Twilight Zone’s On-Set Incident Became One of Hollywood’s Biggest Tragedies

Twilight Zone’s On-Set Incident Became One of Hollywood’s Biggest Tragedies
Image credit: Warner Bros.

The movie industry and its rules and laws changed after a horrific incident.

The Twilight Zone: The Movie was released in 1983. Steven Spielberg himself took part in its creation, and the movie paid off its budget three times. But it is mostly known for the terrible tragedy when three actors died during the shooting.

The Twilight Zone is based on the 1960s TV series of the same name. The movie consists of four short stories directed by famous directors – Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, John Landis and George Miller. Spielberg was also the producer of the movie.

On July 23, 1982, the first story was filmed near Santa Clarita, California, directed by John Landis. It was about a man with racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic views who finds himself in the place of those he hates. This man was played by the actor Vic Morrow.

According to the plot, Morrow’s character decides to save two Vietnamese children and drags them across the lake to escape from the helicopter that is chasing them. In this scene, the helicopter hovered over the actors at the lowest possible height – about 26 feet. Moreover, the filming happened at night.

At that point, one of the many pyrotechnic explosions damaged the helicopter's tail rotor, causing the pilot to lose control and the helicopter to crash on top of the actors.

Morrow and the two children – 7-year-old Myca Dinh Le and 6-year-old Renee Shin-Yi Chen – died instantly, while the pilot survived with minor injuries.

The crew members were terrified. As a result, filming was suspended and a lawsuit was filed.

John Landis and other officials, including producer Steven Spielberg and pilot Dorcey Wingo, were put on trial. It was revealed that Landis had used child actors to shoot at night, circumventing California child labor laws.

Twilight Zone’s On-Set Incident Became One of Hollywood’s Biggest Tragedies - image 1
Vic Morrow

Assistant producer George Folsey also failed to warn the fire marshal that children would be involved in a scene with a large number of pyrotechnic explosions. Moreover, he paid their parents to conceal this information.

During the testimony, the cameraman and other witnesses claimed that just before the accident, Landis continued to radio the pilot to go even lower, even though he was warned of the danger.

As a result, the charges were dropped, and the civil suit was settled out of court. The parents of the children and relatives of Morrow agreed to a financial settlement, the amount of which was kept secret.

As a result, Steven Spielberg severed his friendship with Landis forever. He stated that no movie is worth the death of a human being, and that every participant in the filming process has the right and the duty to give the order to stop if someone's safety is threatened.

The tragic incident led to the implementation of new safety procedures and standards in the film industry. Hollywood also changed the rules for filming children at night and in scenes with special effects.