For 26 years, critics and fans have been sounding the drum for what a classic comedy National Lampoon’s Animal House is. At the risk of sounding like Dean Wormer, I’m here to declare: It isn’t.
It certainly has its merits, not the least of which is the late John Belushi as the one-man id gone haywire that is John “Bluto” Blutarski, seven-year college vet. Watching him snort up a cafeteria buffet like a human vacuum, or bash beer bottles over his head to amuse a dejected classmate, Belushi seems the very essence of liberating comedy.
Also funny is the way Animal House–about a slovenly ’60s college fraternity named Delta House–turns frat-boy cliches on their head. In most college movies where a guy tries to get a view of nubile females undressing, the comedy would come from how the guy gets caught. Here, the comedy comes from the guy’s (again, Belushi) dramatic reaction to reaching his goal. And the old routine where the seasoned college students get a frosh to pull a major prank gets one of the movie’s biggest laughs, when a horse reacts lethally to being locked up in the dean’s office.
On the debit side, there’s a side to this movie that is never touched upon its reviews–the fact that Animal House is hardly endearing to African-Americans. When the black group Otis Day and the Knights is brought in to play at Delta’s toga party, they seem to be used solely for their exoticness. And when the Deltas visit Otis and his band at an all-black bar, the scene is played strictly for a racist terror from which the movie takes forever to recover.
Lastly, Animal House can arguably be accused of ushering in a still-debilitating genre of gross-out comedies, where the laughs come not from funny personalities but from bodily functions. From Porky’s to The Farrelly Bros.’ filmography, this movie has a lot to answer for.