Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
In my mind, I created the AICN Legends columns so I'd have a place for people like John Landis to talk at length about their careers. I'm in no way slighting the many very fun subjects I'd had the honor of talking to and including in this column, but the films of John Landis (all R-rated, I believe) were not only deviant and fun to watch when I was growing up, but, along with the works of Harold Ramis and later John Hughes, they were major components in the development of my sense of humor.
Landis' entry into cinema began long before his first feature as a director, the very funny low-budget 1973 film SCHLOCK, featuring Landis in a missing-link costume designed by frequent and recent Oscar winner Rick Baker, who went on to essentially invent werewolf-transformation technology for AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year), turned Michael Jackson into a werewolf for his "Thriller" video, and turned Eddie Murphy into an old Jewish man for COMING TO AMERICA--all three directed by Landis. But prior to SCHLOCK, Landis had an array of lower-level jobs (mail room, gopher, etc.) for studios and production companies in America and Europe. For a time, he was a stunt man for the likes of Sergio Leone, and eventually moved into second-unit/assistant directing work on KELLY'S HEROES in 1970.
Landis doesn't believe he's ever made a great movie, but he admits many of his films have been a big influence on today's major comedy filmmakers and performers, including the sketch comedy feature THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, ANIMAL HOUSE, THE BLUES BROTHERS, TRADING PLACES, SPIES LIKE US, ¡THREE AMIGOS!, and segments of AMAZONE WOMEN ON THE MOON.
Something Landis' fans might not realize is that he was a creator on one of HBO's first original series, "Dream On," which won the cable network its first-ever Emmy. Landis directed several episodes of the show as well, and went on to direct episodes of "Psych" and the Showtime horror anthology show "Masters of Horror" and the watered-down network version "Fear Itself." I'd also highly recommend Landis' two documentaries, one about a used care salesman called SLASHER and another about Don Rickles, MR. WARMTH.
Landis, like all directors has had a few low points as well, including Stallone comedy OSCAR, the bizarrely humorless BEVERLY HILLS COP III, and the unforgivable BLUES BROTHERS 2000. Although I feel confident that Landis would have answered any questions about the horrible tragedy that befell his segment of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, I decided to skip the topic because I'm not sure there would have been anything to add to what he's said in other interviews before mine. Plus, the AICN Legends column is a sacred place to celebrate the highlights and not dwell in the unpleasantries.
The reason I got to talk to Landis for the better part of any hour was that his latest film, BURKE AND HARE, starring Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis, a retelling of the story behind the famed West Port murders in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the early part of the 1800s. At the time, cadavers for medical experiments were scarce, and two gentlemen decided to create their own supply chain for medical schools and research institutes. It's gruesome tale that Landis finds the humor in at times.
The film will be screened at a special event to close out the Film Comment Selects series at The Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City, and John Landis will be on hand after the screening for a Q&A. The event will take place Thursday, March 3 at 6:15pm. And now, please enjoy my lengthy chat with John Landis…
Capone: I definitely want to talk eventually about the BURKE AND HARE. I think they are actually playing it at Lincoln Center next week, correct?
John Landis: They are doing the American premiere on March 3rd at Lincoln Center, yes.
Capone: And you're going to be there for that. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about that event.
JL: I don’t know much about that. It’s part of the Film Comment program at The New York Film Society. They just asked me and I said “yes.” (Laughs)
Capone: “Show up and talk about the movie,” is that it?
JL: Well, I literally just came back from Italy yesterday where I spent a week doing publicity for it; it’s doing very well in Italy. And then it already opened in the UK, and then I go to Germany in two weeks, then France in four weeks to do publicity. So, it’s opening places, and I called the UK distributor [Ealing Studios] and asked, “Do you have an American distributor yet? What’s going on?” And basically for reasons I don’t really understand that have to do with taxes, they had held off on making a deal and apparently they are now in the process of making a deal, and so it should be coming out in the U.S. within the next three months, I think.
But in the meantime, it was frustrating for me, because I want people to see it. So, when the Lincoln Center called and said, “Can we show it?” I said, “Yes.” So, I kind of forced the Ealing people to do it.
Capone: There are worst places to have a premiere.
JL: Oh it’s lovely.
Capone: So with BURKE AND HARE, you’ve taken the show back to the UK, and you've done a period film, which you don't do often--THREE AMIGOS, ANIMAL HOUSE…
JL: ANIMAL HOUSE is a period film. And OSCAR is a period film and THREE AMIGOS is a period film.
Capone: Right, but you've never gone quite this far back.
