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National Lampoon's Animal House (1978)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

"Relive the best 7 years of your college education."

I started college in 1968. I graduated (with honors) in 1976. Perhaps unlike some of the characters in this film, I didn't attend school for all the intervening years. Also my attitude towards the effort changed before graduating. However, I recall many of my years between 1968 and 1976 as very similar in several aspects to life in this movie, although I never joined any fraternity. During much of that time I avidly read the National Lampoon, which offered for its time material much like The Onion offers today. The movie stars the legendary John Belushi from the golden years of Saturday Night Live, another source of hilarity. All of these introductory comments should act to warn off those who might be thinking that my movie recommendations only go to high brow cultural items. In no way does this film qualify for that label.

This movie -- set in 1962 -- tells of a strange set of misfits attending a small town college. Although I think it might fit better set at least five years later, that might result from my viewpoint: I turned twelve in 1962. The story takes place at Faber College, named after Emil Faber, who according to the film said “Knowledge is good” and founded the school.

The movie starts by following two underclassmen: Kent Dorfman (Stephen Furst) and Larry Kroger (Tom Hulce), who attend several fraternity “rush” events at Faber. At the Omega Frat party Kent and Larry meet “Big Man On Campus (BMOC)” Doug Neidermeyer (Mark Metcalf) Omega's Membership chair and “nametag hostesses” Mandy Pepperidge (Mary Louise Weller) and 'Babs' Jansen (Martha Smith). Doug takes them further inside to meet others. Inside Kent encounters BMOC Greg Marmalard (James Daughton) – President of Faber's Omega chapter, who explains the importance of Omega membership to Chip Diller (Kevin Bacon). When Greg notices Kent he maneuvers him back to Larry and the rest of the group which the Omegas apparently expect to reject for membership.

As they walk to the next party, Kent tells Larry about the Deltas. Kent says “My brother Fred was a Delta, that makes me a legacy. They gotta take me. It's like their law. Don't worry, I'll put in a good word for you.” Larry responds: “Great. I heard Delta is the worst house on campus.” As they approach the Delta house, what appears to be a body hurtles from an upper story window. When it comes to rest at their feet, they see a broken manikin. The camera shows a dilapidated multi-story residence surrounded by garbage and cars as the sound of Louie, Louie (I like the soundtrack) comes from the party inside. Coming closer to the building they encounter an unshaven man performing a natural but not usually public act. Bluto (John Belushi) escorts them into the Delta house and invites them to have a beer.

As Kent and Larry mix at the Delta party they meet Katy (Karen Allen in her first film role) and Robert Hoover (James Widdoes) the Delta chapter president. Hoover asks Katy about two other Deltas and the scene shifts to another room where the two: 'Boon' (Peter Riegert) and Eric 'Otter' Stratton (Tim Matheson), discuss Otter's upcoming date. As they discuss their respective social calendars, Hoover opens the door and asks Otter to come down to the party since he chairs the rush events. As Otter and Boon join the party they encounter Larry and 'D-Day' (Bruce McGill) on the stairway.

The next day the scene shifts to the college's Administration building where Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon) and Greg Marmalard discuss how they can eliminate the Deltas from campus life at Faber college. In discussing the antics of the Deltas Dean Wormer delivers one of the strangest lines in movie dialog: “Every Halloween, the trees are filled with underwear. Every spring, the toilets explode.”

The Deltas accept Kent and Larry and give them the Delta Tau Chi names of 'Flounder' and 'Pinto,' respectively. The contrasts between the Delta and the Omega (Skull & Bones?) pledging ceremonies tell of profound differences. That's enough background to introduce the major characters and give their intentions. However, another tagline for the movie gives one of the major reasons I recommend this film: ”It was the Deltas against the rules... the rules lost!”

Although this movie probably won't suit most people's “child safe” category, nor their highest aesthetic ratings, I still give it a high recommendation for several reasons. One, laughter makes for better health and this movie should give you at least some moments of laughter. Also, this movie opposes the “establishment” in so many ways that I find listing them futile. If you need a laugh, if you like John Belushi's performances, if you feel irreverent, if you enjoy deflating wind bags, if you like seeing “the good guys” (admittedly a strange set of “good guys”) win, then watch Animal House.

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