Back to School Part II #9: National Lampoon’s Animal House (dir by John Landis)


NATIONAL-LAMPOONS-ANIMAL-HOUSE

You know what?  I’m going to start this review with the assumption that you’ve already seen the classic 1978 college comedy, National Lampoon’s Animal House.  At the very least, I’m going to assume that you’ve heard of it and that you know the general details.  Animal House was not only a huge box office success but it’s also one of the most influential films ever made.  Almost every comedy released since 1978 owes a debt to the success of Animal House.  Just as every subsequent high school film was directly descended from American Graffiti, every college film features at least a little Animal House in its DNA.

So, with that in mind, who is your favorite member of Delta House?

toga

Most people, I think, would automatically say Bluto (played by John Belushi) and certainly, Bluto is the best known and perhaps best-remembered member of the cast.  As played by Belushi, Bluto is the film’s rampaging ID and he’s such a force of nature that, whenever I rewatch Animal House, I’m surprised to be reminded of the fact that he’s not really in the film that much.  He’s present for the parties, of course.  He imitates a zit and starts a food fight.  He gives a rousing speech, in which he reminds the members of the Delta House that America didn’t give up after “the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor!”  He destroys a folk singer’s guitar and I personally love the scene where he tries to cheer up a despondent pledge by smashing a beer bottle over his head.  But really, Bluto is used very sparingly and he’s one of the few members of the ensemble not to get his own subplot.  Bluto’s great but he’s not my favorite member of Delta House.

Hoover

Believe it or not, my favorite member of Delta House is Robert Hoover (James Widdoes).  Hoover is the president of Delta House and, when we first meet him, he seems like he’s way too clean-cut to be in charge of the “worst house” on campus.  But then, as the film progresses, we discover that Hoover may not be as openly crazy as everyone else but he’s definitely a Delta.  Just watch him in the Toga party scene.  Just look at him in the picture that shows up during the closing credits.  It took me a while to realize that Hoover, the future public defender, was giving the camera the finger.  Hoover may look uptight but he’s secretly a wild man!

animal-house 1

One of the things that I love about Animal House is that it truly is an ensemble film.  There’s not a weak performance to be found in the entire movie.  No matter how wild or over-the-top the humor gets, the entire cast commits to their roles and, as a result, they keep this movie grounded.  You actually find yourself caring about whether or not they get kicked off campus.  You truly believe that the members of Delta House have been friends for years but, even more importantly, you believe the same thing about their rivals at Omega House.  For that matter, it may be easy to make fun of Dean Wormer (John Vernon, setting the template for all evil deans to come) but you never doubt that he’s been in charge of Faber College for years and that he’s planning on being in charge for years to come.  As played by the deep-voiced and sinister-looking Vernon, Wormer becomes every unreasonable authority figure.  When he explains the concept of super secret probation, he does so with a smug pleasure that is practically chilling.  When he mentions that the members of Delta House can now be drafted, the smile on his face is terrifying.

Wormer

You know who else gives a really good performance in Animal House?  Donald Sutherland.  At the time, Sutherland was the biggest star in the film.  He was offered either a percentage of the grosses or a flat fee.  Sutherland thought the film would flop, took the flat fee, and missed out on millions as a result. Sutherland plays Prof. Jennings, an English teacher who, in the only scene actually set in a classroom, desperately tries to get his bored students to pay attention to him.  There’s something so poignant about the way Jennings begs his students to turn in their papers.  “I’m not joking,” he sputters, “this is my job!”

Jennings

Jennings turns out to be free thinker.  He turns Boone (Peter Riefert), Katie (Karen Allen), and Pinto (Tom Hulce) onto marijuana.  There’s an anachronistic peace sign hanging in his apartment (Animal House takes place in 1963) but no matter.  Far worse is the fact that he temporarily breaks up Boone and Katie!  Everyone knows those two belong together!

