John Landis’ up and down career features everything from classics to filth. But his best work stands the test of time including An American Werewolf In London, Trading Places and Coming to America…
Most audiences today won’t have heard of the name John Landis. They would have heard of “Coming To America” and “The Blues Brothers” but it’s unlikely they recognise the talent behind the lens. That’s because Landis has become one of Hollywood’s forgotten star directors. Legal troubles and a decade of poor work has put the director out in the wilderness. Forgettable films from a forgotten filmmaker.
Yet, you ask anyone if they’ve seen Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and most will reply “Damn right I have – best music video ever made!” Well, that was the brainchild of Jackson and John Landis.
Now Landis is back. His latest film “Burke and Hare”, which is currently in production, promises to be his best work for a very long time. Despite his lacklustre movies during the 1990s and almost complete lack of work during the 2000s, Landis has remained one of my favourite filmmakers.
Suffice to say, I love all his movies up to “Innocent Blood” in 1992. He knows how to tell a great story in a fun and enchanting way. He introduced mainstream Hollywood to the concept of horror-comedy (one of the greatest achievements of genre cinema) with “An American Werewolf In London”, set the blueprint for college comedy and teen movies with “Animal House”, and influenced the MTV generation with his wonderful music video “Thriller” for Michael Jackson.
Are you a fan of John Landis? What’s your favourite film by the director?
10. Innocent Blood (1992)
“I was sad, I was starved. It was time to treat myself. Then I thought – “What about… Italian!””
Maintaining the gangster theme from “Oscar” and swapping the laughs for screams, “Innocent Blood” sees Landis again return to the horror film. This time it is vampires and what happens when one sultry lady vamp bites the local Godfather, giving him new powers to control the criminal underworld. It’s an interesting take on vampire lore, and features some wonderfully funny moments as well as some decidedly bloody ones.
9. Oscar (1991)
“We can’t have a stiff in the house with company coming!”
One of several underrated Landis films, “Oscar” is a superbly scripted and cast film that utilises limited locations to tell an amusing tale that pays homage to the classic gangster flicks of the 1930s and 1940s. The film also features Sylvester Stallone’s best comedy performance.
8. Three Amigos (1986)
“You son of a motherless goat!”
Many believe “Three Amigos” is Landis’ funniest film. With Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, and Martin Short headlining, it’s difficult to disagree.
7. Animal House (1978)
“Greg, honey, is it supposed to be this soft?”
“Animal House” was the film that made John Landis a household name in Hollywood. The film, about the fraternity men of the fictional Faber college, played on the anti-establishment ethos prevalent amongst America’s youth to create a funny and hugely influential film about university life.
6. Coming To America (1988)
“Give a hand to my band, Sexual Chocolate.”
Eddie Murphy was great in “Trading Places” but this is where he excels. Forget “The Nutty Professor” and “Norbit”, Murphy used to be really funny playing several characters. Randy Watson, one of four characters Murphy plays in the film, is one of his best creations. Ably supported by Arsenio Hall (who also plays several characters), “Coming To America” is a great comedy that you can return to time and time again.
5. The Blues Brothers (1980)
“We’re on a mission from God”
In many ways “The Blues Brothers” was a precursor to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. It is a feature-length movie devoted to the rhythm and blues he had loved for so long. You can see Landis love of music – from bluegrass to jazz to Motown to rock n roll. It’s there for all to see in the soundtracks of his movies. The beauty of this adoration is how he uses music in his films. In “An American Werewolf In London” he juxtaposes upbeat melodies with downbeat horror, in “The Blues Brothers” he intermingles song and dance numbers into the dramatic narrative. He also enjoys working with the artists themselves, often featuring them in his work. Here he goes all out with Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway and a host of others showing up to sing and play. Coupled with the lively performances of comic greats John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, and one of the finest car chases in movie history, “The Blues Brothers” is a classic through and through.
4. Thriller (Music Video) (1983)
“There’s something I’ve got to tell you.”
Another clear example of John Landis being underrated as a filmmaker. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video is still hailed as the greatest music video ever made, and it’s legacy lives on today in countless movie-like music videos. The film was also instrumental in beginning the craze into MTV and music television in general.
3. Trading Places (1983)
“I had the most absurd nightmare. I was poor and no one liked me.”
Probably John Landis’ most purely enjoyable film. However, the director is certainly in debt to his lead actors – Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, and Jamie Lee Curtis are all great and ably supported by an excellent cast.
2. Into The Night (1985)
“If you want she’ll dress like Santa Claus!”
One of John Landis’ most underrated films, “Into The Night” has been unfairly criticised as over-indulgent and self-referential. It’s actually a fabulous black comedy and superbly scripted character study.
1. An American Werewolf In London (1981)
“I vote we go back to the Slaughtered Lamb.”
Undeniably the frontrunner in horror-comedy, “An American Werewolf In London” has inspired countless films since it was released. It is brilliantly realised and perfectly crafted but most importantly it’s frightening and funny in equal measure.