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The Kentucky Fried Movie Blu-ray Review

The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) movie poster The Kentucky Fried Movie

Theatrical Release: August 10, 1977 / Running Time: 83 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: John Landis / Writers: David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker

Cast: David Zucker (Man, Technician #2, Grunwald), Jim Abrahams (Announcer, Technician #1), Jerry Zucker (Technician #3, Nytex P.M. Man, Beaver Cleaver), Neil Thompson (Newscaster), Janice Kent (Barbara Duncan), Frank Bowman (Michael Laurence), Larry Curran (Tom Leclair), Mike Hanks (Ron Butler), William Tregoe (John Fitzsimmons), Eloise Hardt (Sheila Hamilton), Ellen Regan (Judy Morton), Rick Baker (Dino), John Landis (A.M. Today Technician - uncredited), Lenka Novak (Linda Chambers), Betsy Genson (Nancy Reems), Nancy Mann (Susan Joyce), Stephen Bishop (Charming Guy), Uschi Digard (Woman in Shower), Felix Silla (Crazed Clown), Jeff Maxwell (Feel-A-Round Moviegoer), Michael Alaimo (Feel-A-Round Usher), Joe Medalis (Paul Burmaster), Barry Dennen (Claude LaMont), Bill Bixby (Himself), Marcy Goldman (Household Odors Housewife), John-Anthony Bailey (Sex Record Boy), Sharon Kaough (Sex Record Girl), Manuel Perry (Big Jim Slade), Evan Kim (Loo), Master Bong Soo Han (Dr. Klahn), Agneta Eckemyr (Ming Chow), Ingrid Wang (Ada Gronick), Eric Micklewood (Asquith), Derek Murcott (Pennington), Dovie Boehms (Concubine), George Lazenby (The Architect), Victoria Carroll (The Nurse), Jack Roberts (The Governor), Jesse Emmett (The Governor's Aide), Donald Sutherland (The Clumsy Waiter), Newell Alexander (The Firechief), Henry Gibson (Himself), Boni Enten (Rita Filagree), Dick Yarmy (Taylor), Michael L. McManus (Hornung), Ross Durfee (Judge), Tony Dow (Wally Cleaver), Stephen Stucker (Stenographer), Marilyn Joi (Cleopatra Schwartz), Saul Kahan (Rabbi Schwartz), Nancy Steen (Zinc Oxide Housewife), Rick Gates (Eyewitness News Boy), Tara Strohmeir (Eyewitness News Girl)

Buy The Kentucky Fried Movie from Amazon.com: Blu-ray 2000 US DVD 2-Disc Region 2 UK DVD

Many film historians consider 1977 a year that changed Hollywood. The industry may have awarded the Best Picture Oscar to Annie Hall over Star Wars, but the public's actions spoke louder than the Academy's words.
Ever since George Lucas' space opera became the top-grossing film ever by numbers, it's been easier to get big effects-driven aspiring blockbusters made than small personal comedies.

For a quartet of young filmmakers, 1977 rung in a different kind of change in that Hollywood was now open to them. David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker had formed a theater group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. From there, the trio established the Kentucky Fried Theatre (unrelated to the since-abbreviated fast food chain) in West Los Angeles, where they wrote and performed skits for live audiences. While in their late twenties and early thirties, Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker got the chance to make their feature film debut. The film was an anthology sketch comedy born out of their brand of theatre and accordingly titled The Kentucky Fried Movie. Directing it was 26-year-old John Landis, who had just one flop movie, the King Kong-inspired satire Schlock, to his name.

Kentucky Fried Movie establishes its anything-goes attitude early on. It unfolds with a variety of sketches presented as news segments, commercials, and movie trailers, with a half-hour narrative "feature attraction" kung fu spoof appearing somewhere in the middle. By design, it is a mixed bag, with only a common sense of humor unifying these diverse segments.

A moviegoer (Jeff Maxwell) has perfume sprayed into his face as part of a "Feel-Around" presentation of "See You Next Wednesday." A flustered newscaster (Neil Thompson) watches on from the television as a young couple undresses and grows amorous on the couch before him.

A company touts its efforts to recycle oil from teenagers' faces and fast foods. A gorilla goes wild on a morning news show. A microphone actively participates in a somewhat homoerotic interview. Such bits, comprising the majority of the film, might elicit the occasional chuckle.
Others are better, like a sketch that finds a young man attending See You Next Wednesday (a fictional, fluctuating staple of Landis films) in "Feel-Around", a gimmicky successor to Sensurround that bears relevance again in the midst of our current 3D "boom." As he watches the $3 movie, an unenthused usher "enhances" the experience with interactivity, like sprays of perfume and shoulder rubs.

