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An Ode To Our Fright Master: John Landis

Written by Frank Acosta, August 6, 2016, at 4:10 a.m.


Comedy and horror go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly. Next time you see a scary movie in the theater, pay attention to the “pop-up, boo!” moments and study what happens next after people jump in their seats. They quietly laugh to one another. That’s because laughter is a sort of laughing mechanism in order to defuse tragic and horrible events. That’s why when you look up the video about the man who shot his dick in Arizona, all the men who are being interviewed have a little grin or straight up chuckle.

While there have been some great mash-up movies containing different genres, some directors manage to capture a perfect blend of comedy and horror. Please keep hands and feet inside at all times and remain seated as we pay An Ode to Our Fright Master:

John Landis, August 3, 1950

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Born in Chicago, Illinois as a baby, Landis was moved to Los Angeles, California at four months, so very much still a baby. He had a very normal childhood but at 17 he dropped out of high school to work in the mail boy at 20th Century Fox studios. Little by little, the man worked his way up one of the biggest corporate ladders in the world and eventually wrote and directed his debut.

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This story revolves around  a small town being terrorized by a prehistoric apeman who falls in love with a blind girl that thinks he’s a dog. While this to me personally is more of a comedy with a little horror sprinkled on it, it demonstrated how Landis didn’t take himself too seriously but still had the ability to entertain people.

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So when the movie bombed hard, he didn’t work for four years unfortunately cause Hollywood is the type of place where if you don’t turn back a minimum of one dollar profit, they’ll toss you out like tomorrow’s trash. So in 1977, he got another shot and directed The Kentucky Fried Movie which led to him being hired for National Lampoon’s Animal House and The Blues Brothers. Classic comedies in their own right. But in 1981, he wrote and directed perhaps one of the best werewolf movies ever made.

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Two American backpackers travel across London when they’re attacked by a werewolf. Jack dies in the ensuing attack while David survives but unfortunately with the mark of the wolf. This movie has it all, blood and guts, comedy gold, unforgettable scenes and the BEST werewolf transformation ever.

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Landis perceived the idea while on location in Yugoslavia while working on the film Kelly’s Heroes as a go-fer. They witnessed a gypsy funeral where the cadaver was being buried feet first wrapped in garlic so as to not rise from the grave. Once the script was completed he employed his good friend Rick Baker to head the special effects department to create the monsters and the werewolf.

Through trials and errors, disagreements between Landis and Baker, they managed to deliver an impressive feat, that the Academy Awards decided to recognize the makeup and industry technological contributions and awarded Baker with his first Oscar. So thanks to this amazing film, movies like Norbit and Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa can also be called Oscar nominated films.

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In 1983, The Twilight Zone was making it’s big screen debut and in doing so hired some of the most influential filmmakers to adapt or shall we say “remake”,  3 of the episodes and write one original one. John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante and George Miller. The remakes were improved vastly from the originals and Landis was tasked with directing the only original one: Time Out.

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It follows a very bitter angry bigot in a bar with his friends venting about the blacks, jews and asians. It is AMAZING that a movie rated PG managed to throw in two N-words in the mix. Before shit goes down, he exits the bar and suddenly, he is in nazi fucking Germany! As a jewish person no less! You get the gist of where and how this story unfolds and it wasn’t scary. In actuality the the last two segments were far scarier. But this is where reality took a dark, gruesome and horrifying turn of events. Actor Vic Morrow who played Bill the bigot, was tasked with carrying two Vietnamese children across a river while being chased by American soldiers. Landis yelled “Action!” and it began without a hitch.

He carried both children as shots rang out, fireballs erupted in the background, wind blowing furiously across and as he stopped for a minute on the river the helicopter came barreling down and decapitated Morrow and one of the children. The other child was crushed to death by one of the skids. Both children were being paid under the table in order to get around the child labor laws which did not allow children to work past a certain hour in the evening.

The filmmakers were sued and over the course of months, they were acquitted of the manslaughter charges that were brought to them. Spielberg broke off his friendship with Landis when it came to light of how little regard there was towards safety and how no movie is ever worth dying for. Can’t really Segway from a horrible incident story like this to Michael Jackson but I’ll try. See, the thing is that John Landis- you know what, fuck it.

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Michael Jackson loved Werewolf in London so much that he insisted the people responsible for that movie direct his next music video. It was a little song named Thriller.

michaeleatingpopcornIf you haven’t seen the video I’m sure you’ve seen the dance associated with it either performed by countless wedding dances, high school talent shows or prisoners. The video starts off with MJ and a girl running out of gas, he then proceeds her to ask her out which she says yes. Suddenly, he turns to some sort of “werecat” yelling to her to get away. Really bad timing in asking her out. Before he finally attacks her, we reveal MJ and a different girl watching this movie.

 

thriller-3She gets the fuck out of there because the guy up on the movie they’re watching who’s a werecat is her date for the night! He follows and the groovy bass begins dropping. We are then later introduced to the BEST zombie dancing moves this side of horror has ever seen. I mean those zombies in their past lives could have murderers and whatnot but GOT-DAMN can they move! If someone is planning on changing the face of zombie genre, look to this music video for inspiration.

 

So after this Landis continued to work on comedies and Tv shows but it wasn’t until 05-06 when he would return to horror when Masters of Horror premiered and he directed 2 films for them.

 

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So all in all what can we say about John Landis? Well, when he sets out to make a great comedy, he makes it a classic. When he sets out to make a horror movie, it’s regarded as one of the best. Of course there are setbacks in movies he’s made with those genres but what I am saying is he should pursue another personal project. One that has been stewing over in his head for years.  Whether it be comedy, horror, drama or any genre really, let’s hope that it will become a classic for the ages. So happy birthday, Mr. Landis cause without you, we would have never known that zombies all ever wanted to do, was entertain us.

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