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!

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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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Boobs, Music, and Sci-Fi: Heavy Metal (1981, directed by Gerald Potterton)


Heavy MetalI think I was twelve when I first saw Heavy Metal.  It came on HBO one night and I loved it.  So did all of my friends.  Can you blame us?  It had everything that a twelve year-old boy (especially a 12 year-old boy who was more than a little on the nerdy side) could want out of a movie: boobs, loud music, and sci-fi violence.  It was a tour of our secret fantasies.  The fact that it was animated made it all the better.  Animated films were not supposed to feature stuff like this.  When my friends and I watched Heavy Metal, we felt like we were getting away with something.

Based on stories from the adults-only Heavy Metal Magazine, Heavy Metal was divided into 8 separate segments:

Soft Landing (directed by Jimmy T. Murakami and John Bruno, written by Dan O’Bannon)

Heavy Metal opens brilliantly with a Corvette being released from a space shuttle and then flying down to Earth, surviving reentry without a scratch.  Who, after watching this, has not wanted a Space Corvette of his very own?

Grimaldi (directed by Harold Whitaker)

On Earth, a terrified young girl listens a glowing green meteorite called the Loc-Nar tells her that it is the source of all evil in the universe.  This sets up the rest of the film, which is made up of stories that the Loc-Nar tells about its influence.  The Loc-Nar is the film’s MacGuffin and, seen today, one of Heavy Metal’s biggest problems is that it has to find a way to force the Loc-Nar into every story, even if it meant sacrificing any sort of consistency about what the Loc-Nar was capable of doing.  Even when I was twelve, I realized that the Loc-Nar was not really that important.

Harry Canyon (directed by Pino Van Lamsweerde, written by Daniel Goldberg)

In this neo-noir tale, futuristic cabby Harry Canyon (voiced by Richard Romanus) is enlisted to help an unnamed girl (voiced by Susan Roman) to find the Loc-Nar.  Slow and predictable, Harry Canyon does feature the voice of John Candy as a police sergeant who attempts to charge Harry for police work.

den_1268427864Den (directed by Jack Stokes, written by Richard Corben)

Nerdy teenager David (voiced by John Candy) finds a piece of the Loc-Nar and is transported to the world of Neverwhere, where he is transformed into Den, a muscular, bald warrior.  As Den, David gets to live out the fantasies of Heavy Metal‘s target audience.  On his new planet, Den rescues an Earth woman from being sacrificed, overthrows an evil queen and a sorcerer, and gets laid.  A lot.  Den is the best segment in Heavy Metal, largely because of the endearing contrast between the action onscreen and John Candy’s enthusiastic narration.

Captain Sternn (directed by Paul Sebella and Julian Harris, written by Bernie Wrightson)

heavy-metal_captain-sternOn a space station orbiting the Earth, Captain Lincoln F. Sternn is on trail for a countless number of offenses.  Though guilty, Captain Sternn expects to be acquitted because he has bribed the prosecution’s star witness, Hanover Fiste.  However, Hanover is holding the Loc-Nar in his hand and it causes him to tell the truth about Captain Sternn and eventually turn into a bloodthirsty giant. Captain Sternn saves the day by tricking Hanover into getting sucked out of an air lock.

Captain Sternn was a reoccurring character in Heavy Metal Magazine and his segment is one of the best.  Eugene Levy voices Captain Sternn while Joe Flaherty voices his lawyer and Dean Wormer himself, John Vernon, is the prosecutor.  Even National Lampoon co-founder Douglas Kenney provided a voice.

 B-17 (directed by Barrie Nelson, written by Dan O’Bannon)

After the Loc-Nar enters Earth’s atmosphere, it crashes into a bullet-riddled World War II bomber, causing the dead crewmen within to reanimate as zombies.  Scored to Don Felder’s Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride), B-17 is one of the shorter segments and its dark and moody animation holds up extremely well.

So Beautiful and So Dangerous (directed by John Halas, written by Angus McKie)

Nubile Pentagon secretary Gloria is beamed aboard a spaceship that looks like a giant smiley face.  While she has sex with the ship’s robot captain, the two crew members (voiced by Harold Ramis and Eugene Levy) pour out a long line of cocaine and shout “Nosedive!” before snorting up every flake.  So Beautiful and So Dangerous is so juvenile and so ridiculous that it is actually all kinds of awesome.

Taarna

SacrificedIn the film’s final and most famous segment, Taarna, the blond warrior was featured on Heavy Metal‘s poster, rides a pterodactyl across a volcanic planet, killing barbarians, and finally confronting the Loc-Nar.  She sacrifices herself to defeat the Loc-Nar but no worries!  We return to Earth where, for some reason, the Loc-Nar explodes and the girl from the beginning of the film is revealed to be Taarna reborn.  She even gets to fly away on her pterodactyl.  Taarna was really great when I was twelve but today, it is impossible to watch it without flashing back to the Major Boobage episode of South Park.

Much like Taarna, Heavy Metal seems pretty silly when I watch it today.  But when I was twelve, it was the greatest thing ever.

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