Skip to main content

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #279: National Lampoon's Animal House

Nowadays the movie branch of the National Lampoon magazine is mostly associated with straight-to-DVD comedies that the general public will barely notice. However between the late 1970s and 1980s they were responsible for two classic Chevy Chase films and for National Lampoon’s Animal House, the king of gross-out comedies. Starring a cast of then unknown actors and directed by John Landis, it tells, not so much the story, but the antics of the craziest fraternity to ever be allowed on a college campus. The point of this film is to deliver laughter on a minute-by-minute basis and boy does it deliver.

Is there any better place to watch a movie like this than on a university campus? I watched it as part of a double feature organized by the film club at the University Sherbrooke and I believe the other half of that double feature was The Kentucky Fried Movie. Suffice it to say we laughed our asses off that Friday night. I also realized how tame my university experience was. How come we didn’t have any toga parties or have food fights in the cafeteria? It was as if John Belushi was daring the audience to top his craziness. There is actually a scene where he is peeping at the girls’ dormitory and he looks back at the camera as if to say: “it’s fun time.” When that man died, a comedy treasure was lost.

Made in 1978 but set in 1962 the film initially follows freshmen Larry Kroger (Thomas Hulce) and Kent Dorfman (Stephen Hurst) who are looking to join a fraternity at Faber College. They wish to join the prestigious Omega Theta Pi House but are largely ignored by its snobby members. Feeling dejected they decide to try the Delta Tau Chi House where Kent’s brother was a member. The first person they find outside the Delta House is John “Bluto” Blutarsky, who is busy urinating with one hand and drinking a beer with another. After giving an enthusiastic burp, he confirms they are at the right place and leads them inside where the members are partying everywhere and one member even breaks through the door while driving a motorcycle, all to the tune of The Kingsmen’s Louie Louie. Larry and Kent are re-christened Pinto and Flounder and join the fraternity. Let the mayhem ensue.

The man trying to keep control of the situation at Faber College is dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon) who would like nothing more than to kick the Deltas off campus because of their antics and low academic standings. “Low standings” is putting it mildly. Bluto has a G.P.A of 0.0. Helping Wormer are the smug members of the Omega house, which include their president Greg Marmalard (James Daughton), ROTC cadet Douglas Neidermeyer (Mark Metcalf), and Chip Diller (Kevin Bacon). Trying to keep the Deltas from being expelled is their president, Robert Hoover (James Widdoes), but his job is like trying to stop the tide from coming.

That the Deltas will get expelled, there is no doubt. What else can you expect from a house whose members include a biker called D-Day (Bruce McGill) and a playboy called Otter (Tim Matheson) who keeps a seduction den in the Delta house? Before finally getting expelled the members perform one crazy stunt after another, including one that involves Neidermeyer’s horse and a toga party where Otter has sex with the dean’s wife. In the end it is the Delta’s midterm grades that give the dean the excuse to kick them out. Unfortunately for him, the only thing worse than the immature Deltas, it’s the immature Deltas with nothing to lose. As Bluto puts in his inspiring speech to the troops: “Nothing is over until we decide it is!”   

Sadly today’s comedies very rarely are as funny as this film, which was made 35 years ago. Maybe it’s because Animal House covered almost every possible gag and there was nothing left for generations to come. The big teen comedy of the late 90s was American Pie, but Stifler has nothing on Bluto, who breaks a beer bottle on his head just to cheer up a friend.

My college and university experience were not even a fraction of what happens in the Delta house, but that’s a good thing because no graduate could ever develop a career with such antics on his résumé. Or maybe they could. As the Deltas have their last stand against the dean and the Omegas, we learn some of these members went on to do surprisingly well. Can you guess which one became a gynaecologist in Beverly Hills?  


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #316: Trainspotting

In the 1990s Hollywood directors were the kings of cinema, whether it was for big summer blockbusters or smaller independent films. Guys like James Cameron or Michael Bay would blow up the screens while Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino put the emphasis on snappy dialogue that created relatable characters for the moviegoers. Then in 1996, as if to scream “we can do this too,” Danny Boyle released Trainspotting in the United Kingdom.
Based on a novel by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, the movie took the world by storm despite having no explosions, a cast of actors who were relatively unknown and a budget that today could barely pay for the catering of a Transformers movie. Furthermore this is not the story of young people going to college to enter a life full of promise, but about young heroine addicts meandering through the streets of Edinburgh. Despite introducing these characters during an energetic montage set to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge in …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…