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The Kentucky Fried Horror Show – Porn, the Colonel and the Splatter Movie That Never Was

It was set to be the horror movie event of the year. With a cast that would feature genre icon Brad Dourif and pop star Jessica Simpson, Hollywood studio Dimension Films distributing and fast food chain KFC threatening the producers with a lawsuit, it seemed that the gore flick was destined to become a cult classic. Yet despite causing such controversy and anticipation throughout its pre-production The Kentucky Fried Horror Show would never see the light of day. Its director had intended on creating a splatter-fest that would both satisfy the most hardcore of horror fans while angering Bible-belt America, but despite the publicity the motion picture would remain trapped in development hell.

Taking elements from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Two Thousand Maniacs, in which arrogant city slickers inadvertently anger the blood-thirsty residents of a rural community, The Kentucky Fried Horror Show would have combined this subgenre with themes of Satanic cults and Lovecraftian monsters. This marriage of concepts would have resulted in an over-the-top splatter flick that intended on pushing the noughties torture porn cycle to new extremes, a film whose sole purpose was to disgust and offend its audience.

The Kentucky Fried Horror Show entered development at a time when the independent horror scene was thriving with new talent and a market for sexually-explicit and ultra-violent pictures. With both the rape-revenge splatter of Gutterballs and the blaxploitation comedy of Black Devil Doll refusing to compromise on their graphic content, thus receiving enthusiastic online support from both fans and genre websites, filmmakers were finally given the chance to indulge in their taste for flesh and blood without fear of censorship. Even mainstream horror had become somewhat brutal as the likes of Hostel and Saw became box office sensations.

As one might have expected, the genesis for the project all began with the title. With its close resemblance to a popular fast food chain and its genre of choice proudly proclaimed, The Kentucky Fried Horror Show was intended to have been the sophomore picture from independent filmmaker C.L. Gregory. His first foray into directing would be under the tutelage of adult publication Hustler on the 2005 supernatural horror Blood Lake. ‘It was the most dreadful project I have ever worked on and hope to never work again,’ confessed Gregory on the experience of making his debut. ‘You want a story about the business, I’ll give you a whopper of a story that involves a city mayor, a porn film, Hollywood agents and me almost getting arrested. It was the craziest project you can ever imagine!’

Having been raised in a Pentecostal household, Gregory had studied theology after leaving high school and initially intended on pursuing a career as an evangelist preacher before eventually deciding to travel the world. His passion for cinema would soon lead him to England where he gained a summer internship working under the legendary Stanley Kubrick, before relocating to Italy to continue his film education with notorious European exploitation filmmaker Joe D’Amato. It would be D’Amato, best known for the pornographic horror films Erotic Nights of the Living Dead and Porno Holocaust, that would have such a profound effect on the young wannabe director and his gravitation to both the horror and adult industry.

Following a brief time in the adult industry Gregory managed to survive the hellish experience of making Blood Lake but once the picture was complete he was frustrated to discover that Hustler had no intention of releasing the film. Despite his best attempts to purchase the rights so he could distribute it independently, the magazine eventually decided to release it on DVD as a double bill alongside another picture entitled Wild and Wicked Wench, whose artwork proudly boasted that the movie offered ‘More Fuck for Your Buck!’ Surprisingly, it was the R-rated version that would enjoy the most acclaim, winning a Raven Award for Best New Indie Horror at the London Horror Film Festival the following year. ‘I was about to be offered a $150,000 deal with Hustler/LFP to make nothing but a line of hardcore adult horror films, then LFP backed out and wanted nothing to do with me. It was a major downer for me so I said fuck it, since no one in the industry wanted to touch me I flipped over to mainstream.’

Gregory claimed that the inspiration for The Kentucky Fried Horror Show would come from true events that occurred around the time that principal photography had concluded on his first feature. ‘Someone was in fact raping, then killing and in some cases decapitating their victims and when they caught this person he said that he was told in a vision to kill the evil of the world,’ he explained, while also citing another influence on the themes that were to be explored in the film. ‘Religion has really fucked our society these days and its presence in our daily lives, in our politics, in how we live our lives. There is a real danger in blindly following everything that comes along that does not allow you to question its authority and we have seen the effects of it, from Jim Jones in the 1970s to David Koresh in the 1990s.’

