Campus Classics: Animal House

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Image: Universal Pictures
Image: Universal Pictures

Almost forty years after its release, National Lampoon’s Animal House is still looked to as the definitive ‘frat’ movie – John Landis’ film has been preserved by America’s Library of Congress for its cultural significance, is often cited in lists as the funniest film of all time, and its influence marks campus comedies from Fast Times at Ridgemont High to American Pie and even Monsters University.

Viewed with fresh eyes however, is it still any good?

Yes and no. The elements that made Animal House so successful – John Belushi’s unrestrained central performance as force of nature Bluto, and some typically overblown set pieces from director John Landis (including the infamous food fight, and homecoming parade finale that descends into anarchy), still shine. The film is driven by a manic energy that has rarely been matched in American comedy, as the inhabitants of Delta House resist the oppressive faculty staff and strive to commit ‘a stupid, futile gesture on somebody’s part’. The film opens with a tour of the snooty and ‘respectable’ Omega House, before the real tone is established as we cut away to a riotous party run by the Deltas, as motorbikes storm up staircases, beer explodes out of kegs, and debased initiation ceremonies and seduction rituals abound.

Unfortunately, for every sharp line of dialogue or memorable moment that has become etched into pop culture history – this is the film that spawned a thousand toga parties – there are a lot of jokes that fall disappointingly flat. Much of what might have been considered outrageous and hilarious back in 1978 seems dated in 2015, even rather stale and cringe-inducing. The film drifts frequently into celebrating the worst aspects of what has come to be recognised as ‘lad culture’, and few viewers could probably sit comfortably through the scene where Tom Hulce’s Pinto is told by his personified conscience to take advantage of a passed out drunk girl during one particularly hedonistic party. Later, when (both conscious) they finally consummate their relationship, the punchline is that she turns out to be thirteen…

So watch Animal House, if you’ve never seen it, to fill a gap in your pop cultural knowledge, to witness the origin of famous lines and scenes that have been countlessly repeated and pastiched ever since its release. However, don’t quite expect the laugh-a-minute experience promised by its reputation, with much of the momentum stalled by some horrendously dated moments.

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