A groundbreaking screwball caper, 1978's National Lampoon's Animal House
was in its own way a rite of passage for Hollywood. Set in 1962 at Faber College, it follows the riotous carryings-on of the Delta Fraternity, into which are initiated freshmen Tom Hulce and Stephen Furst. Among the established house members are Tim Matheson, Peter Riegert and the late John Belushi as Bluto, a belching, lecherous, Jack Daniels guzzling maniac. A debauched house of pranksters (culminating in the famous Deathmobile sequence), Delta stands as a fun alternative to the more strait-laced, crew-cut, unpleasantly repressive norm personified by Omega House. As cowriter the late Doug Kenney puts it, "better to be an animal than a vegetable".
Animal House is deliberately set in the pre-JFK assassination, pre-Vietnam era, something not made much of here, but which would have been implicitly understood by its American audience. The film was an enormous success, a rude, liberating catharsis for the latter-day frathousers who watched it. However, decades on, a lot of the humour seems broad, predictable, boorish, oafishly sexist and less witty than Airplane!, made two years later in the same anarchic spirit. Indeed, although it launched the Hollywood careers of several of its players and makers, including Kevin Bacon, director John Landis, Harold Ramis and Tom Hulce, who went on to do fine things, it might well have been inadvertently responsible for the infantilisation of much subsequent Hollywood comedy. Still, there's an undeniable energy that gusts throughout the film and Belushi, whether eating garbage or trying to reinvoke the spirit of America "After the Germans bombed Pearl Harbour" is a joy.
On the DVD: Animal House comes to disc in a good transfer, presented in 1.85:1. The main extra is a featurette in which director John Landis, writer Chris Miller and some of the actors talk about the making of the movie. Interestingly, 23 years on, most of those interviewed look better than they did back in 1978, especially Stephen "Flounder" Furst. --David Stubbs