King of late 1970’s and early 1980’s comedy and horror movies John Landis made an immediate impression with his 1977 movie The Kentucky Fried Movie, and followed that up with a string of cult classics from The Blues Brothers to An American Werewolf in London.
Despite a few misfires in later years including a ill judged sequel to The Blues Brothers his early movies remain essential viewing. Incidentally trivia fans may like to note that Landis made a surprise cameo appearance in superb Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton series Psychoville.
Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)
The title for this satiric look at commercials, television, and movies comes from the Kentucky Fried Theatre, a Madison, Wisconsin, theater troupe that was the launching pad for Abrahams and the Zucker brothers. They became better known as the auteurs behind “Airplane!” (1980), but this earlier work features plenty of their patented sight gags. Also gave director Landis his first big shot in an outing with a comedic sensibility not far removed from his breakthrough the next year with “National Lampoon’s Animal House”. One of the skits in Kentucky Fried Movie concerns a character called Rex Kramer. The Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team would use this dynamic name again in their next film, Airplane! (1980), for Robert Stack’s character.
Cast: Bill Bixby, Donald Sutherland
The Blues Brothers (1980)
The feature-length comedy starring characters made famous on television’s Saturday Night Live. Jake and Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi) are on a mission from God” to save their church. In order to raise the necessary $5,000, they reunite their band and go on tour. A multitude of musical cameos from renowned musicians, including James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles, add to the delightful and energetic film.”
Cast:Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, James Brown, John Candy, Carrie Fisher, Henry Gibson
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Filmmaker John Landis updates an age-old horror genre – the werewolf movie–by infusing it with his established comic style (Animal House, The Blues Brothers) and some shocking special effects in this cult favorite. When an unseen creature attacks two American college buddies in the English countryside, the results are disastrous: One man dies (Griffin Dunne) yet continues to appear within his quickly decomposing body; the other (David Naughton) experiences a horrifying transformation into one of the beasts. Darkly funny, scary and intense, this 1980s horror classic resulted in the first Oscar for legendary special effects makeup artist Rick Baker. Two years later John Landis created another werewolf classic that was seen over and over by millions: the groundbreaking video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Cast:Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, Brian Glover, David Naughton, David Schofield, John Woodvine
Trading Places (1983)
Two wicked old tycoons (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy) make a bet about heredity versus environment, then set out to prove their points by arranging for a homeless con man (Eddie Murphy) to trade places” with a privileged preppie snob (Dan Aykroyd). Great comic energy from the leads, aided and abetted by the impeccable Denholm Elliott as a butler, by the sexy Jamie Lee Curtis as a prostitute with a standard-issue heart of gold, and by the great Elmer Bernstein’s sprightly score.”
Cast: Don Ameche, Dan Aykroyd, Ralph Bellamy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Denholm Elliott, Kristin Holby, John Bedford Lloyd, Avon Long, Eddie Murphy
Three Amigos (1986)
Genuinely funny farce about three silent film stars (Steve Martin, Martin Short, Chevy Chase), recently canned from their studio, who eagerly head south of the border for what they think will be a lucrative public appearance. Instead, they discover they’ve been summoned to save a village from a real-life bandito (Alfonso Arau) without a shred of pity. Initially wimpy, the Amigos find their courage and, rather ineptly, set out to conquer the evil El Guapo. Co-written by Martin, director John Landis, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, and irrepressible songwriter Randy Newman, whose out-on-the-prairie lullaby (with local wildlife joining in) is a highlight.
Cast: Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Patrice Martinez, Alfonso Arau, Joe Mantegna, Tony Plana, Jon Lovitz.