We can do anything we want. We’re college students!
Animal House was released in 1978, was written by Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney, and Chris Miller, and was directed by John Landis. The movie was technically known as “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” as the movie was produced and hyped by the humor magazine: for a good long time after the release of the movie, National Lampoon subscribers would find advertisements for Animal House-related merchandise tucked into the magazine’s pages.
Animal House was partially derived from a series of short stories published in the National Lampoon from 1974 on, written by Chris Miller about his time in an Animal House-esque fraternity at Dartmouth in the early 1960s, at which he was known as Pinto. Originally planned to be a novel, the stories were biographical and helped become the basis for the movie. Several parts in the movie, including the trip to the fictitious Emily Dickinson College, were based off of actual experiences of Miller in Alpha Delta Pi.
The movie tells the story of Delta Tau Chi, known on the fictional campus of Faber College as the wild party fraternity — the first shot of the house comes as a segue from the quiet piano music of Omega House to rowdy rock and roll as the legs from a mannequin come flying out of an upper-story window of Delta House. Put under Double Secret Probation by Faber's Dean, Vernon Wormer, the residents of Delta House are unknowingly drawing the noose around their own necks with their partying, womanizing, and consistent flouting of the Man.
The movie mainly follows Kent Dorfman and Larry Kroger, Flounder and Pinto respectively, two freshmen pledged into Delta House. Flounder is large, simple, enrolled in the ROTC for no good reason, and completely unaware of how awkward he is. Pinto, despite being attached at the hip to Flounder, is pretty much a normal guy. Other Deltas of note include John "Bluto" Blutarski, the 7th-year senior, who is almost never seen without a bottle in hand (our most persistent image of John Belushi), Daniel Simpson "D-Day" Day, a genius with a welding torch and any sort of vehicle who's running an incomplete in every class, Donald "Boon" Schoenstein, whose love for his girlfriend Katy is at odds with his love for Delta House, Eric "Otter" Stratton, who's slept with most of the girls at Faber College, and the Stork — "we all thought the Stork was retarded!"
Next door to Delta House is the dreaded Omega House, replete with money, sophistication, sports heroes, and fifteenth-generation officer material. A brief yet telling contrast is that while Delta’s pledge initiation ceremony involves swearing a brief oath and then drinking and dancing to "Louie, Louie," Omega’s has the pledges paddled in their underwear by robed and cloaked Omega members. Omega members Greg Marmalard, rush chairman for Omega House, and Doug Neidermeyer, head of Faber’s ROTC unit, are inducted by the Dean into a plot to trap Delta House into making a big enough mistake that their charter can be revoked. Of note is Chip Diller, a freshman in Omega House, played by Kevin Bacon. Many actors find part of their Six Degrees in this, Bacon’s first movie.
The movie progresses in a downward spiral for the Deltas, culminating in what has become a standard for college movies ever since: a prank that plunges the whole town into chaos. The movie’s conclusion features one of its better-known and plundered bits: freezeframes of characters and a quick synopsis of the future of each. An interesting anecdote goes with Babs Jansen's synopsis: she became a tour guide at Universal Studios. Several versions of the movie were followed by an advertisement for Universal Studios, telling the viewer that if they visit, they should ask for Babs. For more than ten years, doing so would get you a discount on the studio tour.
One interesting thing to note is that the movie is set in 1962, directly before the enormous social upheaval of the late 1960s and early 1970s hit college campuses. All of the students which we see are clean-cut and properly dressed, rarely appearing without button-down shirts and knit vests. When several characters go to smoke pot with a professor, he puts four locks on the door and surreptitiously shutters the windows (in this scene, look also for the peace sign tucked away in the corner). There is none of the animosity towards students in the ROTC that would develop later in the decade, although when Dean Wormer tells Delta residents that he has contacted the draft board and informed them of the boys’ eligibility to serve, it's enough to make Flounder throw up.
Several other well-known actors were being considered for roles in the movie, including Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, and Meatloaf. Even without their help, the movie benefitted from names like John Belushi and Donald Sutherland, and helped to establish a number of actors. Some of the star power in the movie originates from director Landis’ Kentucky Fried Movie, which featured several of Animal House’s bigger names, some of whom (such as Sutherland) agreed to come along for Animal House.
Animal House is rightly considered to be the definitive college movie. Although other films stand out, it's difficult to argue that there has been a single college movie since which wasn't influenced by Animal House. In fact, it's become trendy since the movie's release to consider it the template for newer college movies: at least once a year, a new film appears calling itself "Animal House for the aughts," or whichever decade or subsubsegment of the population best characterizes the movie. It's truly a task to think of a college movie or even reference to a fake college movie on, say, The Simpsons, which doesn't borrow from or pay homage to Animal House. Twenty-five years of college students have gotten their preconceptions about collegiate life by this movie.
If you haven’t seen Animal House, you’re making a mistake. It ranks as one of the most influential movies of the past fifty years (if not ever): more movies and television shows owe their success to Animal House than one can estimate. It features a number of actors at the peak of their humorousness who have since either died or sunken into obscurity. And most importantly, it's funny as hell.
Well-known memes originating from Animal House:
Cast (in alphabetical order by last name):