I recently discovered there are two types of people in this world: Kentucky Fried Movie people and Amazon Women in the Moon people.
Even though both films are memorable comedies from my youth, I’m more of a Kentucky type of fella. As someone who grew up adoring the movie’s writers (Jim Abrahams and David & Jerry Zucker) and director (John Landis) I was psyched to check it out when it finally hit cable. When I saw it, I felt like I was being let in on the dirtiest of secrets. Much like fellow ‘70s-era, cinematic skitfests The Groove Tube (1974) and Tunnel Vision (1976), Kentucky is relentlessly zany and absurd, but it also has an anarchic, satirical, counterculture bite. It’s a foul-mouthed, filthy-minded, gleefully offensive, sketch-comedy burlesque that isn’t above using a woman’s gigantic breasts as comic props. (Anyone who’s ever seen the Kentucky’s sexploitation-movie parody “Catholic High School Girls in Trouble” knows what I’m talking about.)
But I recently learned there are those who prefer Amazon, which was just released on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. My friend and colleague Camilo Hannibal Smith disclosed his love for the film when I had him on my podcast a year ago. “If you compare Amazon Women on the Moon and Kentucky Fried Movie,” he told me, “I feel like Amazon comes out on top.”
Shot in six weeks in 1985 and briefly released in theaters in 1987, Amazon is a celluloid sketch show that’s basically an unofficial Kentucky sequel. (It was supposed to be called Kentucky Fried Sequel, but the filmmakers couldn’t get the rights to the title.) Landis returns to produce and direct several sketches, but he’s also joined by directors Joe Dante, Carl Gottlieb, Robert K. Weiss and Peter Horton, the thirtysomething co-star who got to direct because his then-wife Michelle Pfeiffer (who appears in another skit with him) convinced Landis to let him shoot a couple.
Instead of the ZAZ team, Amazon is written by Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland, who wrote for Johnny Carson throughout his three-decade, Tonight Show reign. This explains why Amazon seems like the work of TV scribes who had a bunch of bawdy, over-the-top, occasionally dark-hearted skits and gags in a file somewhere, R-rated bits and pieces that they knew would never get on-air, but wrote anyway to get out of their systems.
There appears to be a running, eerily prophetic theme in Amazon, as most of the skits deal with how advancements in technology — particularly television and home video — often sabotage our lives. In the opening, Landis-directed “Mondo Condo,” Arsenio Hall (billed here only as Arsenio) literally gets assaulted by everything in his tricked-out apartment until he falls out the window to his death.
After that, Amazon is framed as though the viewer is flipping through channels, dipping into various movies, TV shows and commercials while also throwing in scenes of people getting practically taken out by newfangled, electronic equipment. A running gag has the late character actor Lou Jacobi as an underwear-clad man who gets zapped into his own TV, popping up on one channel after another and eventually wandering through the rest of the movie. One long-winded scene features Steve Guttenberg as a serial dater who gets busted for his selfish, womanizing ways when an intended date (Rosanna Arquette) asks for two forms of ID and prints out his dating history. And in the climactic closer, a single guy (Marc McClure, aka Jimmy Olsen from Superman: The Movie) gets persuaded by a video-store clerk (Russ Meyer!) to rent a video where he spends some quality time with a buxom female (1982 Penthouse Pet of the Year Corinne Alphen). Believe it or not, that really doesn’t end well.
There are some oddball running bits: a family man (Archie Hahn) suffers a heart attack after his dull life is reviewed by a Siskel & Ebert-esque pair of film critics; he later gets roasted at his funeral by such old-school comics as Steve Allen, Henry Youngman, and Rip Taylor. We get commercials featuring a pre-In Living Color David Alan Grier as square crooner Don “No Soul” Simmons. There’s “Bulls**t or Not,” a Ripley’s Believe It or Not knockoff where veteran bad guy Henry Silva tackles such mysteries as the possibility that Jack the Ripper was really the Loch Ness Monster. And, last but not least, we have our titular feature presentation, a cheapo, ‘50s-style sci-fi flick where a trio of astronauts land on the Moon and are imprisoned by a race of intergalactic smokeshows (led by B-movie goddess Sybil Danning).
Of course, when you have a team of directors and editors assembling a bunch of sketches (some OK, some meh, some what-the-hell-was-that) together in a cohesive rhythm, you just know the whole damn thing, as fun as double-stuffed as it sounds, is gonna come off wobbly and uneven. Hell, the best skit — a black-and-white spoof of ‘30s exploitation flicks starring Carrie Fisher — doesn’t even show up until the end credits.
Even Landis insists not everything on Amazon works, as you’ll find out in the new, making-of featurette that’s included on the Blu-ray. There, a nonplussed Landis, arms always folded, tries to remember the movie and why he agreed to do this in the first place. He also drops such tidbits as how the movie was originally intended to go straight-to-video and that Hall was best known at that time as “that guy who followed Eddie Murphy around.” (Man, that guy just stays being a piece of s**t.) You also hear from co-director Joe Dante, casting director Julie Selzer and co-editor Marshall Harvey, who pulls out a list of rejected titles that were chosen as part of a crew contest. (My favorite: Movie on a Stick.) The disc also comes with a giddy audio commentary courtesy of Kat Ellinger and Mike McPadden, film scholars and hosts of the Busted Guts podcast. The rest of the special features are outtakes and deleted, painfully unfunny skits — like an allegedly thought-provoking, anti-war scene featuring Robert Loggia, Ronny Cox and Bernie Casey — that were previously included on a 2003 DVD.
Amazon Women on the Moon may not have the naughty, anti-establishment sting that made Kentucky a beloved, career-launching cult comedy. But, as far as all-star, multi-directed sketch flicks go, it’s still better than Movie 43.
“Amazon Women on the Moon” is out today on Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.