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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?  


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