By April 2006 Gregory had reunited with Blood Lake writer Erin Gilmer to develop the first draft of what was to become The Kentucky Fried Horror Show. It would take almost ten months for the pair to complete the initial script and before long Gregory was reaching out to potential investors to help finance the picture, which he intended on producing once again under his Midnite Films banner. Around the same time that the movie entered development the horror genre had undergone something of a revival, with high-profile remakes of several pictures that had inspired Gregory’s initial vision, with Wes Craven’s 1977 survivalist thriller The Hills Have Eyes and Lewis’ Two Thousand Maniacs – the latter retitled 2001 Maniacs – gaining minor acclaim for their reinterpretation of the source material.

With Blood Lake having already depicted a group of friends falling victim to maniacal and supernatural forces The Kentucky Fried Horror Show would once again feature a holy man as the primary villain and a group of generic slasher archetypes as the attractive victims. In the opening pages of the screenplay a girl is sacrificed and another character decapitated while their partner is burnt alive. Alongside the deranged reverend the cast of characters would also feature a meat cleaver-swinging redneck called Orville and the sexy-yet-deadly twins Bobbie Jo and Mary Ellen. The comparisons between this religious cult and that of Charles Manson, Jones and Koresh is difficult to ignore and that is the point, the screenplay is an attack on religious extremism, which has become more relatable in the modern world than ever before.

‘I approached it as a nightmare joy ride through redneckville,’ mused Gilmer on how she adapted Gregory’s concept into a screenplay. ‘I tried to fuse some comedy in there since the deaths are very dark. I created the characters in a very specific way. I didn’t want people to be apathetic about my characters. The religious cult was Christopher’s idea based on his own research he did on the Jonestown Massacre. I come from a pretty liberal and anti-organised religion background so picking up a Bible was something new for me. The scripture quoting was me taking a yellow highlighter and choosing what I thought fit the tone of each scene. My best friend still has the Bible that I used and he keeps it for good luck.’

As the concept slowly developed into a feature-length screenplay Gregory and Gilmer created the story’s principal antagonist, Reverend Elias Moses, a character whose inspiration had come from the director’s meeting with cult leader Jim Jones as a child. The influence that Jones had over his followers would even surpass that of Manson, ultimately resulting in a mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana in November 1978. Over nine hundred members of his Peoples Temple group took their own lives after drinking a poisonous mixture commonly referred to as Kool-Aid, which would also include Jones’ wife Marceline, following the murder of US Congressman Leo Ryan, who had attempted to take several members of the cult to safety.

One aspect of The Kentucky Fried Horror Show that would have been impressive was the wealth of recognisable names that were at one time or another attached to the picture throughout its convoluted development. The first of which was Texas-born pop star Jessica Simpson who, having recently released her fifth studio album A Public Affair to mixed reviews, was eager to nurture a career on the big screen. With the comedies The Dukes of Hazzard and Employee of the Month already on her résumé, along with the reality television series The Ashlee Simpson Show alongside her younger sister, The Kentucky Fried Horror Show would have marked a radical departure for the clean-cut singer, who would instead take a cameo in the Mike Myers disaster The Love Guru the following year.

‘We first spoke to her agents at that time and they asked, after we pitched them the storyline, to see the script. After a few weeks had passed I received an email suggesting that they had indeed liked the script, liked it enough to send it on to Joe, Jessica’s father,’ recalled Gregory. Despite the relatively low budget that Gregory had raised for the production, negotiations began with Simpson to take a supporting role as one of five college students embarking on a road trip from New York to rural Kentucky. Having given her approval of the script, Simpson’s agent was offered a sum of $2.5m for his client to participate in the picture, while producers began discussions with Hollywood studio Dimension Films regarding distribution. But before long Simpson was allegedly pressured by her father to back out of the film and soon a public dispute began between actress and director.

‘Whatever happened after that is anybody’s guess as the next thing I read was Simpson calling me a hack director and that she does not do low budget films with no-names. I was furious!’ he continued. ‘I then received a call from an MTV and Rolling Stone reporter. She called me on a Saturday afternoon and asked to do an interview. When she told me to respond to a statement Jessica made after a concert about me and my project and that I was a hack director I didn’t know what to say. You have to remember that until now, as far as I knew, the girl was going to do the film and even offered through her manager and agent a letter of intent while we negotiated her asking fee. So all I could do is simply state the fact that we were working closely with her people and for whatever reason it had a blonde meltdown.’

