Retro Movie Review: National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
By Dr. Zaius
Monday, August 15th, 2016 at 1:00 pm
National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) Blu-ray | DVD
Directed by John Landis
Written by Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney, Chris Miller
Starring John Belushi, Tim Matheson, Karen Allen, Tom Hulce, Mark Metcalf, James Daughton, Kevin Bacon, Stephen Furst Universal Pictures
Rated R | 109 Minutes
Original Release Date: July 28th, 1978
If you are bored with the recent crop of 3D animation, superhero films, remakes, sequels, reboots, and reboot-quels, then perhaps you should step back in time and enjoy the classics. Turner Classics runs its TCM Big Screen Classics series where classic films head back to theaters for a few days at a time. This week, it’s the John Landis comedy National Lampoon’s Animal House starring John Belushi, Tim Matheson, Tom Hulce, Karen Allen, and more.
I went to the Sunday night showing of the film. Check out a retro review of this classic here below.
Animal House is more important a film than you may know. Introduced by TCM’s Bob Mankiewicz, we learned before the screening that Animal House was not just a major financial success, but it became the highest grossing comedy of all time in 1978. Its success launched an entire subgenre of comedy, the college sex comedy, and the early 80s were overwhelmed with imitations, knock-offs, and several worthy successors; notably Meatballs (1979), Stripes (1981), and Porky’s (1981). The film is unabashedly unapologetic for its rampant use of alcohol, sexual antics, and complete disregard for authority and higher education. And it remains as funny today as it did 38 years ago.
A movie is lucky if it provides one truly memorable line of dialogue. Animal House‘s script, penned by future Ghostbuster Harold Ramis and cohorts Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller, is loaded with quotable lines. Many of these are offered up by the star and sheer force of nature, the late John Belushi. Belushi was the only known actor of the students in the film, one of the most popular acts around thanks to being a member of Saturday Night Live. In his intro, Mankiewicz recalled a line by the late critic Roger Ebert about Belushi, “He’s not a talker, he’s an event.” Belushi doesn’t actually have too much to say in the film. His facial expressions, his eyebrows, his frantic side to side movements; he was simply a tremendously gifted comedian, everything the man did was funny. That said, he does get to utter some classics: “TOGA!,” “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?!?!,” and “My advice to you is to start drinking heavily” are my favorites.
Joining Belushi was a cast of relative unknown young actors who would go on to stardom. This was Kevin Bacon‘s first screen credit. Tom Hulce would go on to portray Mozart in an Oscar-nominated performance in Amadeus (1984). Just three years after Animal House, which was her first film role, Karen Allen would be immortalized forever as Marion, Indiana Jones’ love interest in Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The film’s plot is quite simple. In 1962, on the campus of Faber College, two freshmen are visiting frat houses. Omega House wants nothing to do with the two nerdy goofs, but Delta is a lot more inviting… as long as you watch for flying beer bottles and debris. It’s the Delta House, the group of misfits, versus the Omegas, the spoiled rich kids (Nazi youth, as they’re described in the film). The Dean wants the bad boys from the naughty frat off the campus and out of the school. Perhaps without realizing it, Landis crafted a film that perfectly captures an anti-establishment fight. While some may play Delta off as a group of drunken misfits, they are an inclusive group who stand up for each other, and help each other in and out of trouble. Some might dismiss it as pure frenetic comedy, but the final 15-minutes is all about the little guy standing up against oppression… or maybe I’m reading way too much into a college sex comedy.
Along with the cast, the dialogue, and the energy, the other thing that helps etch Animal House into the list of all-time greats is the music. The score by Elmer Bernstein blends perfectly with the power of the songs that feel like they are playing throughout. After all, it is always a party at Delta House. The soundtrack features two live performances by Otis Day and the Knights, including the classic toga party playing of “Shout” (“A little bit louder now”), and other music by Sam Cooke, The Kingsmen, as well as the hilarious Animal House theme song by Stephen Bishop that plays during the credits.
Animal House is raunchy and hilarious, energetic and shocking. It contains nudity and foul language. It is the quintessential college comedy, and a landmark of the genre. You can see Animal House, brought to you by TCM’s Big Screen Classics and Fathom Events in theaters one more day this week, Wednesday, August 17th, with two showings at 2:00pm and 7:00pm. Visit TCM for more information, and also check Fandango for theaters near you.