Directed: John Landis
Starring: Bill Bixby, George Lazenby, Evan C. Kim, Tony Dow, Donald Sutherland, Henry Gibson
To borrow a few words from another 1977 movie. A long time ago, the early ’70s, in a galaxy far far away, Wisconsin, two brothers and a friend,, opened a theatre showcasing spoofed commercials and movie trailers. The residents of Madison, Wisconsin enjoyed the theatre so buoyed by their success the three, David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams moved the theatre to Pasadena and got the totally unoriginal idea that their stage show could be turned into a movie. Against all odds they were right.
After getting a twenty one year old John Landis on board they proceeded to get turned down by every studio in town and finally after sinking $30,000 of their own money into a ten minute short they eventually convinced the United Artists Theater Group, not United Artists the movie studio but the organization that owned the United Artists theaters (remember those?) to put up $700,000 to make the movie and the rest is history.
Kentucky Fried Movie wasn’t the first spoof or parody movie by far, Mel Brooks had already made a career out of genre spoofs with movies like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, (High Anxiety came out the same year as Kentucky Fried Movie) and Abbott and Costello were doing send ups of the Universal monster movies in the ’40s and ’50s, but Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers introduced a healthy injection of farce and a touch of raunch into the formula while paying less attention to the plot and making much more pointed jokes of individual tropes instead of poking fun at the major themes of genres. Think Airplane! not Back to the Beach. Indeed with the success of Kentucky Fried Movie Abrahams and the Zucker brothers either together or separately went on to give us, Airplane!, Top Secret!, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, Hot Shots!, Scary Movie 3 and Scary Movie 4.
Enough history how’s the movie? It’s pretty darn good. The movie is an assembalge of twenty six unrelated sketches. The longest A Fistful of Yen, an inspired send up of Enter the Dragon, clocks in at a little over thirty minutes, the shortest is only a few seconds long. This is a thirty five year old movie but the objects of the satire are things that are still with us, exploitation movies, commercials, the news and public service announcements. If you look beyond the hair and wide ties and lapels many of the sketches could have been written last week instead of thirty five years ago. Of course being a product of the late seventies there is a much higher quotient of boobies than you would find in a modern comedy, but I for one am not going to complain about that.
Describing some of the sketches will give away the joke but just to give you a taste here is a quick synopsis of a few. There is the industrial film about Argon Oil and how they are solving the energy crisis by harvesting oil from the faces of teenagers. The talk show High Adventure with explorer Claude Lamont and an adventurous and multi-use boom mike. A showcase of The Wonderful World of Sex a sexual self help album. A commercial for Miller Beer targeting religious cultists. A commercial for Scot Free a board game about the Kennedy assassination. And one of my favorites Zinc Oxide and You the sixth in a series of old school educational films explaining just what zinc oxide does for the modern housewife.
The hit miss ration is well above fifty percent and the sketches that don’t work don’t linger. The production values and acting are generally good. There are a number of cameos, Bill Bixby, George Lazenby (James Bond for only On Her Majesties Secret Service) and Tony Dow ( Wally from Leave it to Beaver). With John Landis at the helm the direction is solid. Leaving the humor to stand on it’s own or fall. Kentucky Fried Movie is interesting from a historical perspective but that’s selling it short it’s still a funny and entertaining film.
The video is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen format. The actual quality of the transfer is generally good. There are buckets of grain in nearly every scene, but the detail is high. I would much rather have the grain and the detail than have the grain smoothed out. The fake news shots are particularly rough but it is mentioned in the commentary that the news clips were shot on video so it’s rather amazing they look as good as they do.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. I never noticed any sort of distortion or digital artifacts. The score, foley and dialog are all mixed well with one never stepping on the other. English is the only language track and there are English subtitles.
The Packaging and Bonus Features:
The single disc comes in a standard Blu Ray case. The iconic artwork comes straight from the promotional material from the movie. On the disc itself is the movie of course but there is also an hour long interview with the Zucker brothers that canvases their entire career not just about Kentucky Fried Movie. There is an audio commentary with the Zucker brothers, Abrahams, Landis, and producer Robert Weiss. The commentary gives a great amount of insight into how the movie got made as well as detail and anecdotes about individual scenes but it occasionally lapses into a reunion between five friends. The original trailer is also included and is actually worth a watch.
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10
The Movie 7/10
The Video 7/10
The Audio 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10