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Home > Film

John Landis: life in the Twilight Zone

What the hell happened to John Landis's career? Obviously there was the little issue of two Vietnamese boys and a veteran actor being killed by a falling helicopter while filming Twilight Zone, but hey, the movie industry is full of risks, sometimes you've got to take the smooth with the horrible painful death of a botched stunt.

3 October 2003

Before the Twilight Zone accident, John Landis had made three bona fide cult classics - National Lampoon's Animal House, American Werewolf in London and The Blues Brothers, a film that at first appeared to be a costly flop, but eventually became an industry in itself and a clarion call for a thousand tribute bands to don a pork pie hat and murder the songs of Otis Redding.

National Lampoon's Animal House went on to spawn the whole frat movies with vital women soaping themselves in the showers genre (Including Party Animal, the Porkies trilogy and Screwballs) as well as a whole '£1 for three nights rental' shelf's worth of crappy comedies with National Lampoon's stuck before their name (latest release National Lampoon's Dorm Daze - 'It all started three days before Christmas Break with a prostitute and a large, french sausage'..)

So perhaps without realizing it, John Landisís secret evil was at work already. After the Twilight Zone he directed Into the Night, a decent enough comedy thriller with Jeff Goldblum as an insomniac who gets embroiled in a diamond theft with Michelle Pfeiffer, a camp Elvis impersonator and lots of Arab terrorists; Three Amigos (Comedy Rule 37, never give Martin Short more than a
cameo role in anything - The Big Picture = good, Three Fugitives = Angry shame); and Spies Like Us (theme tune by Paul McCartney, bought from WH Smith for 49 pence for some reason, with Hollywood Beyondís Colour of Money).

Already Landis seemed to be spiraling downwards faster than Chevy Chase signing the contract to appear in Cops and The Robbersons. Beverly Hills Cop 3, The Stupids, Blues Brothers 2000 (how cleansing it must be for John Goodman whenever he dives into the crystal clear waters of a Coen Brothers movie), all were stinkers where people who knew better, with the exception of Tom Arnold, flatulently retrod their way through things they had done in the

The film that started this run of bad luck for both director and audience must surely have been Oscar, one of Sylvester Stalloneís ill-thought out attempts at comedy, and less funny than Stop or My Mom Will Shoot.


Landis's retreads into past glories started sometime before that with Amazon Women on the Moon, not entirely his own work, it was nevertheless a return to the style and content of his break into Hollywood film, Kentucky Fried Movie.

Kentucky Fried Movie was the work of Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers who would go on to make the classic Airplane, and then continue the formula of spoofing genres with a decreasing number of laughs over the next twenty years. Their method, even now, remains marketing gold. You know that at some point in your life you will rent Hot Shots Part Deux or Jane Austenís Mafia because thereís not much else available and all the copies of Collateral Damage are out, and anyway, itís probably going to be pretty funny, then youíll sit their with your friends thinking as one "I reckoned it would be funnier than this."

But at the time of Kentucky Fried Movie, these men were plum full of ideas, not all of them funny, but if the comedy seemed to be failing, a bare-breasted lady would soon appear and shake her things.

Kentucky Fried Movie sits comfortably with Lemon Popsicle as the kind of movie that teenage boys would go ape for in the eighties; it required no attention span, was very loud, and in the early days of video rental, when contraband such as this was uncertificated, it was easier than getting into an X certificate movie if your voice hadn't broken and your face was still round with puppy fat.

Also Felix Silla, midget robot Twiki in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, appears without robot costume. Sadly he plays a crazy clown, so what his face truly looks like will remain a mystery for now, unless I can be bothered to search ebay for Dungeonmaster (1985).

Hang on, look, hereís his face


The centerpiece of this sketch movie is a Fistful of Yen, a parody of Enter the Dragon, though overlong, it has some great ludicrous sight gags and a charming Wizard of Oz ruby slipper ending (oops, forgot to put Spoiler before that). When the odd sketch doesnít work, it is of little consequence as another is right on its tail. Though this is no more than a frantically paced juvenile take on all manner of film genres, it works because of its unapologetic brash nature (much like Las Vegas - a symbol of all that is wrong with western society, but so pink and sugary you can't resist it, until you feel nauseous of course)

Henry Gibson's National Appeal on Behalf of the Dead, Donald Sutherlandís briefer than fleeting appearance as The Clumsy Waiter and George Lazenby getting to work in films again make Kentucky Fried Movie worth watching, that and the hint of nostalgia you'll feel for those years as a teenager when you thought life could only get better (idiot).

Amazon Women on the Moon came ten years later and was another sack of sketches, some very funny, some merely poor excuses for silicon enhanced nudity. The Zuckers and Abrahams had gone off to make their own fortunes, so the writing was the work of Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland who made their daily wages as top of the line TV hacks for the likes of Letterman and Johnny Carson. The director's chair was also occupied but not only John Landis, but Joe Dante, Carl Gottlieb, Peter Horton (the one who died in Thirtysomething I am told, but I missed that TV craze, it was no LA Law) and Robert K Weiss, the mastermind behind Weird Al Yankovic's videos for his punning pop parodies. The first problem with this movie is that the running joke just isn't funny enough.

Based on low grade late night US TV stations, we are continuously promised we will get to see the movie Amazon Women on the Moon uninterrupted, but heck, we get interrupted again with another advert for a silly thing. The next problem is that Amazon Women on the Moon (the film within the film) is meant to be a Z grade turkey, played straight as a die, unfortunately it just isn't as funny as a real terrible turkey, in particular Queen of Outer Space, the magnificent Zsa Zsa Gabor atrocity it is clearly based on.

This is not dissimilar to the Troma Syndrome. Troma attempt to make really terrible movies (Class of Nuke 'em High, Tromeo and Juliet etc), but the fact they are sniggering along with us means that all humour is made void.


The good news though is that there are some very funny sketches, and as it is unlikely this will be viewed on the big screen, at least until the National Film Theatre do a John Landis retrospective, you can fast forward to these moments. Son of the Invisible Man is a brilliantly rendered take on the Universal movies of the thirties, as is BB King's appeal for Blacks without soul and the follow up, Don No Soul Simpson, a soulless black singer rendering the already anaemic Tie A Yellow Ribbon bloodless.

Now isn't it time that we finally put ITVís The Sketch Show on a big screen where it belongs?

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