Bluto and Flounder

You know who else doesn’t get enough credit for his performance in Animal House?  Stephen Furst.  He plays Flounder, a new pledge.  Flounder is just so enthusiastic about everything and he doesn’t even seem to be upset when Wormer tells him, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.”  I love the enthusiastic way that Furst delivers simple lines like, “What’s my Delta Chi name?” and “Brother Bluto!  Brother D-Day!  What are you doing here!?” My favorite Flounder moment comes when he accidentally gives a horse a heart attack.  Technically, it shouldn’t be funny but it is because Furst, Belushi, and Bruce McGill (playing the role of D-Day) so thoroughly throw themselves into their roles.  For that matter, the horse did a pretty good job too.

Boone and Otter

But that’s not all!  How can I praise the ensemble of Animal House without mention Tim Matheson, who plays Otter, the future Beverly Hills gynecologist?  Or what about Kevin Bacon, playing Omega pledge Chip Diller?  This was Bacon’s first role and who can forget him shouting, “Thank you, sir, may I have another!” while being initiated into Omega House?  Or how about James Daughton and Mark Metcalf, as the two leaders of Omega House?  They were villains truly worth hissing!

Omega House

And yes, I know that a lot of the humor in Animal House is not politically correct but who cares?  It’s a hilarious movie, one that is full of good actors at their absolute best.  Yes, they’re all a bunch of privileged sexists blah blah blah, but I’d still party with the Delta House.  They know how to have fun and, even if they did wreck the Homecoming Parade, they had a good reason!

parade

And so is the movie.  Every time I see Animal House, I feel good about the world.  In 1978, The Deer Hunter was named best picture by the Academy.  Well, you know what?  With all due respect to that long epic about the tragedy of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War,  all the Oscars should have gone to Animal House!

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In conclusion … SING IT!

Let me t-t-tell you ’bout some friends I know
They’re kinda crazy but you’ll dig the show
They can party ’till the break of dawn
at Delta Chi you can’t go wrong

Otter, he’s the ladies man
Every girl falls into his hands
Boon and Katy playing “Cat and Mouse”

and Mrs. Wormer, she’s the queen of the
ANIMAL HOUSE

ANIMAL HOUSE

ANIMAL HOUSE

That Pinto he’s a real swell guy
Clorette was jailbait but he gave her a try
Chip, Doug, and Greg, they’re second to none
They studied under Attila the Hun

Mr. Jennings has got his wig on tight
Flouder’s left shoe’s always on his right
Babs and Mandy are having a pillow fight
With D-Day, Hoover, Otis Day and the Knights

DO THE BLUTO

Come on baby, dance with me
Maybe if we do the Bluto
We will get an “A” in lobotomy

DO THE BLUTO
DO THE BLUTO

DO THE BLUTO
DO THE BLUTO

Aw, come on!
Let me tell ya
Dean Wormer tried to shut us down
But he fell and he broke his crown
He didn’t know about the Delta spunk
He came in handy when we were short a skunk

At the

ANIMAL HOUSE

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Here’s The Trailer For Manchester By The Sea!


Hey, do you remember when — for a day or two — everyone was saying that Manchester By The Sea was going to be this year’s film to go from being acclaimed at Sundance to being nominated for best picture?

It’s easy to forget because, as acclaimed as Kenneth Lonergan’s latest film was, it was quickly overshadowed by Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation.  Once Nation had its Sundance premiere, people stopped talking about Manchester and it was pretty much assumed by just about everyone that Nation — and not Manchester — would follow in the footsteps of Beasts of the Southern Wild, Boyhood, Whiplash, and Brooklyn as this year’s Sundance Oscar contender.

But then, a few months ago, we learned that both Nate Parker and Jean Celestin, who has a story credit for Nation, were accused of rape in 1999.  Parker was acquitted on legally dubious grounds (he and the victim has consensual sex before the rape) while Celestin was convicted and spent a few months in jail before having his conviction overturned on appeal and being granted a new trial.  The victim, who said that she had been harassed by both Parker and Celestin, declined to testify at the new trial and, in 2012, committed suicide.

