ANIMAL HOUSE (1978)
Reviewed by Jerry Saravia
"National Lampoon's Animal House" is a messy, occasionally laborious and sometimes uproarious comedy. It is director John Landis at his best and worst. When he goes for the big laughs, he stages the scenes with mammoth, roaringly manic timing. When he tries anything for a laugh, it comes across flat and dumber than a horse dying from a heart attack (complete with a confounding freeze frame).
I know "Animal House" is a considered a classic in the gross-out genre - in fact, it pretty much invented that genre. It is certainly not as gross as its reputation might suggest (its innumerable gross and tasteless imitators make it look tame by comparison) but it is also not nearly as funny as it could have been. Most of you know the story - two fraternities duke it out. One is a straight-laced "Hitler Youth" frat party with a militant strategy all its own called the Omega Theta Pi. The other are the "Deltas," the fun crowd who sing "Louie, Louie" to their hearts' content and have the lowest academic scores on campus. Bluto (John Belushi) is practically the ringleader, the voracious party animal who famously yells, "Food Fight!" You also got Tim Matheson as the smooth, suave Otter, the Delta chairman; Donald Sutherland as a pot-smoking professor who is not a fan of Milton's "Paradise Lost"; sweet Karen Allen in her first role as Katy, the smart girlfriend of Donald "Boon" Schoenstein (Peter Riegert); Bruce McGill as "D-Day," a biker with incomplete grades; John Vernon as Dean Wormer who wants to get rid of the Deltas; Thomas Hulce as "Pinto," one of the virgins of the group, and Stephen Furst as "Flounder," the clumsy pledge to the Deltas. I'd mention the Omega pledges but I found them instantly one-dimensional and forgettable.
I had a good time with "Animal House" overall - it is unapologetic about its crassness and it has an upbeat quality. The late John Belushi is an uncontrollable frat house animal and food junkie (hard to forget Sam Cooke's "What a Wonderful World" when we watch Belushi helping himself to every food item in the cafeteria). Matheson is also wonderful to watch, and I love the little bickering between Katy and Boon. But the ending is all chaos and disastrously unfunny, complete with a "Where Are They Now?" segment that ironically shows Bluto becoming a U.S. Senator. Bottom line: I laughed out loud for the first forty-five minutes (the toga party and the demon/angel decision for Pinto are the biggest highlights), and laughed periodically afterwards and then laughed less and less as the film reached its finish. I just wish the Deltas really found more imaginative ways of dealing with the Omegas than utilizing a parade float to literally crash the parade. When it is over, I thought, this is a bit of a "soft" finish for a comedy.