The Kentucky Fried Movie at 45
The Kentucky Fried Movie hasn’t aged that well. Not because it’s particularly offensive, but rather because a large percentage of its humor is extremely specific to the world and popular culture of the late ’70s, when it was made.
Released in August of 1977, Kentucky Fried Movie was a sketch anthology movie, directed by John Landis, in just the second film of his career, after 1973’s Shlock. Landis would direct Animal House a year later, The Blues Brothers two years after that, then An American Werewolf in London and Trading Places.
The film, meanwhile, was written by the trio of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, the “ZAZ” team that would go on to make Airplane and the Naked Gun movies.
With The Kentucky Fried Movie, both the director and writers were still finding their voices, but the film is often very funny. The Kentucky Fried Movie represents a series of disconnected sketches, including parodies of local news, numerous movie parodies, and a few standalone sketches.
But what’s notable about the film, upon rewatch, is just how specific to its era it is.
It’s not just that the newscasts look very much of their period. The film is chock-full of references to things that are super-era-specific, like Evel Knievel, the Hare Krishnas, blaxploitation movies, Bruce Lee, Russ Meyer films, Johnny Carson’s animal segments, Deep Throat, and Airport-era disaster films.
Is a lot of it still funny? Yes it is. But it’s far from universal or timeless.
Also, between Jim Slade’s entrance music being “Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem.,” a headache drug called “Sanhedrin,” and the rabbi in “Cleopatra Schwartz,” the movie also believes that Jewishness is inherently hilarious.
The funniest thing in the movie, by far, “Catholic High School Girls in Trouble,” a Russ Meyer homage featuring an exploitative premise and lots and lots of bare breasts. Rewatching the movie reminded me of the time, while on a high school youth group field trip bus trip, that our counselors put on the VHS of The Kentucky Fried Movie, but instantly regretted their decision and turned it off once they reached the “Catholic High School Girls in Trouble” scene.
The film’s longest bit is “A Fistful of Yen,” a lengthy parody of Enter the Dragon that seems to drag on forever, despite a few scattered laughs. I’m more partial to the film’s closing bit, in which a couple has sex while watching the news, and the newscasters can see them and act accordingly.
There’s also a bit, involving a monkey attacking a television studio, that prefigured Jordan Peele’s Nope by 45 years, although probably not intentionally.
Landis’ film has always sort of run together in my mind with Amazon Women on the Moon, which came out a decade later and also featured an anthology format, numerous genre parodies, and plenty of bare breasts. Landis even directed several segments in that film, including the opening “Mondo Condo” bit with Arsenio Hall.
The Kentucky Fried Movie may be a movie from another era, but there are many, many ways to watch it in the streaming era. The film is streaming for free on Peacock, Pluto TV, Tubi, Amazon Prime, and the Roku Channel.