Oznowicz is Oz's given name. During interview with Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan, Frank Oz said:


With Deborah Nadoolman Landis
Throughout his career, Landis has utilized his wife, Deborah Nadoolman Landis, as a costume designer. She created such costumes as Bluto's toga in Animal House; black suits, hats and glasses for the Blues Brothers; Michael Jackson's red jacket in Thriller; sheepskin jackets for Spies Like Us; the protagonists' costumes in ¡Three Amigos!; and Prince Akeem's coronation outfit in Coming to America. Deborah Nadoolman was nominated for an Academy Award in 1988 for Coming to America.

With Rick Baker
Richard Baker is an Academy Award-winning special makeup effects artist known for his realistic creature effects. Baker worked with Landis for the first time during Schlock. Baker also created special makeup effects for Landis' An American Werewolf in London (for which he won the Academy Award), Twilight Zone: The Movie, Thriller, and Coming to America (which garnered him an Academy Award nomination). Baker also appeared in Into the Night as a drug dealer.

With George Folsey Jr.
George Folsey is a producer and editor. He edited or co-edited six Landis' films: all productions from Schlock (1973) to The Blues Brothers (1980), Thriller and Coming to America. Folsey produced eleven films directed or co-directed by Landis (Schlock, The Blues Brothers, all films from An American Werewolf in London to Coming to America). He was also second unit director collaborated with Landis during his Trading Places, Into the Night and ¡Three Amigos!.

With Leslie Belzberg
Leslie Belzberg is a film and television producer. He produced ten films directed by Landis (all Landis' films from Into the Night to Susans Plan) and four TV series in which Landis participated (including The Lost World and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show). Belzberg was George Folsey's assistant during filming Trading Places, he also was Blues Brothers 2000 executive music producer. He won - along with Landis - CableACE Awards for Dream on series and appeared in The Making of "Blues Brothers 2000" as himself.

With Elmer Bernstein
Bernstein composed music for eight of Landis' movies: National Lampoon's Animal House, Blues Brothers, An AmericanWerewolf in London, Trading Places, Thriller, Spies Like Us, ¡Three Amigos! and Oscar.

With Robert Paynter
Landis worked with cinematographer Robert Paynter on five films: An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places, Thriller, Into the Night and Spies Like Us. Paynter helped to create a "pop" comic book-style of American Werewolf, Thriller and Into the Night. He also made a cameo in Into the Night (as Security Guard) and Spies like Us (as Dr. Gill).



Directed by Landis:

Co-directed by Landis:

Documentary films

For Video/DVD: For Television: Co-directed by Landis:

Music Videos

Shorts films for Michael Jackson: For B.B. King (from film B.B. King "Into the Night" ): For Paul McCartney:

Television episodes

Other works

Books about John Landis

  • Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan (2008). "John Landis". M Press. ISBN 1595820418


External links

About John Landis


About Twillight Zone accident

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