This is one for the “undisputed classic if you saw it at the time” pile.
Ten years after directing the fairly similar “The Kentucky Fried Movie”, John Landis was the driving force behind this odd film, a series of sketches linked by someone idly flicking through late-night TV channels. The central sketch, with the same name as the film, a parody of 50s sci-fi like “Cat Women Of The Moon” appears dotted throughout, making 5 or so appearances.
That’s all the background you need, really. As well as Landis, there are several other directors credited, including Joe Dante and Peter Horton; and the cast list is packed with big names of the time- Michelle Pfeiffer, Steve Guttenberg, Rosanna Arquette, Carrie Fisher, Kelly Preston, Ed Begley Jr, Griffin Dunne, Henry Silva and David Alan Grier; along with names with either cult appeal or who would go on to bigger things – Paul Bartel, Joe Pantoliano, and amazingly Bryan Cranston, whose role as “Paramedic 1” in one sketch is so small that no screen-grabs of it are on the internet. Or I’m just looking in the wrong place, whatever. Time to pop the DVD in and see if I can find his face:
(he’s in a section of the funeral sketch which was cut)
Ultimately, this lives and dies like any other sketch show or film (although it’s probably the greatest of all the sketch comedy films, such as they are), not on the cleverness of its central concept but on how funny the sketches are. And at least part of that depends on how old you were, and when it was, when you first watched it. I was in my teens, in the early 90s, when I first watched this, and most of those names were a lot bigger then. Seeing Michelle Pfeiffer in the missing baby sketch was extra-hilarious because she was that blonde ice queen in all those great thriller movies; and Princess Leia messing about in her underwear? Although, the Rosanna Arquette / Steve Guttenberg blind date sketch is maybe a little funnier nowadays, given how much you can find out about someone before a first date even begins.
I don’t want to just list my favourite sketches, but the one which almost single-handedly justifies the existence of the film is the story of Harvey Pitnik. From a film review show about him, to his death to the celebrity roast at his funeral (a group of famous comedians of yesteryear tell appalling jokes about him), it’s both clever and hilarious, and at the time was wonderfully dark for a mainstream comedy.
The main sketch, a not-all-that-loving pastiche of 50s sci-fi, is used well throughout, and although some of the sketches are slight misfires, it still holds up surprisingly well. The one thing I’d forgotten from my youth was just how many boobs are in this film. I hope that teenage me was only watching it for the high quality comedy.