Cursed Films' 'Twilight Zone: The Movie' is a devastating account of a tragedy that shook Hollywood to the core
The negligence of director John Landis led to the death of actor Vic Morrow and two child extras on the set of the film
The '70s was an era in Hollywood that saw unprecedented changes in film-making. It was the age of Martin Scorcese, Francis Ford Coppola and the like, a time where they pushed the boundaries of traditional methods and became pioneers of a new wave of cinema. Yes, they created masterpieces, but at what cost? The '70s culture of filmmaking allowed the directors to release all their inhibitions and go wild. While you get a multitude of critically-acclaimed films out of it, it is always accompanied by some mishaps that occurred on set. Filmed sets are allegedly a site of controlled chaos and large scale productions, especially, are a breeding ground for stories arousing the myth of a 'cursed set' as they are prone to accidents.
The film, 'Twilight Zone: The Movie', is an anthology series based on the original 1959 TV show directed by Rod Serling, which had a real cult following. The plot for the 1983 movie revolved around the character Bill Connor, a bigot who traveled through time and experienced the prejudices in various settings. Basically, he got a sense of what people he had derided were going through. Connor finds himself in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, the US South where he encounters the Ku Klux Klan and they think he is black, and the Vietnam War.
In the last episode of the first season of Shudder's 'Cursed Films', Jay Cheel delves into one of the most tragic mishaps to take place in the history of Hollywood. The 1983 film 'Twilight Zone: The Movie' directed by John Landis and Steven Spielberg gained publicity pre-release because of the deaths of lead actor Vic Morrow and two child extras during the filming of the helicopter crash scene.
Morrow was cast to play Bill Connor and he was especially impressed that Spielberg would be working on the film. Although Landis was every bit talented, he was an erratic person and didn't have a mature sense of passing judgment. Furthermore, he wasn't the most responsible filmmaker and even the crew members involved were worried about his carefree attitude towards safety on the film set.
Landis made some bold decisions during filming that raised many safety concerns but he insisted on going through with it anyway. In one instance, Morrow's Connor surfaces from a jungle to find himself in the Vietnam war and the soldiers open fire at him. Although he had been pulled out of the scene off-screen, the soldiers allegedly fired real bullets at the foliage, ruining the natural mise-en-scene completely.
Richard Sawyer, the production designer for 'Twilight Zone: The Movie', recounted scouring the perfect location for the helicopter scene with Landis. They found the perfect location that could be used as a prospective jungle with a stream and a cliff. In the distance, Sawyer pointed out a village and assured Landis that he could recreate it as a facsimile Vietnamese village for the set. Sawyer received high praise for this recreation, which he tearfully revealed in the episode because it was this very scene that killed Morrow and the two children.
The children were illegally hired to play the role in this scene, as Landis would go on to reveal in the subsequent trial. It was also prohibited to make children work after a certain hour in the evening. However, Landis insisted that the scene would have to entail a late-night setting to seem more authentic. This was the last scene in the film. It also included explosions as a helicopter flew over the village while Morrow would run across the street to save the Vietnamese children from the explosion. Testing for the scene sparked concerns when the helicopter seemed to vigorously rock at the explosion but despite this, Landis' need to capture the explosion took priority. He reportedly said, "You think that was big? You ain't seen nothing yet."
At the controls of this helicopter was a Vietnam War veteran named Dorcey Wingo, who had just joined the movie business. When the cameras began filming, the pyrotechnic fireball that had been fired as part of the explosion hit the helicopter, engulfing it in flames. The helicopter then crashed into the river where the actors were standing — Morrow, 6-year-old Renee Chen and 7-year-old Myca Dinh Le. Almost a hundred people were present when the tragedy occurred. The helicopter skid right onto Renee, crushing her to death and when it toppled over, the main blade sliced through Morrow and Myca. We would have to include a warning here because the episode does feature the footage from the original helicopter scene, so watch it at your own risk.
The episode gives a gut-wrenching account of the mishap as the testimonials from those present are quite intense and emotional. Twitter has been abuzz about the 'Cursed Films' being an eye-opener about safety precautions on film sets. So they were particularly impressed by how Cheel managed to respectfully document the truth to the 'Twilight Zone: The Movie' tragedy.
"If you’re looking for a gut-punch (and who isn’t?), look no further than @JayCheel’s TWILIGHT ZONE episode of #CursedFilms on @Shudder. I've seen it many times, and it never loses its power," a user said.
"Holy S***! Watched the Twilight Zone Movie ep. of #CursedFilms on #Shudder and I'm pretty sure John Landis is directly responsible for the death of 3 people. When in rehearsal a pilot says the pyro is too rough on a helicopter and you say 'Just you wait' you might be a murderer," said another.
Another one called it a 'revelation', saying, "Shudders cursed films final episode on the Twilight zone movie... wow I haven’t been moved like that in a long time I didn’t know about the movie set accident beforehand... and the full weight of the revelation shook me to the core."
"Cursed Films on Shudder is fantastic. The latest episodes on The Crow and Twilight Zone: The Movie both made me tear up. Even though I already knew about the tragedies which befell these films it was still rough watching the people who were there talking about it," another said.
It was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for this one user, who tweeted, "It's different to hear about the Twilight Zone helicopter accident on the internet or in print than it is to see it on screen. Easily the saddest part of #CursedFilms for me and honestly glad it was at the end because one cry is enough for me."