JL: [Laughs] You know what? Whenever you do a period, whether it’s the 1920s or 1930s or 1828 or 1962, it’s the same thing--everything on screen has to be accurate to the period, so it really is the same job.
Capone: Do you remember when you first hear about this particular set of murders? The story has been told in slightly different versions in movies before, but I’m curious why you were drawn to the story.
JL: Well, I’ve known of Burke and Hare for many…actually, I couldn’t tell you the first time. I was very well aware of the history of Burke and Hare, because of all of the films. There was a Robert Lewis Stevenson novella called "The Body Snatcher," which [director] Robert Wise and [writer] Val Lewton made into a wonderful film starring Boris Karloff, which is based on the Burke and Hare story, although it’s not accurate. Dylan Thomas wrote a play called THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS, which was made into a film. Unfortunately, the director of that film [Freddie Francis] rewrote Dylan Thomas, which I don’t think is wise. There have been a lot of movies based on Burke and Hare. The best one I think is probably THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS with Peter Cushing. There are a lot of movies. But the story is historical, and I was very well aware of it.
Capone: When researching the West Port Murders and understanding the circumstances and events that led to them, they seem especially ripe for social commentary about the times and also the state of medical science at the time. Even outside of these murders, I was well aware that there was a great deal of grave robbing going on at the time.
JL: Yeah, what’s interesting is when most people hear about Burke and Hare, they think of grave robbing, because that’s what was rife at the time. But the truth is Burke and Hare did not rob graves; they murdered people. [Laughs] It’s an interesting time. In 1828 Edinburgh, Scotland, was the medical capitol of the world. There were many universities and teaching institutions there--The Royal College of Surgeons, The Monroe College of Surgery. There were many, like 17 or 18, and students came from all over the world to learn medicine. There was a tremendous amount of research going on and to teach surgery, what do you need even now?
Capone: Dead bodies.
JL: Right. You would need a cadaver, right. The only way to get a cadaver at the time was from the state, meaning executed prisoners, people who died in prison whether it be criminals or debtors prison, or people who dropped dead in the street homeless. Those bodies tended to be in bad shape, and so the doctors needed more cadavers than were available, and grave robbing became a reality, like the first human Frankenstein were you see Dr. Frankenstein and Dwight Frye [who plays Fritz in FRANKENSTEIN] digging up a grave for corpses. You know Leonardo da Vinci did grave robbing. You know his wonderful anatomical drawing?
JL: The church wouldn’t let you cut up a corpse. So, Leonardo was a grave robber, too. It’s an old tradition. The cemeteries around Edinburgh, people would lurch and watch and wait for funerals and then come in that night and dig up the body. It became epidemic. You know the doctors, Dr. Knox is the most famous or infamous, let it be known they would pay for a cadaver, and basically the militia started patrolling the cemeteries, and it became more difficult to grave rob. So, Burke and Hare, being enterprising, they just started murdering people, and the doctors were well aware of this. The whole thing is very interesting. When you see the film, Tom Wilkinson is brilliant as Dr. Knox and at one point he gives an explanation, a sort of rationale for what he’s doing, and even though it’s quite amoral, he’s right. He says, “Millions of lives will be saved,” and he’s correct, that’s exactly what happened, but it still doesn’t excuse murder.
Capone: I actually have seen the film, so I remember that scene. It's chilling.
JL: Oh you have? Good. The movie is beautifully photographed and it’s a handsome work. My production designer, Simon Elliot, and my costume designer, Deborah [Nadoolman], my wife, did brilliant work, and we went to a great deal of trouble to make it accurate.
Capone: And you’ve got this incredible cast. It must have been really neat, in particular to have Christopher Lee be a part of this.
JL: I’ve known Chris Lee for many years as a friend and I asked him to do me a favor and he did.[Laughs]
Capone: I also have to admit it completely took me by surprise to see Ray Harryhausen in his cameo, too.
JL: Ray’s been in four or five of my films. In fact, what’s funny is--and this is just an inside thing and means nothing--Ray and Robert Paynter are two of the doctors at The Royal College of Surgeons. Years ago, like in 1985 or something, I made a picture in London called SPIES LIKE US, and there was this scene in a tent in Afghanistan with a bunch of UN doctors and the doctors were played by Terry Gilliam and Derek Meddings, the great miniature guy, Bob Paynter, and Ray Harryhausen. Derek has passed away, but I asked Terry if he would come in for this film. Unfortunately, Terry was sick and couldn’t come that day, but at least I had two of the same doctors.
