Director: John Landis
Shout! Factory

The feature film debut of the “Kentucky Fried Theater” – better known as Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker – KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE makes its high definition bow on Shout! Factory’s special edition Blu-ray!

Not so much a cash-in on Ken Shapiro’s THE GROOVE TUBE (1974) or Neal Israel’s and Bradley R. Swirnoff’s TUNNEL VISION (1976) since Abrahams and the brothers Zucker were already staging commercial and film parodies since their childhood (including a handful of sketches they were able to record on videotape to be shown in conjunction with the live antics of an improv group), KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE laid the groundwork for the trio’s subsequent more refined efforts like AIRPLANE. The “Zinc Oxide” educational film in its piling-on of sight gags comes closer to some of their later work like the “Mondo Condo” skit in AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON – an unofficial sequel to this film – while the “Feel-O-Vision” theater sketch anticipates the video dating sketch in AMAZON in its exploitation of the hazards of interactive viewing. The “see what sticks” approach results in some bits that fall flat but are painless since we move onto the next thing quickly and some that linger too long like recent SNL sketches (for instance, the courtroom segment which features a cameo by LEAVE IT TO BEAVER’s Tony Dow alongside Jerry Zucker as Beaver and AIRPLANE’s Steve Stucker) alongside a handful of justifiably memorable and quotable bits from the trailers for “Catholic School Girls in Trouble” – featuring Uschi Digard’s bouncy mammaries – the Blaxploitation spoof “Cleopatra Schwartz” – with Al Adamson regular Marilyn Joi – and the prophetic (for the filmmakers) disaster movie spoof “That’s Armageddon” (with cameos by Donald Sutherland and George Lazenby). The longest sketch is the “feature length” ENTER THE DRAGON-spoof A FISTFUL OF YEN is a sustained example of the mix of groaners and laugh-out-loud moments that move along at a fast-enough clip. The “Count-Pointercount” is like a more profane version of the “Point-Counterpoint” sketches in Saturday Night Live from the period, but it is also remarkably prescient of the level of the conservative vs. liberal political discourse we’re seeing more and more in the news today.

Anchor Bay gave the film the special edition treatment on DVD in 2000 with the option of an anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer – and the choice of a 4:3 open-matte option which is appropriate given the TV medium of some of the vignettes but apparently does not reveal anything extra (the intrusive boom microphone during the “High Adventure” sketch is well in frame even in widescreen). Shout’s 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC-encoded ditches the fullscreen option in favor of the 1.85:1 widescreen framing. The image is inconsistent, but that is hardly surprising considering that the worst-looking parts are the news broadcast bits which were shot on videotape and presumably shot on film off of a monitor Kinescope style. Stock footage also looks as good or bad as their sources (with the bits swiped from QUO VADIS for the “That’s Armageddon” trailer looking particularly murky and scratchy). Exterior day scenes look great (as do interior scenes which – the commentary explains – were shot on sets outside with no roofs to utilize natural light) while interiors are well-lit but swimming in grain (“Catholic School Girls in Trouble” looks wonderful, by the way). The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is clean and bold when it comes to the musical passages (particularly the “Fistful of Yen” library score) and exaggerated sound effects (not that I was paying much attention when I saw the film on DVD, but I hadn’t noticed that balloons-rubbed-together sound over the shots of Digard’s breasts being groped before seeing this on Blu-ray).

Carried over from the Anchor Bay disc is an audio commentary with director John Landis, writers David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, and Jim Abrahams, as well as producer Robert Weiss (see below). The conversation is constantly derailed by their joking banter, but they have a good grasp of the film’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as which sketches have held up better. They also point out gags that didn’t work because of insufficient coverage, special effects, and mostly their own inexperience. They contacted Landis after seeing his film SCHLOCK because they figured that a director their age would be most likely to talk to them. They discuss the laborious task of funding the film, improvising on-the-fly, and how they were able to get some big names from Donald Sutherland to well-known television performers of the time like Bill Bixby. They concede that the “United Appeal for the Dead” sketch with Henry Gibson is tasteless (which reportedly angered critic Rex Reed whose negative review they wanted to quote in the advertising). During the courtroom sketch, they reveal that they tried to get Jerry Mathers as well as Ken Osmond (who played Eddie Haskell) but neither wanted to jeopardize their current jobs as, respectively, a banker and a cop. They also reveal that a still of two real cops with a topless Marilyn Joi prompted an internal affairs investigation. Film Ventures’ fans will be interested to know that the library score was assembled by that company’s later in-house composer/music supervisor Igo Kantor.

Shout! has not ported over the eighteen-minute compilation of 8mm behind the scenes home movies shot on set by the Zucker brothers – ostensibly to prove to their parents that they were indeed working in Hollywood – but they have brought over from the UK Arrow Video 2-disc DVD edition the hour-long career overview “Conversation with David and Jerry Zucker” (62:05). They point out that underneath the gloss of the multi-million dollar all-star disaster films of the period was B-movie plotting rife for spoofing; but that they have to love the types of films they spoof (which also includes the chopsocky films that inspired “Fistful of Yen”). Of the use of nudity in the film, they admit that they’re were (and still are) immature guys who think naked people are good for a laugh (fortunately the naked people are attractive in this film). The Zucker brothers emphasize that they (and Abrahams) got along for so long because they did not place importance on getting credit for individual gags (and then proceed to jokingly take credit for various bits). David Zucker talks about his transition from comedy to drama with GHOST – as well as the Jerry Zucker’s “from the brother of the director of GHOST” spoof of the pottery wheel scene in the promo for NAKED GUN 2 (which was subsequently worked into the film itself) – with him realizing that the sort of discomfort viewers feel sometimes in comedy could also be applied to dramatic tension. The discussion is far more interesting than the home movies, so it should make the disc worth upgrading for fans (if not for the HD video and sound). The disc closes out with the film’s theatrical trailer (2:23). (Eric Cotenas)