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

Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.

Release Date: July 28th, 1978 MPAA Rating: R

Director: John Landis Actors: Tom Hulce, Stephen Furst, Mark Metcalf, Mary Louise Weller, Martha Smith, James Daughton, Kevin Bacon, John Belushi, Karen Allen, Douglas Kenney

 


 

A

t Faber College in 1962, roommates Larry Kroger (Tom Hulce) and Kent Dorfman (Stephen Furst) visit Omega House, where Membership Chair Doug Neidermeyer (Mark Metcalf) greets them before a tour. “A wimp and a blimp,” comments hostesses Mandy Pepperidge (Mary Louise Weller) and Babs Jansen (Martha Smith), before the new duo are swept into a corner with other unlikely candidates by president of the fraternity, Gregg Marmalard (James Daughton). After leaving, unable to feel as if they really fit in, Larry and Kent walk past Delta House, where a ruckus brews, and where drunken John Blutarsky (John Belushi, overflowing with energy) welcomes them by urinating across their shoes.

“I heard Delta’s the worst house on campus.” Despite the rundown building, the slovenly crowds, and the rambunctious disorder that ensues at the rush party, Delta just might be a perfect match. But Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon) despises the continual pranks and bad reputation coming from the house, unwaveringly determining to kick the punks off campus by revoking Delta’s charter (after all, they’re already on “double secret probation”). So when Larry is accepted to the group and dubbed Pinto (while Kent becomes Flounder), they’re thrust in the middle of the battle between order and chaos, respectability and perpetual partying, and stuffy propriety and goofy casualness – lines that are repeatedly crossed and confused. “Seven years of college down the drain.”

The first main topic, as expected from an R-rated college flick, is sex, which certainly heightens the potency of the humor. It’s crass and juvenile yet hysterical, demonstrating a certain proficiency with adolescent characters and situations and conversations – thanks to a script written in part by Harold Ramis, and the influences of producer Ivan Reitman and director John Landis (all before they became much bigger industry names). And it’s definitely not above low-brow gags with peeping toms, excrement, food, booze, drugs, and all sorts of typical collegiate subjects. “Would anybody like to smoke some pot?”

As something of a precursor to “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (and borrowing from “American Graffiti”), this National Lampoon vehicle is essentially a series of loosely connected skits, with the eclectic personas participating in various misadventures as the school year progresses. Larry and Kent don’t even remain the central focus, occasionally shifting into supporting – or even background – roles. The plot is largely unfocused, though there are obvious protagonists and antagonists involved in steadily escalating pranks. What remains consistent, however, is the crude levity, embracing a wide variety of infantile high jinks, perhaps culminating in a wild toga party (“It’s not gonna be an orgy!”). Not every sequence results in big laughs, but the generally light mood is effective.

The film also boasts a spectacular soundtrack (featuring Otis Day and the Knights) and a wealth of up-and-coming stars, including Kevin Bacon, Karen Allen, Peter Riegert, Bruce McGill, Tim Matheson, and plenty of other recognizable faces. Little of the plot can be taken seriously, however, making the results of a semi-climactic Pan Hellenic Disciplinary Council hearing (or student court) appear as trivial as every other rollicking ordeal or youthful relationship; the storytelling isn’t its strong suit. But by the hilariously rampageous finale – despite individual moments routinely outshining the production as a whole – this picture clearly demonstrates its inspirational and influential qualities (on a generation and beyond, lending to countless teen sex comedies to come), paving the way for edgier combinations of puerile recklessness, nudity, imbibing, cursing, vengeful shenanigans, and absurdist fantasy. “My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.”

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10