National Lampoon’s Animal House – 30th Anniversary Edition
Rated R; Directed by John Landis; Starring John Belushi, Tim Matheson, John Vernon, Tom Hulce, Peter Riegert, Karen Allen
Thirty years ago Animal House (aka “ational Lampoon’s Animal House) opened to a cultural-changing success. And yes, it did create cultural change. I never heard of a toga party before that movie arrived. Within a year I went to four or five toga parties wearing a variety of bed sheets. I, and all my buddies, learned to dance to the song “Shout” just like in Animal House. You may still see a bunch of us old fogies dancing to that song the Animal House way at wedding receptions while the younger generation looks on in puzzlement. The movie also created a new form of comedy – the teen comedy – which is amazing, considering this was an R-rated film.
The 30th Anniversary DVD of Animal House offers us a chance to see the movie again. Times have moved on. What was shocking and rule-breaking back then can seem rather tame now. The laughs are still there, along with some great movie moments, but the pace is slower than what we’ve grown used to. Drunken, rebellious, non-studying college students are now a staple, but new in 1978. If you don’t know the plot, it is about the Delta fraternity at Faber College and their battles with the other uptight students and the menacing Dean Wormer (John Vernon in a classic performance).
The casting was perfect. The only name stars were Donald Sutherland as an instructor and Saturday Night Live’s John Belushi as Bluto, the main animal of Animal House (Belushi is a force of nature in his movie debut). Otherwise, a lot of unknown actors (this was also Karen Allen and Kevin Bacon’s first movie) made excellent fraternity brothers and their girlfriends. They all looked right for the 1962 setting. The cleverness of the script, and yes, it is clever, is how it puts the late 1970s sensibilities into that innocent 1962 time. From sex to drugs and even to rock and roll, the time period is mined for humor. The fun begins with the first appearance of the fraternities. We compare well-dressed collegians listening to “Tammy in Love” to Delta house where “Louie Louie” blares loudly and mayhem rules. It only gets better from there.
The 30th Anniversary DVD offers a lovely making-of documentary, along with a not so lovely “Where Are They Now” look at the characters. There’s also a “Scene It” game you can play.
Animal House surprised the Hollywood studios with its success. Suddenly, youth-oriented comedies, all lewd and crude, found an audience. Not all of them were as entertaining as Animal House. After all, where else could you have food fights, double-secret probation, and toga parties? It’s still a classic comedy and isn’t aging too badly. As for me…I wonder how I would look in a toga now?