Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Douglas Kenney, Chris Miller & Harold Ramis
Starring: John Belushi, Tim Matheson, Peter Riegert, Thomas Hulce, Stephen Furst, Bruce McGill, James Widdoes, James Daughton, Mark Metcalf, Kevin Bacon, John Vernon, Donald Sutherland, Karen Allen, Mary Louise Weller & Martha Smith
The 70’s changed the face of cinema in many ways. Graphic violence, on-screen sex, complex anti-heroes, gritty dramas that didn’t have happy endings, and the concept of summer blockbusters became mainstream during this decade. Another kind of film emerged in the 70’s, the hard R-rated sex comedy. 1978’s ANIMAL HOUSE is a classic that holds up perfectly and has often been imitated in many modern comedies. Films like REVENGE OF THE NERDS, SUPERBAD, AMERICAN PIE and many more raunchy flicks wouldn’t exist without ANIMAL HOUSE. This first National Lampoon cinematic outing is well-written, well-acted, well-executed and a hilarious riot the whole way through.
The year is 1962. Faber College has numerous fraternities, but two houses stick out on the campus. Omega Theta Pi is a prestigious snobby institution, while neighboring Delta Tau Chi is a rundown retreat for drunken slobs and sex-crazed jerks. Stuffed-shirt Dean Wormer (John Vernon) isn’t thrilled about Delta’s existence and begins to do everything within his power to expel them from the school. His plan begins with placing Delta house on “Double Secret Probation.” This doesn’t stop the Deltas from partying their asses off, drinking kegs upon kegs of beer, having gratuitous sex, and making a mockery of the college system. It’s all great fun as the movie feels like one big party.
I’ve summarized the film’s overarching story, but this story is actually made up of smaller plots. We see the Deltas uniting against Dean Wormer, provoking the Omegas, and partying…but the script frequently focuses on individual Delta members. Nice guy Boon (Peter Riegert) is being pressured to grow up by his girlfriend (Karen Allen). This subplot runs on a down-to-earth progression and satisfying climax. Overweight Flounder (Stephen Furst) is frequently abused by ROTC commander Neidermeyer (Mark Metcalf). This storyline has one of the funniest scenes in the entire film. New pledge Pinto (Thomas Hulce) has an equally great plot thread involving a fling with a supermarket clerk (Sarah Holcomb). Notably, the character of Otter (Tim Matheson) helped introduce mainstream audiences to the concept of a “MILF” (with obvious help from THE GRADUATE) and grizzled D-Day (Bruce McGill) is a colorful presence in the film.
ANIMAL HOUSE remains remarkably raunchy today. Audiences in the 70’s were shocked by the onslaught of sexual humor, drunken chaos and rowdy fun…and they obviously loved it, because the film made its budget back 47 times (totally just over 141 million dollars in its theatrical run). Though many SNL cast members (including Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Dan Aykroyd) turned down roles in the film, John Belushi stars as the scene-stealing Bluto and became one of the biggest comedy stars of the time. Lesser-known performers in the rest of the main roles add an unexpected sense of realism, though Kevin Bacon and Karen Allen went on to have successful film careers. Meanwhile, Donald Sutherland has three great scenes as a down-to-earth English professor who doesn’t adhere to a strict code of conduct.
The key to ANIMAL HOUSE’s success and charm is that the film is fun from start to finish. The jokes don’t only revolve around profanity, sex and drinking. Instead, the script makes clever choices that come out of left field (I hadn’t seen this film before. Shame on me. I know). An alcohol-fueled toga party, a road trip to a certain bar and Otter’s attempt to pick up a blind date all provide fantastic laughs. The memorable finale is a satisfying sequence of chaos that caps the entire experience off. Besides moving at a rapid pace and bringing a variety of different jokes to the table (ranging from visual gags to great dialogue to uncomfortable situations), ANIMAL HOUSE also has a great soundtrack that perfectly matches its proceedings and adds to the overall jovial tone.
ANIMAL HOUSE is a fantastic comedy that introduced the R-rated humor frequently seen in the decades following its release. The film has believable characters, great writing that balances a number of different types of humor, goes into raunchy places with hilarious glee, and is 100% pure fun! ANIMAL HOUSE is rude, crude, lewd…and revels in those qualities with talent that easily cements its status as a classic comedy. This film has been celebrated and should remain celebrated for decades to come. If you haven’t seen this film yet, then sit back with a group of a good friends, grab a keg of beer, maybe put on a toga and enjoy a classic that still influences comedies to this day!