Part rites of passage, part slapstick comedy, with a touch of “slob humor” tossed in for good measure, National Lampoon's Animal House nostalgically harkens back to the year of 1962. This, you may remember, was also the year zeroed in on by George Lucas in American Graffiti (1973), but unlike that earlier depiction of tribal rites, Animal House pulled very few punches. Food fights, toga parties, sexual hijinks, demolition derbies - this picture had it all. It also had an excellent cast and talented production team, which helped push the movie over the top with the young adult crowd.
Chief party animal was John Belushi, the late actor-comedian who achieved fame on television's popular "Saturday Night Live." Although much of his acting in Animal House is limit-ed to grunting or raising eyebrows before letting loose his special brand of humor, it was his name that was the main drawing card. When he crams his mouth with mashed potatoes, then slaps both bulging cheeks and announces "I'm a zit. Get it?" Audiences got it, and loved it, and came back for more. Of Belush's performance, Newsweek said: "John Belushi is the movie's heavy slugger. As the ox-like Blutarsky, a fellow given to crunching beer cans on his brutish forehead, Belushi looks as if he'd just taken the first step up the evolutionary ladder... he unleashes his epic appetite on the school's lunch counter, hilariously demonstrating man's genetic link to the industrial vacuum cleaner."
The film's director, John Landis, then only 27 years old, had his finger on the pulse of his equally young audience. He described this kind of comedy to Newsweek as "behavioral humor of outrage. It's definitely offensive. It's antagonistic. But it's all in good fun."
As with American Graffiti, the cast boasted a long line of future movie and TV stars: Tim Matheson (1941), Tom Hulce (Amadeus), Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Martha Smith (Scarecrow and Mrs. King) and Kevin Bacon (Footloose).
Donald Sutherland as pothead Professor Jennings was the biggest name at the time, although he was given last billing. And as in American Graffiti, we are given an epilogue of character destinies, in case we care "what ever became of...?" The humor continues right through the credits as we learn that one of the characters, a "Nixon aide, was raped in prison" and that another went on to glory as "a Universal Tour guide - ask for Babs" (the inevitable plug given at the time for the studio's other moneymaker, the Universal Tour).
The movie was co-produced by Ivan Reitman and co-scripted by Harold Ramis. Rant and Belushi worked together in "Second City" a comedy forerunner to "Saturday Night Live." And six years later, Ramis and Reitman were reunited in Ghostbusters, with Reitman directing that picture and Ramis co-starring.
Boon: Now, she should be good-looking, but we're willing to trade looks for a certain... morally casual attitude.
GOOFS AND BLUNDERS
When Bluto falls from the sorority house, you can see the false ground move when he impacts.
As Bluto makes his way down the cafeteria line, the feet of a crew member following him are visible in the angled mirror above the food.
The movie takes place in 1962, but Astroturf was not invented until 1965.
When Bluto grabs the sign which tears to get him down to the street to jump in the convertible at the end, the cable holding him up is visible.
When the band is marching down the alley at the end of the film, the "brick wall" that they all run into repeatedly bounces back and forth as it is touched.
When Niedermyer is yelling at Flounder, the boom microphone is reflected in his helmet.
When pirate Bluto swings from the roof using a banner, his stunt harness cable is visible.
The movie is vulgar, raunchy, ribald, and occasionally scatological. It is also the funniest comedy since Mel Brooks made "The Producers." "Animal House" is funny for some of the same reasons the National Lampoon is funny (and Second City and "Saturday Night Live" are funny): Because it finds some kind of precarious balance between insanity and accuracy, between cheerfully wretched excess and an ability to reproduce the most revealing nuances of human behavior. Reviewed by: Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times.
"Animal House" is too cheerfully sleazy to be termed tame, but the film makers have been smart enough to leaven each gross-out with an element of innocent fun. Even the action-packed finale amounts to nothing more dangerous than the spectacle of all heck breaking loose. Reviewed by: Janet Maslin of The New York Times.
For all of its toga parties and homecoming parade nuttiness, it's got an awesome supporting cast and a great script. Don't underestimate those two factors. Reviewed by Pete Croatto of Film Critic.
Parents need to know that the only moral here is hatred for authority and partying. That means a lot of drunken revelry, pranks, and violence to make their point. It also means characters cheat on each other, binge drink, steal cars, and sleep with underage girls. Some female nudity. Reviewed by: Common Sense Media.