Capone: Right, their ancestors.
Capone: Fans of "Spaced" will be happy to see Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes in the same movie together, even if they aren’t a couple in this film. But you actually managed to get them together.
JL: You know what? I didn’t realize until I was shooting, but I have a lot of people from "Spaced," because Michael Smiley, who plays Dr. Knox’s assistant, he was in "Spaced." Bill Bailey was in "Spaced".
Capone: You have a long and well-chronicled history of casting directors in your films. Why do you do that? Why is that important to you?
JL: You know what? It’s just fun for me, and it’s not important. [laughs] Although a funny thing happened on this with Michael Winner. I had worked for Michael, I was a stunt guy on a picture called CHATO'S LAND with Charles Bronson. That’s in fact where I met Robert Paynter, who just passed away, unfortunately. I’m thrilled that he got to be in the movie, and he had a lovely time. Bob… I met him on CHATO'S LAND. He shot maybe 12 or 13 movies for Michael Winner, and when I came to London to make AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON years later, I thought, “God, anyone who could work with Michael Winner that much must be very patient.” [Laughs] Because Michael’s impossible.
So I called Bob, and he shot AMERICAN WEREWOLF, and we got along so well that Bob shot "Thriller," TRADING PLACES, SPIES LIKE US, and INTO THE NIGHT. When I started with Bob he was already older, and then he was in his 80s, and I said, “Bob, I’m afraid we are going to have to put you down.” [laughs] Bob retired to the Isle of Wight, and I was just thrilled when he came to be in the movie. Sadly, he passed away a couple of months ago, but I’m very happy he is in the film.
So, Michael Winner I knew from the first day on the CHATO'S LAND set, and one of the English stunt guys said to me about Michael Winner, “Just don’t get in his eye line.” [Laughs] Michael could be pretty mean. So, I worked on that picture for about three weeks. And so when I was in London [for BURKE AND HARE], I thought, “Gosh, who can I have in the movie?” I thought, “Oh, Michael Winners.” So, I called Michael, and he said, “I’d love to do it.” What I didn’t realize becauase I’m not English, but did you know that Michael Winner is a major celebrity in the UK?
JL: Because he’s been a restaurant critic for "The Times" for about 20 years. He’s also a TV personality. He does commercials and things. He’s like the man you love to hate. He revels in being obnoxious. I like him. So, when I told people Michael Winner was coming, they were so like “Michael Winner?” I had no idea he was famous in the UK. I mean you won’t know him anywhere else, but it was still quite a surprise, and I actually got a letter saying, “Thank you so much for tossing Michael off a cliff.” But I like him. He’s a lovely guy.
Capone: Yeah, that’s a great scene too and just how not-well-thought out that whole scheme was to knock the tree down.
JL: Our version of Burke and Hare, they're not the brightest guys. My intention was to do the evil Laurel and Hardy.
Capone: I'm sure you were familiar with some of the things that Andy Serkis is most famous for, which does not involve his actual face. I’m curious what you liked about him as an actor.
JL: I'd actually seen Andy in many things. He was wonderful in TOPSY-TURVY. I don’t know if you remember.
Capone: The Mike Leigh film, sure.
JL: Yeah, he played the very gay French choreographer. He was very funny in it. I was delighted to have him and he’s a very well respected stage actor in the UK also, although he’s become the king of motion control, which is weird. He just did another one. He just did a prequel to PLANET OF THE APES. [RISE OF THE APES]
Capone: That’s right.
JL: And that’s all going to be motion capture. I was blessed with an extraordinary cast. I had wonderful actors.
Capone: Yeah. Back to the idea about putting directors in your movies. I was lucky enough a few years back to have a long conversation with Frank Oz, who I know you’ve put in a few of your movies. We were talking mainly about his role in THE BLUES BROTHERS, and I know that you had a hand in the THE MUPPET MOVIE, right? That you were called upon to become a puppeteer for a day?
JL: Oh yes. In the last scene of the first MUPPET movie. I’m in a couple of the Muppet movies, actually. I have a scene with Kermit in MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN. But in the first MUPPET movie, Jim [Henson] and Frank asked me, and it was a great honor. The last scene, they have every Muppet character at the time, from "Sesame Street" on, in this big song number.
Capone: I remember it well.
