National Lampoon's Animal House


Reviewed by: Martin Gray

National Lampoon's Animal House
"'Pedestrian' is too racy a word to describe it."

There's no particular reason it's taken me 25 years to watch National Lampoon's Animal House, but an anniversary reissue is a good excuse to see what I've been missing. I assumed that, as the grandaddy of all teen gross-out comedies, this would make me laugh out loud.

I didn't crack one smile. Seeing Old Yeller put down was funnier. I can only conclude that I waited too long, somewhere along the line that I grew past the age of 12, which is probably the ideal age for this collection of supposed gags, centred on that noble American tradition, the college fraternity.

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The peg on which the jokes are hung is fine. It's 1962 and the boys from the worst frat house on campus go about their business, as the Dean plots to close them down. The actors are a decent bunch, many of whom have gone on to better things. It's the script that kills, a bunch of laboured set pieces and weak one-liners.

Things that appear to be set-ups turn out to be the entire gag. For example, a scene in which two supposedly sexy girls are sitting on the football stands talking about boys. The camera pans down and there's Bluto (John Belushi), looking up their knickers. Ho ho. Dean Wormer assures the mayor that he'll sort out the animals of Delta House and the scene closes on a member of said frat entering with a chainsaw. Ho again.

John Landis is a talented director, but there's little he can do with a screenplay that thinks "raped in prison" is a fabulous gag with which to close the film, and it's funny to have sex with unconscious women.

What's with Belushi? I always heard he was a comic genius, but all he does is grunt and mug, while barfing, leering and drinking.

There was one great scene, in which . . . oh, hang on, that was a dream I had while blinking in and out of wakefulness. Really, the film is that dull - "pedestrian" is too racy a word to describe it. The best thing is Elmer Bernstein's inventive score.

The nadir of this dire movie is a scene, hingeing on the sheer terror of going into a bar, whose patrons are predominantly - the horror! - black people. "We're all gonna die!" panics one of the barely differentiated "characters". Coloured fellas stealing our women . . . that's the joke.

The climax comes as the boys, peeved at the Dean's entirely fair treatment of them, destroy the homecoming parade.

They'd already destroyed my spirit.

Reviewed on: 30 Jan 2004
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National Lampoon's Animal House packshot
Grandaddy of teen gross-out comedies takes a chainsaw to college frat house conformity.
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Director: John Landis

Writer: Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney, Chris Miller

Starring: John Belushi, Tim Matheson, John Vernon, Verna Bloom, Tom Hulce, Stephen Furst, Karen Allen, Cesare Danova, Peter Riegert, Mary Louise Weller, Kevin Bacon, Donald Sutherland

Year: 1978

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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