Another example of an inspired sketch is "Courtroom", an episode of a 1950s black & white reality television drama that's full of on-target puns and gags and features Tony Dow reprising his signature role of Wally Cleaver. Though not nearly to the extent of Movie 43 (the recent anthology flop inspired by KFM), some celebrities do pop up here and there, including "The Incredible Hulk"'s Bill Bixby, Donald Sutherland, and Henry Gibson, who hosts a morbid PSA for an organization called United Appeal for the Dead. Little is lost if those names elicit "Who?", "The Hunger Games President?", and "Who?" for you, because star power is a distant priority to getting as many irreverent laughs as possible, mostly by poking fun at the prevailing media of the day.

Movie parodies are of obvious interest to the writers, whose "Coming Attractions" include exploitation B-movie Catholic High School Girls in Trouble, blaxpoitation B-movie Cleopatra Schwartz (where the butt-kicking heroine's unlikely husband is an Hasidic Jew), and disaster movie That's Armageddon. The main and by far longest sequence is titled A Fistful of Yen and it parodies the kind of vehicles that made Bruce Lee a star. Covert American agents enlist lisp-addled Hong Kong martial arts warrior Loo (Evan C. Kim) to eliminate the evil Dr. Klahn (Bong Soo Han), who attaches a variety of useful tools and weapons in place of a missing hand. Down to the very '70s score, it's a precise spoof foreshadowing the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team's forthcoming success, with humor derived from blatant stock footage, on-the-nose plotting, Asian stereotypes, and unlikely fight sequences. Surrounded largely by two-minute sketches, the 31-minute core inevitably feels stretched thin, overlong, and just too plain random to be the core of this movie, but it's a solid, sharply-executed parody.

Kentucky Fried Movie could use more of that, but its short 83-minute runtime and ADD-friendly design make it go down easier than many sketch movies (e.g. the terribly disappointing The Onion Movie). Team ZAZ and Landis never seem to stress about having a linking theme or framework, instead opting to turn random aspects of pop culture into comedy targets for a couple of minutes at a time.

An Hasidic Jew rabbi (Saul Kahan) marries a butt-kicking black woman (Marilyn Joi) in the "Cleopatra Schwartz" trailer. Bill Bixby, television's original Incredible Hulk, promotes Sanhedrin headache medicine in one of the film's since-diminished celebrity cameos.

The filmmakers struggled to find financing for this project. While their main backer backed out after seeing a ten-minute excerpt he funded, the young men persisted and wound up raising a $650,000 budget by impressing young exhibitor Kim Jorgensen with their excerpt. Opening three months after Star Wars, the film would pay off, grossing $15 million domestically or, adjusted for inflation, the equivalent of a solid $55 M today.

The success catapulted the film careers of all four principal creators. Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker found their calling, as the writers/directors/producers of spoof movies. Their follow-up effort, Airplane!, is still regarded as one of the funniest movies of all time and subsequent ones like the three Naked Gun comedies are almost as revered. The trio went separate ways in the 1990s and each has either struggled or outright stopped in the years since. Landis meanwhile went on to immediate prominence with hit films like Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London and Trading Places. It's tempting to claim his directing career fizzled out around the time his segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie resulted in three actor deaths and an involuntary manslaughter lawsuit, but he did have hits (Coming to America) and opportunities (Michael Jackson music videos, Beverly Hills Cop III) into the late 1990s before things seemed to dry up and he was relegated to producing syndicated television and directing episodes of shows like "Psych" and "Franklin & Bash."

Time hasn't upgraded Kentucky Fried Movie to a comedy classic like ZAZ and Landis' other works. You won't find it on any list more prestigious than Bravo's questionable 100 Funniest Movies countdown from 2006. Still, some recall the film with fondness and thus its recent Blu-ray debut courtesy of Shout! Factory grabbed some attention. We look at that disc here.

The Kentucky Fried Movie Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
2.0 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: July 2, 2013
Suggested Retail Price: $19.97
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase
Previously released as Anchor Bay DVD (June 20, 2000), 2-Disc Arrow Video Region 2 Special Edition DVD (July 4, 2011), and VHS

VIDEO and AUDIO

Blu-ray upholds Kentucky Fried Movie's 1.85:1 original aspect ratio. Picture quality varies just as much as the content does. The faux news footage, for instance, looks quite rough and blurry, presumably by design. Most of the movie parodies are grainy and scratchy, but then that befits the gritty films they are sending up. The video is often jumpy and even displays a reel change mark at one point. It's unclear how much of the picture woes are deliberate and how much of them are simply the byproducts of a low budget.

