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Wick's Review

Created Jan 14, 2017 04:40PM PST • Edited Jun 21, 2019 06:01AM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Perfect 5.0

    Animal House is many things: riotously funny movie, cultural touchstone, seminal hard-R teen comedy. Those make it a font of archetypes and catchphrases, including Bluto (“Seven years of college down the drain.”), Neidermeyer (“A Pledge Pin!”), Dean Wormer (“DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION!”), Flounder (“I can’t believe I threw up in front of Dean Wormer.”) and Otis Day & the Nights (“Otis, my man!”).

    Let’s start with the blow-soda-out-your-nose comedy. No that doesn’t happen in the movie; too tame. It happens to unsuspecting viewers the first time watching Animal House. It’s one of those movies so insanely funny as to trigger involuntary physical reactions from virgin viewers. Beware or be embarrassed.

    It’s still funny upon repeated viewings, even after a multi-decade layoff. Crucially, it starts off reverentially, with high-quality production values throughout. This makes the unhinged behavior all the funnier. The first hint of sly humor: Knowledge Is Good, the banal inscription on a stately statue of Faber College’s founder.

    “A Pledge Pin!!” – screamed by the sadistic Neidermeyer triggers the first involuntary LOL for the wizened Animal House returnee. It’s hardly the last, though familiarity and maturity do dim the LOLs. The brilliant satire, characteristic of the late great National Lampoon, still delights however.

    Part of the appeal is sheer naughtiness, what has become the hard-R recipe. Gross-out gags are a large part of this, but Animal House is also a soft-core porn movie, a veritable adolescent male fantasy come to life. It’s hardly an accident that most every date who gets to utter a line ends up topless. Boys crave boobs.

    Animal House’s status as cultural touchstone is both reflective, especially with its golden oldies song selection, and prospective, at least from its premier in 1978. This huge hit launched the careers of several moviestars: Tom Hulce, Peter Riegert, Kevin Bacon and Karen Allen among them. Then there’s John Belushi, who became a superstar before dying after a few years of Bluto-like living. Mostly, it defined a collegiate ideal for generations of kids, one that had everything to do with partying and nothing to do with studying. About that last, one wonders if coed drinking spiked after Animal House? Bet it did.

    Don’t know much about history.
    Don’t know much biology.
    [yadda, yadda, yadda]
    What a wonderful world this would be.

    Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World animates the cafeteria scene that memorably ends in a food fight. But those lyrics also sum up the whole movie, a wonderful world of debauchery, insouciance and absurd privilege.

  3. Really Great 4.5
    The Deltas
    • John Belushi didn’t long survive the superstardom triggered by his turn as “Bluto”. Oops, sorry to harsh the buzz there. Back to the laughs. Belushi’s every utterance became a party quote. “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” Not even close.
    • Tim Matheson’s über-confident “Otter” is mostly a straightman, yet is so outrageous he’s a constant tickle. He does this in the style of Chevy Chase, who was originally offered the part.
    • Peter Riegert also gets to play it straight as “Boon”, though has several reaction lines that are quite funny. Notably, Boon is the most realistic character in the movie: no need to be an alpha-male, but cool enough to be a leader in the house and have a cool girlfriend. Riegert would go on to a long career in TV and movies, including starring in the sublime Local Hero with Burt Lancaster.
    • Tom Hulce’s “Pinto” is a proxy for the audience encountering Animal House for the first time. Hulce would go on to famously play Mozart in Amadeus, another perfect movie. Interestingly, “Pinto” was screenwriter Chris Miller’s nickname at his Dartmouth fraternity.
    • Stephen Furst doesn’t receive the nickname “Flounder” until well into the movie, at which point the long absent Animal House viewer gets a big grin from the memory of such a perfect union of moniker and character.
    • Bruce McGill’s “D-Day” was the most insurgent character.
    • James Widdoes perfectly essays a guy who isn’t a leader trying to fulfill a leadership role, a mismatched situation that is inherently funny.
    • Doug Kenney cameos as “Stork” and gets all of two lines. Who’s Doug Kenney? He wrote the movie with Chris Miller and Harold Ramis.
    • Chris Miller cameos as “Hardbar” and has only one line. “Hardbar” is based on a member of Chris Miller’s fraternity, also sharing his nickname, per Wikipedia.
    The Omegas
    • James Daughton played the conventionally handsome “Greg” Marmalard, president of the Omegas and boyfriend of Mandy Pepperidge.
    • Mark Metcalf was the unsung star of the movie as Doug Neidermeyer, the villain of the picture.
    • Kevin Bacon had his first ever movie role as Chip Diller, the Omega pledge and ROTC cadet who gets iconically trampled during the homecoming parade.
    Adults, Dates, Townies & Musicians
    • John Vernon played Vernon Wormer, the Nixonian Dean of Faber College.
    • Verna Bloom played his wife Marion, who has a hookup with Otter.
    • Donald Sutherland played one of his more delicious roles as a bored English prof “who tries to turn his students on to left-wing politics and marijuana” per Wikipedia.
    • Karen Allen had her first ever movie role as Katy, Boon’s frustrated girlfriend who has a dalliance with Sutherland’s professor.
    • Sarah Holcomb played a young townie who hooks up with Pinto. Good thing she was actually 18 or the whole thing would’ve been even creepier.
    • DeWayne Jessie inimitably played Otis Day, the leader of an R&B band that plays at the toga party and later at the roadhouse bar. Jessie adopted the “Otis Day” name in his private life and toured with the band.
    • Mary Louise Weller became a dream girl for legions of fanboys as Mandy Pepperidge, cheerleader and sorority girl. Her sweet striptease while Belushi’s Bluto serves as a peeping-tom is one of the movie’s classic scenes, soft-core porn though it may be.
    • Martha Smith played “Babs”, Mandy’s BFF who famously calls Belushi’s Bluto a “P.I.G. pig!”.
    • Cesare Danova as Mayor Carmine DePasto, the shady local mayor implied to be a crime boss.
    • Sean McCartin as “Lucky Boy”: The Playboy-reading child who shouts “Thank you, God!” after a Playboy Bunny flies through his bedroom window onto his bed during the homecoming parade disruption. McCartin later became pastor of a Eugene church, per Wikipedia.
    • Stephen Bishop, a Top-40 pop star during the 70s, as “a Charming Guy with a Guitar” on the stairs at the toga party, who gets his guitar smashed by folk music-hating Bluto.
    • Blues musician Robert Cray had an uncredited, non-speaking role as a bassist in Otis Day’s band.
    • Lisa Baur played Shelly Dubinsky, the naive college girl Otter dupes into a date. Many guys, me included, consider her the most attractive of all the Animal House girls. Sadly, she never acted again. Perhaps she felt used by John Landis and the gang.
  4. Male Stars Really Great 4.5
  5. Female Stars Really Great 4.5
  6. Female Costars Really Great 4.5
  7. Male Costars Really Great 4.5
  8. Perfect 5.0

