How The Twilight Zone Tragedy Affected John Landis' ¡Three Amigos!

Correction: The previous version of this article utilized inaccurate language. We have updated the piece accordingly.

"¡Three Amigos!" is a fun romp with an all-star comedy trio leading its cast. With Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short in their prime leading the charge, the film was destined to be hilarious based on their performances alone. In addition to this, John Landis, who helmed such successful films as "National Lampoon's Animal House" and "An American Werewolf in London" was directing. Those fantastic building blocks made for a great picture that remained popular for years. The film is so beloved, in fact, that Empire got the three stars and the director back together for a retrospective reunion in 2016, marking the 30th anniversary of the film's release.

The piece is, for the most part, delightful. It's a lot of reminiscing and joking between the co-stars of the film with the sort of goofy behind-the-scenes stories fans love to hear about. That is, until one throwaway line from John Landis sends the story down an unexpectedly dark road. 

"I was on trial and could only work at night," said Landis. "When I turned the movie over to the studio, Orion, they took over and removed a lot of stuff that I actually thought was great."

The trial he speaks about is one where he fought charges of the involuntary manslaughter of three people during the filming of "The Twilight Zone: The Movie." This oddly dark footnote sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise standard article. How could he be so casual about this?

An inconvenient trial

The story of the helicopter accident on the set of "Twilight Zone: The Movie" is extremely tragic. During filming, special effects explosions knocked a low-flying helicopter out of control, causing it to crash and kill actor Vic Morrow as well as two child actors, Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen. Some believed this horrific accident was in part made possible by negligence on the part of Landis, who reportedly was shouting for the helicopter to continue flying lower until moments before the terrible crash. Landis and four crew members were charged with involuntary manslaughter and brought to trial.

It was during this trial that Landis was directing "¡Three Amigos!" For what it's worth, Landis was eventually acquitted of his crimes, but his comments in the Empire piece still seem in extremely poor taste. Even if the accident was entirely that — a freak accident that nobody was at fault for — you would not expect a reference to this incident in a retrospective story about a comedy movie from the '80s.

Landis would continue his directing career with a clean criminal record, directing more high-profile comedies like "Coming to America" and "Beverly Hills Cop III." It wouldn't be the Landis' family's last experience with major Hollywood controversy, but Landis kept his career and his relatively clean reputation. Today, he might be better known younger audiences as a member of the parade of directors who publicly hated on Marvel movies.