Similarly, the monaural 2.0 DTS-HD master audio mix is somewhat dated and thin, but the recordings remain audible and English subtitles (a rarity for the studio) are thankfully included.

Brothers Jerry and David Zucker fondly recall their feature film screenwriting debut in this hour-long 2010 interview. Faux aging studio executive Samuel L. Bronkowitz (Sid Kane) talks up "his" film in Kentucky Fried Movie's original theatrical trailer.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Shout! Factory has put together a decent slate of three bonus features encoded in high definition. Unfortunately for them, this Blu-ray might be measured against
the UK's more loaded two-disc Special Edition DVD issued in 2011 by Arrow Video.

First up comes "A Conversation with David and Jerry Zucker" (1:02:05) from circa 2010, in which the brothers answer questions presented on text screens. They speak at length about the film, the theater company from which it was born, their influences, Ethel Merman's Airplane! cameo, a deleted sketch, Kentucky Fried Chicken's reaction to their name, their writing process, Jerry directing Ghost and having David spoof it, genres that do or don't lend to parody, sibling rivalry, their Midnight Cowboy spoof made in college, and their films' sequel potential (or lack thereof). Despite the ill-conceived text screen design, it's a substantive interview that gives us much insight into not just KFM but the two brothers behind some landmark American comedies.

Next, we get the film's original trailer (2:23), which is remarkable in several ways. First, there is the opening MPAA card claiming the film is rated G (it is not; instead clearly earning the R rating shown at the end). Then there is the fact that it is hosted by Samuel L. Bronkowitz (Sid Kane), an aging producer whose name is repeatedly dropped in the film but who is never actually seen in it. Finally, for some reason, it's encoded in 6.1 DTS-HD master audio.

The final bonus feature is an audio commentary by the Zuckers, co-writer Jim Abrahams, director John Landis, and producer Robert K. Weiss. Recorded sometime prior to June 2000, the track is full of laughter and warm memories of half-forgotten collaborators and sketches. They do have some good screen-specific reflections, contributing virtually every tidbit found on the IMDb's long trivia page for the film, so this definitely isn't a waste of time for fans.

Extras from Arrow Video's edition you won't find here include Jerry Zucker's on-set home video, a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, a collector's booklet, a fancy reversible slipcover, and a fold-out, double-sided poster.

Shout!'s Blu-ray menu plays video and sound clips from the film alongside the poster/cover art. There is no scene selection menu, a glaring omission on a sketch-based film. The disc does not support bookmarks, but it does gladly resume unfinished playback of the film.

The standard blue keepcase holds no inserts but does display alternate poster artwork on the cover's reverse side.

Hong Kong martial arts expert Loo (Evan Kim) uses a toy robot to infiltrate a high security facility in "A Fistful of Zen", the feature attraction of "The Kentucky Fried Movie."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Not surprisingly, 36-year-old sketch comedy The Kentucky Fried Movie is hit-and-miss as well as quite dated. Of course, you could make the same criticisms against the most beloved of Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker films.
Inarguably, KFM isn't as well-known, popular, or easy to love as spoofs like Airplane! and The Naked Gun. But it does have some funny moments scattered among the immaturity and raunch. Though it will most delight viewers now in their fifties who either saw it back in the day as teens or have a soft spot for their formative years, there's enough in KFM to warrant a look for curious parties outside that demographic.

Shout! Factory's Blu-ray can't be considered the film's definitive release, following the UK's more loaded two-disc DVD edition, but its acceptable feature presentation and satisfactory trio of bonus features are much more than what most films of its age, budget, and reputation receive.

Buy The Kentucky Fried Movie from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray / Anchor Bay DVD / 2-Disc Region 2 Arrow Video UK DVD

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From Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker: Airplane! The Naked Gun: From the Files of the Police Squad
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New York Stories MADtv: The Complete Second Season Hall Pass Dirty Mary Crazy Larry & Race with the Devil Ghost Teen Wolf Balls of Fury

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Reviewed July 13, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1977 Ned Topham, United Film Distribution Company, Kentucky Fried Theater Productions, KFM Films, Inc., and 2013 Shout! Factory.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.