While Gregory and the producers struggled through the futile negotiations with Simpson’s representatives, Gilmer watched as the project came to a standstill. ‘I think when you cast any well-known family-oriented actress or pop star you run the risk of your film ending up a PG-13, sanitised version of what you really want to make,’ explained the writer. With Simpson instead turning her attention to the romantic comedy Blonde Ambition and development of her next album, Gregory was forced by his producers to reach out to another familiar name to lend the project some commercial credibility. Sisters Haylie and Hilary Duff, both best known for the teen series Lizzie McGuire, were contacted regarding the role and while Hilary would immediately refuse Gregory was surprised to receive a phone call from their mother and agent regarding the possibility of casting Haylie, the less successful of the two siblings, in the lead role of Crystal, the story’s final girl. But when the producers accepted the decision demands soon followed that would include significant script revisions, the removal of a lesbian scene that Duff would be required to participate in and a reduction in violent content, ostensibly watering the tone down for a PG-friendly crowd.

‘Apparently I don’t work well with pop stars,’ mocked Gregory on the frustrating experience of working with young mainstream stars. ‘Maybe it’s my personality but it drives me fucking nuts to think that certain people feel the need to behave a certain way that causes me to react the way I do. I simply don’t have time for any Britney bullshit and that’s what I got. The main reason why the Duff sister failed to work out was Susan Duff, their mother and a zealous agent, had the sense of a rock and no balls. I don’t do well with people that behave like they’re everything in the world and place unnecessary loads on directors who have a small budget and are trying to do good for the whole cast and crew, not to mention the film. It was simply not a good mix and we parted ways. And I say good riddance. Let Disney deal with the bullshit, I won’t!’

Following the issues with Simpson and Duff the project’s original producer would part ways with Gregory and soon Rik Walters and Rob Walker came to give the production a fresh perspective. ‘I was approached through my partner at Streetwise Productions,’ recalled Walters on how he first heard of The Kentucky Fried Horror Show. ‘Rob and I have a great relationship with C.L. Gregory and once I read the script and saw the artwork by Kit Nelson I knew this was a winner! I have been a fan of horror since the 1970s. I grew up watching the original Frankenstein films, Dracula, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead and, of course, Halloween. To be honest, I am tired of the remakes. It is time for something new and original, which The Kentucky Fried Horror Show really is!’

With new producers on board and its director no longer under pressure to cast a star in a lead role, Gregory instead turned his attention to signing on established genre names to the picture. The first two to be approached were P.J. Soles and Bill Moseley. By the time she had been contacted regarding The Kentucky Fried Horror Show Soles was already a thirty-year veteran of the film industry, having first come to the attention of horror fans when she appeared in the very first ever Stephen King adaptation, Carrie, in 1976. Soon other notable roles would follow, including John Carpenter’s seminal slasher Halloween, the rock musical comedy Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and comedies Private Benjamin and Stripes. When Kentucky Fried Horror Show entered pre-production Soles had recently collaborated with musician-turned-filmmaker Rob Zombie and was set to star in a direct-to-DVD sequel to Uwe Boll’s critically-reviled horror flick Alone in the Dark.

Moseley, meanwhile, would also first make a name for himself with a popular horror title after taking the role of Chop-Top in the highly-anticipated 1986 sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Over the following decades he would continue to cement his reputation as a genre icon with appearances in Tom Savini’s remake of Night of the Living Dead and the sci-fi B-movie Crash and Burn, before enjoying something of a career revival under Rob Zombie with the cult classics House of 1000 Corpses and its follow-up The Devil’s Rejects. Moseley had also become attached to an ambitious rock musical from Saw 2 director Darren Lynn Bousman called Repo! The Genetic Opera, whose eclectic cast would include socialite Paris Hilton and Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Anthony Head. Unfortunately, however, scheduling conflicts would force both Soles and Moseley to back out of the project, once again leaving Gregory to restart the casting process.

One character in the script had been developed with a specific person in mind and that actor was Brad Dourif. While his screen debut in 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest would earn him an Academy Award nomination, Dourif would become a horror icon over a decade later after lending his voice to the homicidal doll Chucky in the long-running Child’s Play series. Dourif would portray the villain a further six times before finally being replaced by Star Wars icon Mark Hamill in the 2019 remake. Yet even outside of the franchise Dourif was a respected genre star, with noted appearances in David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune, The Exorcist III and the Lord of the Rings sequels. It would be the part of Rev. Moses that Gregory would offer to the actor, who would ultimately agree to take on yet another villainous role.