JL: And Frank was up front doing Ms. Piggy, so he asked me if I would do Grover, which I was thrilled with. So I was doing Grover, and years later--I’m talking like 15 or 20 years later--I’m at a restaurant in Beverly Hills, and Tim Burton came up to me, and I had never met Tim before and I was very happy to meet him, and he said to me, “We’ve met before.” I said, “We have?” He goes, “Yeah.” It turns out, listen to this, it turns out that at that time Tim was much younger and working as an animator and puppeteer and he was in the pit, too. He said everyone was going, [whispers] “That’s the guy who directed ANIMAL HOUSE.”
Capone: I’ve seen photos of Tim from that era, mainly from his years as an animator with Disney, but yeah I think I had read that he also had a hand in that final Muppet number.
JL: It’s not a clear picture, but I can send you a picture of the whole thing that spotlights us.
Capone: Really? I would love to see that.
JL: I’ll email it to you. Someone sent it to me.
Capone: Yeah, that’s great. I did want to walk through your career a bit and start out with SCHLOCK, which I haven’t seen it in a while, but it’s such a great film, and I think it’s so cool that that’s you in that missing-link suit designed by Rick Baker. Was that the first time you two met?
JL: Yes, I was 21 years old, although I had worked on probably 50 movies by then mostly in various schlepper capacities in America and Europe. I started as a mail boy at 17, but when I made SCHLOCK, it’s actually… You want to hear how I met Rick?
Capone: Of course.
JL: I don’t know if it’s that interesting, but I knew [special effects makeup artist] John Chambers, because I was a mail boy at Fox when they made BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES. In fact, I acted in BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF APES, but I wasn’t an ape. So I went to John, and I told him I needed a missing-link suit and I wanted it to be more apelike than manlike, and we discussed it, and he said, “Well, let me see what I can do.” He came back and said “It’ll be about a $150,000.” SCHLOCK was made for $60,000. [laughs]
So, then John suggested I got to [special effects makeup artist] Don Post. You probably wouldn’t remember, but in the back of Famous Monsters magazine, they used to sell Don Post’s rubber mask to put over your head of the Frankenstein monster and The Wolfman and stuff. So I went to this place in Burbank that made these rubber masks and I asked them. And my original idea was for a bad gorilla suit, since I was basically doing a remake of TROG, and so I wanted a bad gorilla suit, and then they wanted like $75,000 dollars to do a bad gorilla suit. [Laughs]. I was like “Jesus Christ!” As I was leaving, Don Post Jr. was painting a mask, and he said to me, “Hey, I’ve got someone for you.” Then he gave me a business card that said “Rick Baker, Monster Maker,” and it had a phone number, so I called the number and it was Rick’s parents house in Covina, and I drove out with the producer.
So, we drove our to Covina, which for me could have been Kansas, it was far away, and went to this lower-middle-class neighborhood and went into the house. Rick had lovely, lovely parents, and he was an only child and went into his room and he was really skinny with long hair and bad skin. But I looked at the work that he had done and I had been working in films for some time, I thought “Holy shit, this kid is brilliant.” [laughs] I said, “My goodness.” At that time he was still corresponding with Dick Smith, who had a similar reaction as I did, but Dick eventually hired him to assist on THE EXORCIST. Dick saw the same thing, “This kid is brilliant.” So, Rick made the costume. I think his budget was $5,000. The molds for the body of SCHLOCK had to be no larger than his mom’s oven. I remember Mrs. Baker said that her pies smelled of foam rubber for years.
Capone: Of course that relationship though, it led to so many groundbreaking projects that you worked on with him, from AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON to COMING TO AMERICA and of course the "Thriller" video.
JL: Rick is very expensive now. [Laughs] Sure, if I was doing a picture that required extensive prosthetics or something, definitely Rick would be the first person to go to. He really is remarkable. He is a great talent. He’s up for another Oscar.
Capone: I think it's safe to assume he's probably going to win one tomorrow. [He did.]
JL: I hope so. I voted for him.
Capone: A couple of years ago I interviewed him at Comic-Con about WOLFMAN, and it was kind of a frustrating point for him, because it was very delayed.
JL: He had a terrible, terrible time on that movie.
Capone: I know, and at the time it was strange, because we were in such a public forum, but he was being very candid, and I think I just caught him at that moment when things had come to a head.
JL: I’ve got to tell you, he was not well treated. That was a fucked-up production, and they were very stupid. They were making a movie called THE WOLFMAN, you would think they would understand who the most important person is, but also the director who eventually did it wanted to do it entirely CG. So it was not a happy shoot.
Capone: That’s pretty much how he explained it to me. "Why did they hire me if they wanted to do CG?" He didn’t understand why they didn’t trust him to do what he's best at.
