Way back in the insane Year of our Lord 1977, a completely senseless, tasteless and out of control film called The Kentucky Fried Movie was released to some surprisingly favorable reviews. That may be unsurprising now, considering the fact that this film has come to be considered a comedy classic that launched the careers of writers Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker (of Airplane and The Naked Gun fame) as well as the great comedy/ horror director John Landis (who directed An American Werewolf in London and Animal House amongst other classics).
As the extras on the 2013 Blu-Ray re-release indicate, this was hardly the slam dunk that comedy fans might assume today. National Lampoon was still (mostly) relegated to the newsstands and Saturday Night Live was in its infancy, so an irreverent anthology film largely constructed from sketch comedy was something of a tough sell for the writing trio (who picked up Landis when he was only 21). The Zucker Brothers claim to have been rejected by every major studio in Hollywood before getting the break that launched their careers.
Many of the sketches found here originated in Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker’s improve comedy group called The Kentucky Fried Theater which is why so few of these feel like the work of beginners. The Kentucky Fried Movie is, however, profane, experimental, violent, silly, hilarious and occasionally quite sexually explicit (all of which surely helped its success over the years).
Much of this film is dated and might be confusing for younger viewers. A good portion of the movie spoofs television news broadcasts and ‘70s era TV commercials, so quite a bit of the presentation is grainy and substandard for a Blu Ray release and while the reasons are clear to anyone who watched TV in the ‘70s and ‘80s, those weaned on pure digital might turn the film off before getting to the true high definition quality bits.
Luckily, even those parts are hilarious as is much of the rest of the film (even if the entire package can be a bit hit and miss). Standout sketches include the Blaxploitation spoof trailer “Cleopatra Schwartz” (made before spoof trailers were at all common), “Eyewitness News”, featuring a newscaster who can see into your living room, the crazy dating guide called “The Wonderful World of Sex”, explicit parody of porno flicks “Catholic High School Girls in Trouble” and the disaster film satire trailer “That’s Armageddon” and “Scot Free”, the commercial for a board game based on JFK conspiracy theories.
The Kentucky Fried Movie slows down toward the middle with the Enter the Dragon parody called A Fistful of Yen, featuring Evan Kim’s dead-on Bruce Lee impression. While this farce is often hilarious, the “sketch” is over a half-hour long and becomes a virtual scene-for-scene remake of Enter the Dragon, albeit condensed and with comedy. The next longest skit in the feature is just over six minutes long so with A Fistful of Yen consuming well over one third of the final film, the rapid-fire laughs are severely broken up by its inclusion smack dab in the middle of the feature.
Shout! Factory’s extras here are impressive, but not quite as much as many fans would (and should) lobby for, especially considering the fact that these extras and more were included on the UK’s Arrow Video release in 2011. The commentary by the Zuckers, Abrahams and producer Robert K. Weiss, recorded for Anchor Bay’s 2000 release, is almost as funny as the feature itself, as is the “Conversation with David and Jerry Zucker” feature length extra, but neither are new to this release. The Blu Ray also includes the original trailer, but no other promotional material or gallery is included. Especially confusing, considering the sketch nature of this film, is the lack of a chapter selection menu for fans to skip to their favorite skits.
Still, the main attraction is the movie itself and since the digital transfer is excellent, this movie looks and sounds great (at least in the parts where it is intended to). Even as dated as it can be (which is, itself, a treat for fans and time capsule of the film’s zeitgeist), most of the jokes still hold up excellently even today and with spoof commercials and trailers so popular these days, especially in 2013, The Kentucky Fried Movie proves to be both hilarious and curiously prescient.