#13) National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)

 

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#13) National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)

OR “Frat’s Entertainment!”

Directed by John Landis

Written by Harold Ramis & Douglas Kenney & Chris Miller

Class of 2001

The original trailer, narrated by Otter for some reason, and including footage not in the film.

The Plot: It’s 1962 and Delta House is the lowest, dirtiest, least respected (but most fun) fraternity at Faber College. The film chronicles frat orientation for Pinto & Flounder (Tom Hulce & Stephen Furst), as well as the antics of established members Otter (Tim Matheson), Boon (Peter Riegert) and Bluto (John Belushi) as they rally against preppy frat Omega and the college’s no-nonsense dean (John Vernon).

Why It Matters: “Animal House” was the first film produced by college humor magazine National Lampoon. The NFR also quotes one the film’s reviews by calling it “low humor of a high order”.

But Does It Really?: Oh man. So on one hand, this film is at times side-splittingly funny. On the other hand, there’s something about the whole “Boys will be boys” mentality of frats that just rubs me the wrong way. When the boys at Delta are being the underdog and sticking it to the Dean and the Omegas, the film works for me. When they’re taking advantage of women, it gets a little tougher to root for these guys. Its cultural impact would get “Animal House” on this list sooner or later, but if you’re looking for another film to represent the various combos of Landis and Ramis and producer Ivan Reitman, you could also go with the likes of “The Blues Brothers” or “Caddyshack” or later NFR entry “Ghostbusters”.

Shout Outs: In a continuation of the film’s somewhat morbid humor, the women on the Omega float at the end are dressed like Jackie Kennedy is in the Zapruder film.

Everybody Gets One: This movie launched the careers of a lot of actors who would continue to work in film for the next 30 years; the aforementioned Matheson, Reigert, Hulce and Furst – as well as Karen Allen and Bruce McGill. And at long last, this blog has its first (and so far only) Kevin Bacon sighting.

Wow, That’s Dated: With period pieces it’s always tough to know what’s dated and what’s just commentary on the past. The Dexter Lake Club scene is one such example, but I expect that the film is trying to make a point about race relations – or dare I say just trying to be funny. What’s definitely dated is the mandatory late ‘70s jab at the Nixon administration at the end.

Take a Shot: Amazingly, no one actually says the phrase “Animal House” until the song during the credits. If you extend the game to include the phrase “Delta House”, you might have something there.

Seriously, Oscars?: As is often the case with comedies, the film was completely ignored by the Academy. The film did, however, snag a Writers Guild nomination for Best Original Comedy (back when that was a category).

Other notes

  • I suspect that this is one of those movies where they just let the actors do whatever they wanted and kept the cameras rolling. Thanks to Landis and editor George Folsey Jr., it works. Other films that have tried this have not fared so well.
  • They cut this film to shreds on basic cable. It’s cut so short I think it airs during a commercial break for something else.
  • Belushi is to this film what Steve McQueen is to “The Great Escape”; the breakout performance in a movie filled with them. Also he was 28 when he filmed this.
  • This is the second movie I’ve watched for this blog where something bad happens to a horse.
  • The song playing during both “Lovers’ Lane” scenes is “Dream Girl” by Stephen Bishop, one of the few original compositions in the film. It has a late ’70s Bee Gees vibe to it that I’ve always thought was out of place.
  • Oh how I fantasized about smashing a guitar during my college years…
  • For the record, while I was not in a fraternity in college, I did attend a toga party. (Photo not available)
  • Why does Hoover have a Confederate flag in his room?
  • Part of the reason this film has lasted is because college life really hasn’t changed in 40 years, for better or worse.
  • Wait, so they all still graduated from college? I’m confused.
  • And finally, when in Hollywood, visit Universal Studios. Ask for Babs.

Legacy

  • Every movie about rowdy college life and the deans who try to harsh everyone’s buzz.
  • The return of toga parties.
  • Not one, not two, but three failed TV series (on three different networks no less) based on this film.
  • Every National Lampoon film, from the “Vacation” series to “Van Wilder” and countless other dorm movies.
  • Robot House!
  • Elmer Bernstein’s second act composing film comedies with utmost seriousness.
  • Heir apparent “Old School”.
  • This poster:animal_house_poster_college
  • And Donald Sutherland as the clumsy waiter.

6 thoughts on “#13) National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)”

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