JL: They were stupid, that's why.
Capone: [Laughs] I guess that’s the reason, yeah. Even before SCHLOCK, you mentioned some of the things you had done in Europe, and I saw that you had done some stunt work on some Sergio Leone films. I was kind of wondering what those experiences was like.
JL: I went to Europe to work on a film that was released as KELLY’S HEROES when I was 18, so that was behind the Iron Curtain in the former Yugoslavia, and I spent nine months in Yugoslavia on that picture as a “gopher;” now they are called “PAs [production assistants].” I went with a guy named Jim O’Rourke, a young guy I had met. We went to Spain, to Madrid first and then Almeria, because there was in 1969 what was called “The Spaghetti Boom.” Really it was about from ’67 to about ’73, when they were just shooting so many movies in Almeria in Spain. German, French, Italian, Spanish, British, American productions, just so many movies. There would be four or five companies at one time per town.
So I was there a long time and I worked on many movies. For Leone I worked on ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, again mostly stunts, but I got very good at falling off horses, pretending to get shot. But I also worked as a dialogue coach and a lot of things, and an actor sometimes, but for Leone, I worked for Sergio twice, once when he produced a movie called, I think it’s MY NAME IS NOBODY. It’s with Terence Hill and Henry Fonda. Terence Hill’s an Italian really [Laughs]. It was a big picture, and Sergio produced it, but he came out to direct the second unit where I worked for him again. He directed the second unit, which was the wild bunch. It was like 300 guys on horses. It was very fun. I have a good Leone story…
Capone: I would love to hear it.
JL: Just many years later, I was in New York directing TRADING PLACES and I went to Technicolor in Manhattan to see my dailies one night, and as I was watching my dailies, I was like “What is that smell?” It was like the most delicious smell. “Is that pasta? What is that?” They said, “Oh, the Italians are in the screening room next door.” I said, “What Italians?” It turns out he was there shooting ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, and so I was very excited.
So, I waited for them to be finished, and when they came out, Sergio surrounded by all of these Italians. I went up to him and he was very heavy by then, I said “Scusi, Signor Leone, my name is John Landis, and I worked for you years ago. I’m so thrilled you are here and I wanted to say hello.” He looked at me, and it was very clear he didn’t know who I was. Because I was clean shaven and had long hair when I worked for him, and now I have short hair and a beard and I was older. But some Italian leans in his ear and tells him I’m John Landis and I’ve made this movie and this movie, yadda yadda. Then, Sergio looks at me and he says “Oh, oh!” Then he made a big deal about how happy he was to see me and he gave me a big hug, and I know he did not remember me, but he pretended he did and he was so warm and funny and he took me to dinner. I treasure that memory, because he was so generous. I don’t think he know who I was [Laughs], but he pretended to, which I really appreciated.
Capone: I just recently heard KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE referenced recently by one of the Farrelly brothers, who I just interviewed the other day, and they just produced a film called MOVIE 43, which they said was inspired by KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE. It’s a bunch of short films by different directors with sort of a thread connecting them I guess. Where did that idea to do basically sketch comedy on film come from?
JL: And it was before "SNL." What happened was, because of SCHLOCK I was on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson to promote it, and David Zucker saw me and he played basketball, he and Jim [Abrahams] and Jerry [Zucker] played basketball with a guy name Bob Weiss, who at that time ran Video Systems, which was a company that made video training films and educational films. In fact, I knew Bob, because for him I gaffed stunts and ended up directing a series of half-hour videos called "Trucking Safety," and we just turned it into complete slapstick. It was like, “The correct way to enter the tailgate of a 12 tonner…” “The wrong way” (makes a loud screech-crash noises). It was just completely silly, and then for Bob again I directed 26 half-hour training videos for the L.A. police. That was a riot.
Capone: Where are those tapes today? We’ve got to find them.
JL: Oh, I have no idea where they are; they were pretty funny. Anyway, so I knew Bob and he was playing basketball with them. They had the Kentucky Fried Theater in a building their uncle owned near Fox, and they were doing very well. They had this sketch show and they did okay, and David said, “I saw a kid on TV who made a movie. Why don’t we make a movie?” Bob said, “I know that kid.” So, Bob arranged a meeting.
We met at a Hamburger Hamlet that doesn’t exist anymore and we talked, and I said to them “Okay, great. Do you have a script?” They literally went “What’s a screenplay?” They didn’t know what I was talking about, so I gave them--this was in ’72 or ’73--the script for AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, which I had written in ’69. I said, well this is the form of a screenplay, and they came back to me and they said, “Great. We’ll get back to you.”
