MOTW: "Animal House" Review

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

MOTW: "Animal House" Review

Rating: R (crude and sexual content, nudity, some language, drinking and brief drug use, some involving teens)
Length: 109 minutes
Release Date: July 28, 1978
Directed by: John Landis
Genre: Comedy/Romance

The year is 1962, and the fictional Farber College is about to indulge in a yearly campus ritual—Rush Week. A bunch of hopeful fraternity pledges are trying to find a place to call home, including fresh young faces such as Larry Kroger (Tom Hulce) and Kent Dorfman (Stephen Furst). The two friends try to impress the likes of the haughty Omega Theta Pi fraternity and others, but to no avail. They end up at the house next door to the Omegas, which is occupied by the raucous Delta Tau Chi fraternity. The Deltas have a reputation on campus for their noisy, alcohol-fueled toga parties, but they are fun-loving types who will take anyone in, including Kroger and Dorfman.

The leader of the Deltas is Otter (Tim Matheson), a handsome man who is quite popular with the ladies. He also happens to be the smartest of the group, which isn't saying much considering that Bluto (John Belushi) has spent a full seven years and counting at school. The Deltas may not be very bright, but what they lack in smarts, they more than make up for with their gross-out charm and love of all things fun. Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon) hates the Deltas, so he teams up with the smarmy leaders of the Omegas to try and get rid of them once and for all. Together, they come up with a devious plan that the poor Deltas might not be smart enough to get out of. They are completely oblivious to the plan, however, and continue their toga-party-throwing ways as the storm brews around them.

Sure enough, the plan works, and the Deltas find themselves on the outside of Farber College looking in. The whole crew is desperate to get back in, so they plot their revenge. Before they give the Dean and the Omegas their comeuppance, plenty of chaos ensues, including some very memorable moments involving marbles, mashed potatoes, and bikers, though not all at the same time.

"Animal House" was the first of what would be many movies to bear the name of National Lampoon, which a humor magazine that parodied many aspects of pop culture and American life. It was arguably the most memorable of these films as well, because it set the standard for so many comedies that would come after it, and not just ones from the National Lampoon franchise. In fact, modern gross-out comedies such as the "American Pie" series have a serious debt to pay to "Animal House," because they pretty much pick up where the film left off. Many such films have been made since 1978, and all of them owe a debt to "Animal House" for blazing the trail.

The biggest gem of the film, without a doubt, is Belushi as the crazy, toga-loving Bluto. The most amazing part of his performance is that he doesn't actually have all that many lines. He is in plenty of scenes, but he doesn't have much to say, and he doesn't have to say a whole lot to get his point across. For example, in one scene, he climbs a ladder in order to spy on the naked beauties in a sorority house. He doesn't utter a peep, but the expressions on his face are still hilarious. Another scene in the cafeteria has him quietly stuffing his mouth full of food and then squeezing his cheeks to make the food fly out of his mouth. He says "I'm a zit. Get it?" Those five very terse words are all it takes. Belushi's penchant for physical comedy rewards the audience time and time again.

The script was penned by Harold Ramis of "Ghostbusters" fame, along with Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller. The story was allegedly based on stories from their own college days, though it may be hard for some viewers to believe that any college experience is quite that insane. Some moments truly ask the audience to suspend disbelief, such as when Bluto downs and entire bottle of Jack Daniels without a pause or the grand finale, which is as unbelievable as it is unbelievably funny. These things may or may not have happened in real life, but they happened in "Animal House," and they will forever be in the pop culture sphere as a result.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5