THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (1977) – Not quite AIRPLANE!, but it does hit a few heights

When The Kentucky Fried Movie was released in 1977, would anyone have guessed that it would usher in a new era of movie comedy? It looked like a harmless, no-budget drive-in flick. But its writers — Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker — took the comedy world by storm three years later with their spoof Airplane! And director John Landis virtually launched the gross-out comedy genre with National Lampoon’s Animal House a year later.

Seen today, the movie plays like a nice bridge between the teen-flick genre and Monty Python. Sketches range from short blackouts (many of them featuring the ZAZ writing team) to longer, elaborate parodies (including the gem of the lot, the Bruce Lee take-off “A Fistful of Yen”). As could be guessed just from the movie’s ads, most of this is scattershot. There are an abnormal number of cheap laughs about death, and an infinite number of excuses to undress women. (One of them is well-endowed Russ Meyer veteran Uschi Digard, who looks quite enthusiastic about it.)

But the heights are many. A black-and-white courtroom spoof is livened up by a running “Leave It to Beaver” joke (featuring the actual Wally, Tony Dow). An educational-film parody, complete with scratchy film, builds to a surprising number of laughs. And the centerpiece is the Bruce Lee wanna-be, worth the price of a movie rental in itself.

If it hadn’t been for its creators’ future success, The Kentucky Fried Movie might not be getting a second look these days. But as such, it’s a nice warm-up for their later work, and its ideas about gross-out humor (R-rated though they are) are almost quaint in this day and age.

Here’s a sketch from the movie:

NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) – It’s still on Double Secret Probation with me

Poster

For 26 years, critics and fans have been sounding the drum for what a classic comedy National Lampoon’s Animal House is. At the risk of sounding like Dean Wormer, I’m here to declare: It isn’t.

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It certainly has its merits, not the least of which is the late John Belushi as the one-man id gone haywire that is John “Bluto” Blutarski, seven-year college vet. Watching him snort up a cafeteria buffet like a human vacuum, or bash beer bottles over his head to amuse a dejected classmate, Belushi seems the very essence of liberating comedy.

See that guy on the far left? Since 1978, he gained a few pounds and now plays a very conservative acting role on cable's "Rizzoli and Isles."

See that guy on the far left? Since 1978, he gained a few pounds and now plays a very conservative acting role on cable’s “Rizzoli and Isles.”

Also funny is the way Animal House–about a slovenly ’60s college fraternity named Delta House–turns frat-boy cliches on their head. In most college movies where a guy tries to get a view of nubile females undressing, the comedy would come from how the guy gets caught. Here, the comedy comes from the guy’s (again, Belushi) dramatic reaction to reaching his goal. And the old routine where the seasoned college students get a frosh to pull a major prank gets one of the movie’s biggest laughs, when a horse reacts lethally to being locked up in the dean’s office.

On the debit side, there’s a side to this movie that is never touched upon its reviews–the fact that Animal House is hardly endearing to African-Americans. When the black group Otis Day and the Knights is brought in to play at Delta’s toga party, they seem to be used solely for their exoticness. And when the Deltas visit Otis and his band at an all-black bar, the scene is played strictly for a racist terror from which the movie takes forever to recover.

Lastly, Animal House can arguably be accused of ushering in a still-debilitating genre of gross-out comedies, where the laughs come not from funny personalities but from bodily functions. From Porky’s to The Farrelly Bros.’ filmography, this movie has a lot to answer for.