With the antagonist now in place, Gregory and his producers began searching for young actresses that could play both the group of college students and residents of the rural community. As was traditional with horror movies the women chosen would be attractive and thus marketable, particular with some having prior experience in modelling. Among those that would soon find themselves attached to the project was Troma and Playboy veteran Rachael Robbins. ‘I didn’t need to get hit in the face with a giant cream pie to have noticed the title. I’ve always been on the lookout for the next Attack of the Killer Tomatoes for the new millennium,’ admitted Robbins, who was set to play Kimberly, one of twenty girls who has disappeared in the area over the last five years. ‘I figured, if I can’t be in great A-List movies, I’ll be in bad films with great titles. Fortunately for me, Kentucky actually backs up its rocking title with a great script.’

Another addition to the cast was rising scream queen Zoe Hunter. ‘My role has changed a couple of times and I am not sure I am going to be named Jessica anymore! For now, let’s just call me a member of the cult-like religious group who is really a bad girl underneath it all,’ explained the actress. ‘I have a nice sexy scene in a van and a fabulous death and I can’t wait to work with the stunt people and all of the effects. Cons of working on a cheaper horror flick; longer hours, doing your own make-up, using your own clothes, unhealthy food on set and dangerous stunts that you have to perform yourself. Pros; long hours, having more control over what you look like, more hands-on experience and a chance to do your own stunts.’ Other cast members would include Scarlett Pomers who, following the collapse of The Kentucky Fried Horror Show, would soon find minor success with Star Trek: Voyager, while relative newcomer Mary Castro would replace Duff as the story’s heroine. Acclaimed film critic Joe Bob Briggs would also join the cast as the community’s deputy sheriff.

With Gregory already having associations with the world of pornography through his work with Hustler and his desire to provoke with his latest project, perhaps it was inevitable that he would cast an adult actress in a supporting role. Having first arrived on the scene in 2004 with the horror-themed Re-Penetrator, a sex spoof of the horror classic Re-Animator, Joanna Angel soon made a name for herself in the adult world as not only a performer but also director and producer through her own banner BurningAngel. Other titles that Angel would appear in that would heavily reference the horror genre included The XXXorcist and Dong of the Dead. Yet despite her popularity on the alternative scene, akin to that of the Suicide Girls, Angel had opted not to participate in a standard horror film prior to being approached by the producers of The Kentucky Fried Horror Show. Following her departure from the project, however, Angel would later take roles in the comedy Breath of Hate alongside Kevin Smith regular Jason Mewes and the horror movies Last House and Streets of Vengeance.

With a production as ambitious as The Kentucky Fried Horror Show, one that would include elaborate artwork of a demonic monster that would be conjured up during the movie’s finale, the filmmakers would utilise the special effects expertise of Harvey Lowry, an unexpected addition to the crew considering his prior work had included such mainstream pictures as Blade, The Passion of the Christ and, most recently, X-Men: The Last Stand. ‘Christopher’s very passionate about this project,’ he declared on the enthusiasm its director C.L Gregory had for the horror picture. ‘He’s a great guy with a clear vision of what he wants but he’s also very trusting with Drac Studios and my experience. The direction Christopher has given is ‘the bloodier, the better!’ Lower budget films generally give more creative control to the make-up crew. On Kentucky we’re working with small group of people who trust our input and give us a bit of free reign in designing the effects. Larger films like Apocalypto or Van Helsing have a very strict approval process.’ Co-star and producer Devin Reeve concurred, ‘It’s always fun to work with prosthetics, especially when you have the talent of Drac Studios making you up.’

By the autumn of 2007 Gregory had all the pieces in place and was about to commence work on the long-awaited movie when it suddenly encountered another obstacle, one that took everyone by surprise. Launched in Kentucky in 1930, Kentucky Fried Chicken had become one of the most successful fast food chains in the world, rivalled only by the McDonald’s empire and so when the company heard that a movie was in production that bore a similar title to their own they immediately contacted the lawyers of the film’s producers threatening legal action. While comparisons between the name of the chain and the motion picture were obvious, the director had never intended the film to be a satire or commentary on the fast food industry, unlike Troma’s recently-released horror musical Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. Instead the themes it explored were the corruptive influence of religion over society and the cultural clash between the city and country. Regardless, KFC were unwilling for a horror movie to be released with a moniker that could besmirch their own.

