National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)

Originally Reviewed – 12/5/2011

Whenever you bring up John Landis’ third film in mixed conversation, you’ll often get a dreamy gaze and a wry smile. Anybody who’s seen this 1978 comedy classic is immediately brought back to simpler times. Days of class schedules, wild parties and sleeping to noon usually comes to mind and even if you didn’t have that type of college experience, this film not only makes you wish you did, makes that debauchery seem more of a rite of passage than a waste of daddy’s money. In short, I’ve never met somebody who didn’t enjoy Animal House. One of the films that define the term “cult classic”, Animal House is a runaway train through the absurd, a juvenile take on college life through the eyes of the offenders. One of the originators of the “gross out comedy” genre, Landis’ tale of the drunken exploits of the Delta Chi fraternity is high on energy but low on story and character development, creating a fun yet slightly hollow look into early sixties college life.

Then again, this is Animal House were talking about. Rather than create a hard hitting look into early sixties college life, writers Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller instead penned a tale of heightened antics, punctuated with sight gags, slapstick and shameless nudity. Larry Kroger (Thomas Hulce) and Kent Dorfman (Stephen Furst) are freshmen at Faber College and after getting recruited by the self proclaimed “worst frat on campus”, find themselves in the midst of mayhem. The competing frats find them repulsive and the school board wants them expelled, all for their propensity for toga parties, pranks and excessive drinking habits. The film does a fine job creating a sense of community amongst the wild boys, allowing the audience to root for them, bad taste and shameful behavior be damned. Landis also does a nice job drawing up distinct dividing lines between the “good guys” and everybody else, all of which who want the party to end. There isn’t much grey in the storytelling, but in the case of Animal House that’s a good thing, allowing for some exceedingly humorous situations and storylines.

And with actors this funny, why get in their way. Featuring an ensemble cast of mostly unknown actors, Animal House has some standout performances. Tim Matheson is great as the frat’s Dou Juan, Donald Sutherland has a memorable turn as the pot smoking professor and Kevin Bacon, in his debut role, is totally believable as an opposing Greek. One of the most underrated performances, however, comes from John Vernon, who plays Dean Wormer. Wormer is the perfect foil to Delta Chi’s shenanigans, playing it straight yet for big laughs as he schemes to get the lads kicked off campus. The performance is a bit one noted but when that note is deadpan hilarity, it’s perfectly acceptable. And yes, the line, “No fun of ANY kind” is permanently burned into my filmgoing lexicon.

Of course, all these performances pale in comparison to the career making role of Bluto, played by the late, great John Belushi. Pulled by Landis from a regular gig at Saturday Night Live, Belushi has perfect physical comedic timing. The catalyst for the entire film, Animal House soars on the edge of his energy, propelling the movie to classic status. What the film doesn’t do well is give us more than a series of episodic scenes that are all funny in their own right but do not lend themselves to a cohesive story. The relationship between Boone and his more mature girlfriend doesn’t really work, the situations are beyond ludicrous and there is absolutely no character development to speak of. These issues aside, there’s not much else you can say about a movie that defines cringe comedy. Despite the less than perfect score, this a landmark comedic film filled with funny performances and larger than life situations. While I never personally experienced the type of college the Delta Chi boys did, I still remember that sense of boundless optimism, a feeling like the world was yours to conquer. Animal House captures that sentiment perfectly, creating a world of youthful energy and timeless friends. And yes, it’s still really damn funny.

Score – 85%

About Bill Tucker

Jersey based and New York bred, Bill Tucker is an author of film reviews, short fiction and articles for variety of sites and subjects. He currently blogs for The Austinot (Austin lifestyle), the Entertainment Weekly Blogging Community (TV and film) and (retro gaming). He's also contributed articles to Texas Highways magazine. His favorite pastimes include craft beer snobbery, gaming and annoying his friends with random quotes from The King of Comedy. You can check out all of his literary naughty bits at View all posts by Bill Tucker

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