Sunday, July 17, 2011

Classic Throwback: Animal House (John Landis, 1978)

Before American Pie at the end of the 1990's and The Hangover a few years back, there was Animal House, the frequently hilarious teen comedy directed by John Landis (American Werewolf in London and Blues Brothers) in 1978. The culturally significant comedy classic is not only considered to be the film that launched the gross-out genre but the film that best defined coming of age amidst the zany college fraternity life of the 1960's. Just as the aforementioned titles had an entire generation of filmgoers in hysterics, Animal House did too.


The year is 1962 and the film opens focusing on two freshmen, Lawrence 'Larry' Kroger (Thomas Hulce) and Kent Dorfman (Stephen Furst), as they try to join a prestigious fraternity at Faber College. Unsuccessful in their attempt they try at Delta Tau Chi House instead. Here they find a group of misfits, led by Bluto (John Belushi), who need 'the dues', so they permit the pair to pledge. They receive the fraternity names "Pinto" (Larry) and "Flounder" (Kent).

Vernon Wormer (John Vernon), the Dean of Faber College, wants to remove the Delta fraternity from Campus due to the repeated conduct violation and their poor grades. He puts the Deltas on 'Double Secret Probation' and orders the Omega president Marmalard (James Daughton) to find a way to get rid of the Deltas permanently. A number of crazy antics and hilarious situations ensue as the fraternity men challenge their college administrators.

The memorable moments include the ill-fated prank resulting in the death of cadet commander Doug Neidermeyer's (Mark Metcalf) horse, the food fight that engulfs the cafeteria, Bluto's scaling of a ladder to peek on a sorority pillow fight, the Omega's shrewd switch of the exam stencil to counter a Delta theft, the infamous toga party (Shout!) and the climactic annual homecoming parade, where the now-expelled fraternities wreak havoc on a float bearing the words: Eat Me!


The only established star was John Belushi, whose performance includes only a couple of lines of dialogue. From his public urination, his numerous feats of crushing beer cans on his forehead, to his propulsion of cottage cheese from his over-stuffed mouth, he is brilliant. Several of the cast, including Tom Hulce, Karen Allen and Kevin Bacon, were just beginning their careers, and would later star in films like Amadeus, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Diner. 

The screenplay was adapted from stories written by Chris Miller and published in National Lampoon magazine based on Miller's experiences in the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity at Dartmouth College and the similar fraternity experiences of Harold Ramis (co-writer) and Ivan Reitman (producer). What the film manages to do so well is balance a lot of characters. It's quite frenetic in its pace, throwing in great cameos from Verna Bloom, the Dean's wife who is seduced by the charms of Delta House's unofficial leader (Tim Mathieson), and Donald Sutherland as a pot-smoking literature professor who seems to be just as bored as his students, inviting members of the Delta around for a quiet joint or two.


It is evident that a film like American Pie is a direct homage to Animal House. The film shifts the events forwards about 30 years, focuses more on High School graduation than college fraternities, and is much more crude in it's discussions of sex. Animal House does focus on themes of masculine identity with pledging at a fraternity considered an important step for freshmen. It ensured acceptance, kinship and brotherhood. Losing ones virginity, the risk of bedding underage girls and the challenge of sleeping with older women are all tackled in quite amusing and fairly censored fashion. I don't know what else to say because it is a film that has been so widely discussed and seen by so many people. I don't know why I had never seen it prior to now, it had eluded me, but it was a great fun throughout.

My Rating: 4 Stars (B+)

3 comments:

  1. I need to see this, badly.

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  2. Oh, this is a great film. Certainly one of the all-time great comedies. It's raunchy, politically incorrect, and just fucking hilarious.

    I owned this on VHS. I don't have it anymore. Still, I need to get it on DVD soon.

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  3. My parents had a copy on VHS though I never saw it. Made use of a Torrent, but it's a comedy classic I will eventually add to my collection.

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