So they got back to me months later with a script called KENTUCKY FRIED AIRPLANE, which was very, very funny, and I worked with them on it for quite a while. In fact, “Don’t call me Shirley” was mine. My mother’s name is Shirley, and I did that with her for years. But what happened was I finally said, “This script is terribly funny, but what is this? Isn’t this based on a movie?” Jerry said, “Yeah, it’s ZERO HOUR,” which was a picture starring Robert Stash, and I said, “You know, there’s a subtle difference between parody and plagiarism.” Have you ever seen ZERO HOUR?
Capone: I have not only scene it, but I’ve seen side-by-side comparisons of many, many scenes in both movies.
JL: So you know it’s the same movie.
Capone: [Laughs] Unquestionably, yes.
JL: But it’s interesting. AIRPLANE remains their funniest movie, very much like YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is Mel Brooks' best movie. They're brilliant guys, but all of their structural problems were solved. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is a remake of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, and AIRPLANE a remake of ZERO HOUR anyway. So, I said, “Look, we better show it to a lawyer.” [Laughs] The lawyer agreed with me and said, “Nope, you’ll get sued.” So it was produced by Howard Koch, so we went to Howard Koch. He didn’t throw us out of the office, but he said, “Go away.” So, Bob Weiss said, “Why don’t we just do a version of the show?” because they had a sketch show. I said, “Yeah, why not?” So, we did it. There’s a lot of stuff in the movie like FIST FULL OF YEN and stuff that wasn’t in the show, but we just put it together and got the money and made it very quickly. That’s what got me ANIMAL HOUSE.
Capone: How did that lead to ANIMAL HOUSE?
JL: It’s kind of amazing. The script girl was Katherine Wooten on KENTUCKY FRIED and her boyfriend at the time was Sean Daniel, who was an executive at Universal. The script for ANIMAL HOUSE had been at Universal for a while. I think it’s astonishing, but I learned they sent it out to people like Richard Lester, Sidney Pollack, John Schlesinger, and Mike Nichols, all of whom threw it back. [laughs]
And so Sean was saying to Katherine one night, “I don’t know what we are going to do; we can’t find anyone who is interested in this script,” and she said, “Well give it to John Landis, he’s funny.” So Sean came to the cutting room and saw the movie, and it’s because he saw the first cut of KENTUCKY FRIED that I was considered. It’s amazing in retrospect and would never happen today, but KENTUCKY FRIED came out and made a lot of money, but it hadn’t come out yet, and they hired me. That’s kind of amazing. So, I was originally hired to supervise a rewrite. The screenplay of ANIMAL HOUSE is brilliant, and it was written by Doug Kenney, Chris Miller, and Harold Ramis, three very smart guys. The problem for me with the script was it was wonderfully funny, but everyone in it was a pig. [laughs]
I said, “You must have good guys and bad guys. Everyone can’t be a jerk.” So I told them “We will have a good house, a house we sympathize with--the Deltas--and then we'll have this uptight, goyish house, the Omegas.” That was my major contribution to the script, I basically made good guys and bad guys, but we worked on it. It’s their screenplay and they are brilliant, Doug Kenney especially, and I was amazed when we actually got to make the movie.
Capone: One of my favorite things about watching that movie and sort of re-experiencing the Elmer Bernstein score. You two worked together many times since, but it just seems like his score become a template for comedy scores.
JL: It has. Elmer unfortunately passed away several years ago, but I went to school with Elmer’s son, Peter, who is also a fine composer. In fact did you ever see any of the "Masters of Horror"?
Capone: Sure, all of them.
JL: Well he scored both of the ones I did, DEER WOMAN and FAMILY. Peter is a very fine composer, but I went to school with Peter, so I knew Elmer since I was 15, and when it came time in ANIMAL HOUSE, the music department asked me who I would consider to compose the score, and I said, “Elmer Bernstein,” they literally laughed in my face. The guy looked at me and he said, “I’m sorry John, but Mr. Bernstein won’t even return your call.” I remember saying, “Oh yeah?!” Elmer took Peter and I to see the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. So, I called Elmer, and he came in and saw the movie and he said, “It’s very funny, but why do you want me?” I told him, “I want you to score it seriously.” He was very intrigued. He did a brilliant score, and it has become the template.
That's the end of Part 1 of my talk with John Landis. In Part 2, we get into THE BLUES BROTHERS, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, Eddie Murphy, and hit fateful meeting with Ed Wood. Stay tuned...