Since that news has come out, there’s been a lot of think pieces on whether or not it’s possible to separate a work of art from the artist and whether or not a critic should even attempt to do so.  It’s starting to look doubtful that The Birth of a Nation is going to get the Oscar push that so many people were expecting.  Fox Searchlight spent a lot of money to acquire the rights to the film and now, they seem to just be planning on quietly dumping it into theaters on October 7th.

Which means, with The Birth of A Nation quietly being pushed to the side, Manchester By The Sea is, once again, the Sundance film with all the Oscar buzz.  I’ve heard the film is absolutely incredible.  (For the record, I’ve also heard the same thing about The Birth of a Nation.)  A lot of people feel that Kenneth Lonergan deserved some Oscar consideration for Margaret, and probably would have received it if he hadn’t developed a reputation for being difficult.  (It took Lonergan 5 years to come up with a final cut of Margaret that he was willing to release.)  Manchester By The Sea could be Lonergan’s opportunity for industry redemption.

Here’s the trailer:

Here’s The Trailer for Rings!


Now, I may be alone in this (or, at least, it sometimes feels as if I am) but I absolutely love The Ring.  I wasn’t necessarily a big fan of the sequel but the first Ring remains one of my favorite horror films.  In fact, I may have to revisit it in October for TSL’s annual horror month!

Well, after 11 years, The Ring is finally about to get another sequel!  In Rings, it turns out that the killer video has gone viral, which, now that I think about it, was also a skit on Robot Chicken.  Sadly, Naomi Watts will not be returning for Rings.  In fact, the entire cast pretty much screams VOD.

But no matter!  I will still see Rings the day that it opens.  (That would be October 28th, just in time for Halloween.)

And I’ll probably scream a lot…

Back to School Part II #8: Hollywood High (dir by Patrick Wright)


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If I may, for a second, quote the theme song from Degrassi, the greatest television show ever:

Whatever it takes…

I know I can make it through!

That song was running through my head as I watched the 1977 “comedy,” Hollywood High.  At times, I didn’t know if I’d be able to make it through.  Hollywood High was not only bad but it was boring as well!  This is one of those films where every line of dialogue is followed by a minute or so of awkward silence as the cast struggles to remember who speaks next.  I’ve often written of the importance of ensemble chemistry.  Well, Hollywood High is a perfect example of what happens when a cast doesn’t have any chemistry at all.  They’re all playing friends and lovers but you get the feeling that none of them knew each other before film started and no one saw each other after it ended.

Whatever it takes…

I know I can make it through!

It’s a comedy but nothing funny ever happens.  As far as plot goes, it’s about four interchangeable girls who go to Hollywood High School and who spend most of their time on the beach, getting naked while some of the most generic west coast music imaginable plays in the background.  One of the girls (it’s never clear which) has a super cool boyfriend named Fenzie.  Fenzie wears a leather jacket and starts every sentence with, “Heeeeeeeey!” and he also says stuff like, “The Fenzie needs a beer!” No, his name is not Fonzie.  It’s FENZIE!

Whatever it takes…

I know I can make it through!

At one point, the four girls are driving down the highway in their red roadster.  (And you better believe that there’s a song on the soundtrack called “Red Roadster.”)

“We need gas!” one of them says.

“We need oil!” another one replies.

“We need a lube job!” one points out.

“We need Big Dick!” the driver announces.

Well, of course … oh wait.  It turns out that Big Dick is an auto mechanic.  He’s also a dwarf!  When he first shows up on screen, one of the girls says, “Oh, I see.  That’s funny.”

Whatever it takes…

I know I can make it through!

Anyway, Big Dick tries to cheat film star June East (Marla Winters).  The girls all love June East so one of them has sex with Big Dick so that June won’t have to pay her bill.  June is so impressed that she says, “Why don’t you come down and see me sometime?”  You know what that means!  It’s orgy time at June East’s mansion.  The girls are shocked to discover that June’s lover is the flamboyant teacher (played by an actor named Hy Pyke) who they previously assumed was gay!

