John David Landis (born August 3, 1950) is an American movie actor, director, writer and producer. Although he is mostly known for his influential comedies and his music videos with Michael Jackson, Landis has also done many horror related projects. He played a mechanic in Death Race 2000.
Landis was born in Chicago, the son of Shirley Levine (née Magaziner) and Marshall David Landis, an interior decorator. He moved with his family to Los Angeles at the age of four months. His stepfather was Walter Levine.
His career began as a teenager, working as a mailboy at 20th Century Fox. He starred in Schlock (film) (1976), which he also wrote and directed, and also directed The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) and National Lampoon's Animal House (1978). In 1980, Landis directed The Blues Brothers (which he co-wrote with Dan Aykroyd) and then An American Werewolf in London, which he also wrote, in 1981. American Werewolf was perhaps Landis's most personal project, a film which he had been planning to make since 1969. Landis also directed the opening teaser and first segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). An accident involving a helicopter during the filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie killed actor Vic Morrow and two child actors. Landis was brought up on manslaughter charges because of the accident but was acquitted. That same year saw another Landis-directed film, the Prince and the Pauper style comedy Trading Places, which starred Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy.
Landis also directed the classic Michael Jackson music videos "Thriller" and "Black or White (song)".
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.
For the films he directed for Universal Pictures (Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London), there is the famous "Ask for Babs" promo (referring to the character, Babs, in Animal House) for Universal Studios Hollywood, shown at the end of the credits (while 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.
Music is a running theme in all of Landis' films. The films' soundtracks have been used for ironic purposes in American Werewolf and the prologue of Twilight Zone. Recurring artists include Sam Cooke and Creedence Clearwater Revival. The instrumental piece "The Girl from Ipanema" also shows up in a number of Landis' films, including The Blues Brothers, Amazon Women on the Moon, and Into the Night (film).
Many of his films feature references to the Oldsmobile. Landis casts famous film directors in cameo appearances in almost all of his movies (Spies Like Us has several in one memorable scene).
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.
The end of Landis' films often feature a credit montage featuring footage of the actors with their names at the bottom. These most often are either outtakes or clips from the film.
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.
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. 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 Nashville 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 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.
Films and television episodes directed by LandisEdit
- Ghoulishly Yours, William M. Gaines (TBA)
- Show Dogs (film) (TBA)
- Bat Boy the Musical (canceled)
- Epic Proportions (2008) (pre-production)
- Fear Itself (2008) TV Series (Episode "In Sickness and In Health")
- Gone (film) (2007) (announced)
- Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (2007)
- "Scary Sherry: Bianca's Toast" (2007)
- "American Duos" (2007)
- Masters of Horror
- "Family (Masters of Horror episode)" (2006)
- "Deer Woman (Masters of Horror episode)" (2005)
- Slasher (film) (2004)
- Susan's Plan (1998)
- Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)
- The Stupids (film) (1996)
- Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)
- Innocent Blood (film) (1992)
- "Black or White (song)" (1991)
- Oscar (1991 film) (1991)
- Coming to America (1988)
- Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)
- ¡Three Amigos! (1986)
- Spies Like Us (1985)
- Disaster at Buzz Creek (1985)
- Into the Night (film) (1985)
- "Thriller (music video)|Thriller" (1983)
- Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
- Trading Places (1983)
- Coming Soon (John Landis film) (1982)
- An American Werewolf in London (1981)
- The Blues Brothers (1980)
- National Lampoon's Animal House (1978)
- The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)
- Schlock (film) (1976)