    Douglas Kenney & Chris Miller were brilliantly funny writers for National Lampoon long before writing Animal House with Harold Ramis. Working with the great comedy director John Landis, they were a dream team behind the camera.

    Of note: Stumped Magazine on Animal House: The Movie that Changed Comedy

  9. Direction Perfect 5.0

    Animal House began director John Landis’s half-decade run as a can’t miss comedy director, during which he made Trading Places, An American Werewolf in London and The Blues Brothers. None of those reached the sublime quality of Animal House however.

    He also directed The Kentucky Fried Movie prior to Animal House, an easily overlooked comedy gem.

  10. Play Perfect 5.0
  11. Music Perfect 5.0

    The music and the songs were essential to the film’s success.

    • Bluto at the dining hall to Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World
    • Otis Day & the Knights preforming Shama Lama Ding Dong (an original written for the film) and Shout by The Isley Brothers.
    • Louie Louie
    • Tossin’ and Turnin’
    • Sam Cooke’s Twistin’ the Night Away
  12. Visuals Perfect 5.0
  13. Content
  14. Risqué 2.4

    Deathly levels of drinking coupled with nudge-nudge-wink-wink taking advantage of dates make Animal House robustly risqué.

  15. Sex Erotic 2.6
  16. Violence Fierce 1.7
  17. Rudeness Profane 3.0
  18. Surreal 2.4

    Never mind the extreme surrealism in this wacky comedy. Animal House is culturally important because of its deadly satire of post-war and pre-sixties America.

    To wit, Animal House marked the apotheosis of National Lampoon, the brilliant humor magazine that mixed dead-on satire with wickedly funny quips and at least one bare breast per issue. Thus their filmic take on collegiate life was strategically set in 1962, “the last innocent year … of America, and the homecoming parade that ends the film as occurring on November 21, 1963, the day before President Kennedy’s assassination,” per Wikipedia. Note the Camelot float in the parade, complete with sorority girls all dressed in Jackie Kennedy’s pink suit.

    The Sixties had yet to happen in ‘62, yet much of the film’s subtext is to satire the turmoil and roiling politics that occurred between ’62 and ’78, the year Animal House premiered. Thus it includes Dean Wormer as a stand-in for Richard Nixon, oblique references to the Vietnam War, etc.

    Seen from a 21st century vantage point, Animal House is a paean to white male privilege, with everyone at Faber College prepping to take their place in Mad Men America.

  19. Circumstantial Surreal 3.0
  20. Biological Surreal 2.1
  21. Physical Surreal 2.1

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