Monday, August 29, 2011

The Kentucky Fried Movie

The "anthology" comedy enjoyed a nice run in the mid- to late 1970s. In the wake of the popularity of sketch comedy on stage (Second City) and television (Saturday Night Live) came several cinematic pastiches that smashed together a series of bits of varying subject matter (and quality). While hints of a thread may have existed through their short running times, most of these films were comprised of a parade of unrelated shorts. Our focus: 1977's THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, one of the few worth watching.

A few years earlier, THE GROOVE TUBE tickled audiences with its nutty (and sometimes smutty) send-ups of TV programs and commercials. A pre-SNL Chevy Chase appeared in a few segments. THE GROOVE TUBE was enough of a success to inspire imitators, most quite bad: TUNNELVISION, PRIME TIME, JOKES MY FOLKS NEVER TOLD ME, LOOSE SHOES....All had their moments, but wading through painfully unfunny blackouts was a real test for viewers who weren't either stoned and/or losing their virginity at a drive-in theater. THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE is a noticeably better example of this quaint genre, perhaps because of its pedigree: writers David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams would go on to make AIRPLANE!, while director John Landis would oversee some of the most popular comedies of the late 70s/early 80s (ANIMAL HOUSE, et. al). The Zuckers had been producing a stage revue, The Kentucky Fried Theater; Landis had directed only one film prior, 1971's horror spoof SCHLOCK.

THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE is similiar in structure to the other films, if a bit broader (in many senses) in scope. Its targets are not only related to TV but also public service announcements, drive-in films, disaster films, porno films, martial arts films, and so on. The 78 minute running time gives a disproprtionate 1/2 hour or so to A FISTFUL OF YEN, a parody of Bruce Lee movies, specifically ENTER THE DRAGON. The fight scenes are actually pretty good (extras were recruited from Los Angeles karate studios) and certain running ZAZ gags would be introduced, including a damnation of the city of Detroit. YEN is so lengthy you almost forget that there are/will be other gags.

Leading up to YEN are commercial parodies with Bill Bixby (a headache remedy called Sanhedrin), a news/entertainment program spoof during which a gorilla runs amok (a Landis trademark), periodic newscaster updates (example: "I'm not wearing any pants, film at 11") and the showstopper, a trailer for CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS IN TROUBLE, a riotous send-up of 70s porn that demonstrates the adage, "if you parody something, you gotta be it". Ever see Terry Southern's CANDY? In other words, CHSGIT is about as filthy as its target. No cliche is left untouched, plus the filmmakers manage to work in references to legitimite movies and commercials of the day as well. It may be reaching, but I think there may also be a leering wink to Russ Meyer.

Because of CHSGIT and the final segment, "Eyewitness News", where a rather amorous couple are nearly oblivious to the newscasters on their television who can see their lovemaking and get rather aroused themselves, KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE has this reputation of being quite a dirty and raunchy film. But most of the other bits are almost PG by comparison. Hare Krishas knocking back a few after a long day of handing out pamphlets, a disaster film spoof called THAT'S ARMAGEDDON!, a family playing a board game called "Scot Free". Though watch out for that prop in the B & W television courtroom spoof, "Courtroom" and "Big Jim Slade"! My personal favorites are "Danger Seekers", the, ahem, aforementioned Catholic girl thing, the "Feel-A-Round" segment, and another mock trailer for CLEOPATRA SCHWARTZ, an action exploitation film with a Pam Grier-like hot chick who brandishes justice with shotguns and has a meek Hassidic Jewish rabbi as her sidekick!

The recent DVD reissue by Anchor Bay features the Zuckers, Abrahams, and Landis offering candid recollections of THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, often quite critical of the skits they feel drag on too long. You'll likely agree if you bother to listen. Either way, KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE is a guilty pleasure that evokes the joys of sneaking into the drive-in in your friend's trunk and/or catching a late night HBO thrill while your parents are asleep. You'll also see the genesis of the talent of some very funny guys....

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