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How A Star And Two Children Were Killed On The Set Of 'The Twilight Zone'

Updated March 23, 2021 238.1k views10 items

One of the worst movie set accidents ever occurred during the filming of Twilight Zone: The Movie. The film is now mainly remembered for its tragic behind the scenes story. Steven Spielberg decided to make the hit television show into a motion picture and he enlisted three other directors to create segments of the film. John Landis, who was a hot commodity after Animal House and The Blues Brothers, was given "Time Out." In this segment, a man tries to make up for past sins by becoming a hero.

No one could have predicted, though, the tragedy that would plague John Landis's direction. Three people were killed during filming; actor Vic Morrow was carrying two children across a river when a stunt went wrong and a helicopter fell on top of them. Landis became the first movie director to be charged with involuntary manslaughter on set and he went to trial several years later. While this film was not the first to have an actor die during filming, its unfortunate accidents did spur Hollywood to change their safety laws for the better.

  • Although He Was Acquitted, Landis Had To Pay Civil Settlements And He Slowly Lost His Career As A Director

    Photo: If Only I Had Time Machine / Wordpress

    In May 1987, a jury found John Landis and the four other people charged not guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Some people believe the prosecution was in error for not charging Landis with breaking child labor laws and instead trying him for their deaths. The director was held accountable in several civil lawsuits brought by the children's parents and by Vic Morrow's family. The company that made the helicopter, producer Steven Spielberg, and the Warner Brothers studio were all named in the lawsuits as well.

    John Landis's career eventually suffered because of the accident. Although he continued to work after the tragedy, creating hits like Three Amigos, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, and Coming To America, his career as a movie director slowly dissolved once the trial ended several years later.

  • The Director Has Never Publicly Accepted Any Responsibility For The Accident

    Photo: If Only I Had A Time Machine / Wordpress

    When the trial ended, John Landis didn't do many interviews and he seemingly tried to stay out of the public's eye. Very rarely would he even talk about the incident. However, in what he has said, it's obvious that he believes himself to be completely innocent.

    When pleading not guilty in criminal court he commented, "I know in my head and I know in my heart that we did not cause the accident." He has also stated during interviews:

    "What people tend to forget in all this, is the helicopter crashed less than a foot from where I stood. It's not like I was removed from this somehow."

  • Steven Spielberg Ended His Friendship With John Landis Due To How He Handled The Accident

    Photo: Dick Thomas Johnson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    Steven Spielberg served as executive producer of Twilight Zone and since John Landis's segment was the first to be filmed, Spielberg considered stopping production on the entire movie. He ultimately decided to finish the project but was not happy with how John Landis handled the tragedy. Spielberg was upset that Landis refused to take any responsibility and cut all ties and contact between them.

    Spielberg commented:

    "No movie is worth dying for. I think people are standing up much more now than ever before to producers and directors who ask too much. If something isn't safe, it's the right and responsibility of every actor or crew member to yell, 'Cut!'"

  • The Accident Helped Change Hollywood Safety Standards For The Better

    It's unfortunate that it took the deaths of several people in order for things to change in Hollywood. Because of the tragedy on the set of Twilight Zone, Warner Brothers vice president John Silvia created a committee that would specifically monitor safety concerns during film productions. The committee created rules and standards for things like pyrotechnics and aircraft stunts. The Injury and Illness Prevention Program was formed for all Hollywood studios and representation for all industry guilds and unions were included.

    Of course, accidents still happen on movie sets but the rules are updated each time one occurs. Risk managers now check out all locations and sets for potential problems and even read through scripts to catch issues before filming begins. They can't be fired by producers or directors and that helps crew members and actors feel less intimidated to speak up about safety concerns.