Today! Because as of this moment, they’re on double secret probation –
National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
Directed by John Landis (x4)
Starring Tim Matheson (x2), Peter Riegert, John Belushi (x3), Tom Hulce (x2), Stephen Furst (x2), Mark Metcalf, John Vernon, Martha Smith, Karen Allen (x4), Bruce McGill, Donald Sutherland (x6), Verna Bloom, Mary Louise Weller, James Daughton, Doug Kenney, James Widdoes, Sarah Holcomb, Otis Day, Kevin Bacon (x5)
I think I liked the idea of Animal House more than the movie for a long time. Figure, I first saw this as a fairly young kid, and – as has been the case with many comedies of that time and before – I saw the severely edited television version almost exclusively for years. So while I loved the early Saturday Night Live from a pretty young age, I didn’t really get the appeal of Animal House. Come on, even edited to death it doesn’t have much resonance with a very young crowd, let’s face it. I was still watching lots of Police Academy and Look Who’s Talking – kid’s comedies masquerading as adult comedies. Animal House can’t possibly connect until you’re at least approaching high school, right?
Nonetheless, one of the first cassette tapes I remember owning was the Animal House soundtrack, which is a bunch of ’50s and ’60s songs plus that wacky “Animal House” theme, and I listened to it constantly. Sam Cooke’s “What a Wonderful World,” Paul and Paula, “Shama Lama Ding Dong” – I don’t know, even as a kid I was into old music, I guess. Why I would’ve gotten it in the first place, though, I can’t say, because again, it’s not like I watched the movie all that much. The same goes for The Blues Brothers – for the longest time, I considered myself a fan, and would’ve said so to my dumb grade school pals, but I didn’t actually see the film that often.
Thankfully, when I finally got to an age where it made any sense, Animal House held up. I recognize it’s very much a movie of its time – odd, because it’s set 15ish years earlier – and so has deteriorated a bit in terms of the yuks. But I still think there are enough iconic scenes plus the greatest Belushi film performance to keep this film rolling on to new audiences. As I’ve continued to get farther and farther away from my college days, and vast drinking/partying/whatnot, the vicarious appeal of this movie becomes less and less, but oddly the memory of that appeal helps it nostalgically linger around. Does that make sense? I feel like I’m bending over backwards to defend a movie I really enjoy.
How is Animal House holding up overall? Is it still a big comedy classic? I feel like it coming just before the big push of ’80s comedies and just after the heyday of Mel Brooks and Woody Allen puts it in a strange place. It’s a movie that feels a lot older than it is, and even though there’s a load of boozing and getting high, I don’t know how contemporary it played even in ’78. Does this work against Animal House now? Is this wildly overthinking a movie where a horse has a heart attack in a school administrator’s office?
Some of the film’s formation is covered in the terrific Netflix biopic A Futile and Stupid Gesture, covering mainly the creation of the Harvard Lampoon and life of Doug Kenney, who co-wrote Animal House and appears in the film as Stork, one of the Delta House screwballs. That movie seemed to disappear from conversation quickly – as is the nature of Netflix original films, I’m finding – so if you didn’t see it, go check it out! Will Forte makes a fine, funny Kenney, and it has a solid cast of comedians.
This is surprisingly John Landis’ fourth film on the list, following #218 The Kentucky Fried Movie, #146 The Blues Brothers, and #331 Twilight Zone – making him the 15th Four-Timer director. His final film on the countdown (Sorry, Spies Like Us fans!) is also my favorite movie from 1978, apparently. The ’70s are still pretty strongly represented going forward, this being only the second year to top off from the decade so far. It’s been a pretty light run from ’78 though – Halloween was last, way back at #272, preceded only by #273 The Cheap Detective, #305 Superman, and #353 Jaws 2.
Leading the charge for the actors are Donald Sutherland, making his sixth appearance (#396 MASH, #357 JFK, #289 The Hunger Games, #283 Beerfest, Kentucky Fried Movie), Kevin Bacon reaching the Fives (#373 Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, JFK, #342 X-Men: First Class, #207 A Few Good Men), and Karen Allen (#339 The Sandlot, #87 Manhattan, #227 Scrooged) joining the Fours! Spotlight!