Whatever it takes…

The girls then look straight at the camera.

“This,” one of them says.

“Is,” another one adds.

“The,” the third chimes in.

“End!”  the fourth one says with a smile.

…I know I can make it through!

And somehow, I did make it through!  Finally, this movie ended!  I breathed a huge sigh of relief and then I wrote this review.  And, in case I haven’t made it clear, Hollywood High is one of the worst movies ever made.  It didn’t even work as a time capsule because it left me hating the 70s with such a passion that I’m probably going to have to rewatch Saturday Night Fever, Dazed and Confused, Boogie Nights, and American Hustle to remind myself why I was ever fascinated by the decade in the first place!

I made it through Hollywood High.  And now, let us never speak of it again…

Back to School Part II #7: Cage Without A Key (dir by Buzz Kulik)


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For the fifth film in my Back To School series of reviews, I watched Cage Without A Key, a made-for-TV movie from 1975.

17 year-old Valerie Smith (Susan Dey) would appear to have everything.  She has a loving mother and a loyal best friend.  She just graduated from high school and has been accepted to a good college.  She’s looking forward to going down to San Francisco for the weekend before starting her summer job.  The future look great and, of course, that means that she’s about to make the biggest mistake of her life.

And she’s going to do it 70s style!

When her car breaks down on the way to San Francisco, she makes the mistake of accepting a ride from a long-haired guy in a Volkswagen microbus.  Buddy Goleta (Sam Bottoms, in full 70s weirdo mode) went to high school with Valerie and appears to have a crush on her.  Buddy also appears to be a little bit crazy himself as he tells everyone that he meets that Valerie is “my old lady.”  Finally, Buddy pulls over to a convenience store and kills everyone inside.  Since Valerie’s in the microbus, she gets arrested along with Buddy.  Since Buddy claims that he and Valerie are lovers, she’s convicted of being an accessory and is sentenced to a … REFORM SCHOOL!

(Cue dramatic music.)

The warden — Mrs. Little (Katharine Helmond) — insists that she’s not running a prison.  Instead, she’s running a very progressive school where the students all happen to be thieves and murderers.  The school even has pleasant euphemisms for all the standard prison film elements.  For instance, no one is put in solitary confinement.  Instead, they’re sent to meditation.

Anyway, while Valerie waits for her dedicated public defender (David Brandon) to prove her innocence and get her out of reform school, she finds herself being approached by the various gangs who run the school.  Valerie says she doesn’t want anything to do with any of that.  She just wants to fly under the radar until she’s set free.  But then she’s approached by a predatory lesbian and, as we all known from watching other prison films, nothing will make you join a gang faster than being approached by a predatory lesbian…

Okay, Cage Without A Key is not exactly Orange Is The New Black.  What it is, however, is a time capsule of the time it was made.  Everything from the slang to the clothes to the attitudes to the squishy, upper class liberalism of Valerie’s lawyer practically screams 1970s.

Add to that, classic film lovers will appreciate the fact that the evil gang leader is named Suzy Kurosawa!

Incidentally, Cage Without A Key was written by Joanna Lee, who readers of this site will probably best remember for playing one of the alien invaders in Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Music Video of the Day: …Baby One More Time by Britney Spears (1998, dir. Nigel Dick)


I would usually try to write something here. Something like that she represented the worst of the late 90s. Maybe that she has grown on me since that time. Just about anything along those lines would normally fill this post. But I can’t do that because I really can’t get over that the director of Wonderwall by Oasis, Paradise City by Guns N’ Roses, and Everybody Wants To Rule The World by Tears For Fears made this music video. Then again, he has worked on some 300-400 music videos, so why not?

Speaking of why not. Why not a death metal cover of this song?

Page Buckner worked in the art department for this music video. There is an IMDb page for that name, but I’m not sure if someone born in 1979 would have been working on this music video. Assuming it is, then he has worked on numerous major projects such as Django Unchained (2012).

Watching this music video is very nostalgic, but I am so glad this period of music is over. Enjoy this time capsule.