‘I just seem to piss people off these days. We received a letter about three weeks ago demanding that we change the name from The Kentucky Fried Horror Show to something else as KFC felt that it depicted something that they felt harmed their brand,’ stated Gregory in early 2008. ‘But it was not only our title, it was the overall depiction of violence that they deemed obscene, ghastly, repulsive and vile; these are all actual words their lawyers stated in their demand that my film be shut down. The main reason that they are pissed at us is that the use of the bucket is very similar in imagery to their chicken bucket. But to settle the argument we agreed to change the bucket to a pail and yet they still demanded that we not use the word Kentucky in our project. So my response was, ‘No we are not changing the title or removing Kentucky from the title.’ KFC made it clear that it was my horror film that they had an issue with, not just the title, but the way I depicted the dismemberment of the girl in the bucket.’

Yet the director felt the lawsuit was less an issue with plagiarism and more an attack on the graphic nature of the horror genre. ‘I don’t believe this will ever be resolved as they have made it clear that they hate my film so I want to make sure that every horror fan that sees my film thanks KFC for bringing it into the spotlight,’ added Gregory. ‘Our position has always been that our film or its title has nothing to do with KFC, its brand name, nor its image. Their beef is that we project something that they feel is violent and disturbing and they have positioned themselves as the final authority of what is art and what is not art. They have demanded that we change all artwork, change the movie’s title and change our direction of the film. So my reply was quick and firm: piss off! But we have made it known that we are going to fight KFC on this for as long as we can. KFC kills millions of birds per year, but they label a horror filmmaker’s work as ghastly, repulsive, vile and disgusting?’

While the film could easily have disappeared without a trace upon release like so many other low budget pictures, the attention that KFC had brought to The Kentucky Fried Horror Show had blessed the movie with the kind of media notoriety most filmmakers can only dream of. Yet ironically while the fast food chain allegedly spoke out against the horror that was to be depicted onscreen the chain’s greatest adversary, animal rights advocates PETA, offered their support to Gregory and his associates. ‘The Kentucky Fried Horror Show should be the name of a documentary, not a fantasy film,’ stated a spokesperson for PETA. ‘KFC chickens are bred to be unnatural freaks; big, heavy and sick. Even worse, they are killed in the most bloody fashion; first, they’re hung upside down by their legs, electrocuted and then they have their throats cut. Many aren’t even properly stunned and face being thrown in the scalding tank – a vat of boiling water – alive. There are less brutal ways of rearing and killing chickens but KFC aren’t interested. If KFC don’t want to be associated with horror they should have a look at changing their own business practices, not worry about fake blood spilled in some movie. They need to get their priorities right.’

Despite the impending lawsuit overshadowing every other aspect of the film, the producers of The Kentucky Fried Horror Show decided to follow the William Castle school of filmmaking by launching a contest to whet the appetites of horror fans. In September 2007 the filmmakers posed the question ‘Are You Dying to Be in a Horror Film?’ and the entry fee for the contest was to take the most gruesome photo of your own death. ‘And remember, the more disturbing, the most bloody, the most shocking images that you take of yourself will most surely get you a nod to win,’ claimed the gimmick, which would result in five winners receiving both a signed copy of the script and a visit to the set. ‘So think gore as you slice and dice your way into this contest.’ The promotional tool was a success and thousands of hopefuls entered the competition, once again boosting the profile of The Kentucky Fried Horror Show without a single frame having even been shot.

Yet as cameras were getting ready to roll the project suddenly came to a standstill. The cast and crew moved onto other projects while Gregory, the instigator of the controversial picture, eventually withdrew from the film industry. It had suffered through diva tantrums, lawsuits and a constantly-changing cast of actors, yet the real reason the film failed to see the light of day was never revealed. It had promised nudity, sex, gore, monsters and horror icons in a cocktail of exploitation that would have satisfied even the most hardcore of horror fans. But The Kentucky Fried Horror Show would become yet another movie that would ultimately become trapped in development hell, despite the passion of all involved. ‘I’m old school so I guess I feel that strongly about what’s called horror these days and what’s called bullshit,’ claimed Gregory in 2008 when it seemed that his twisted imagination would still make it to the big screen. ‘But we’ve got it all; a great set-up, a great plot, fucking great characters that would make Charlie Manson proud and lots of gore and blood. So we’ve got it covered…and if that’s not enough I’m sure I can find a midget to place in there somewhere!’

1 COMMENT
  1. TheonGreyjoy1989

    I fuckin’ remember this. It was on some site like UHM or Dread Central. Sounded damn cool

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