31 Days of Film: Animal House
The main goal of this exercise is twofold. To get my lazy ass to actual write and put stuff up and to watch important movies that I feel I need to have in my vocabulary. The plan is to watch a lot of shit like A Tokyo Story and Shoot the Piano Player; a plan that has been made all the more difficult by the shuttering of Filmstruck—a slight that I fully intend to avenge Maximus Decimus Meridius style. But the other day someone told me that Animal House was their favorite movie. Not favorite comedy, their favorite movie. A person that I usually trust on these sorts of things and I have never seen Animal House. Mainly because, and I know how blasphemous it is to say ‘round these parts, I don’t find John Belushi all that funny. I’ve seen Neighbors and The Blues Brothers and I’m just all that enamored. But I figure there will be plenty of time for the Battleship Potemkins of the world and a quick detour won’t hurt anyone—least of all my reader statistics.
And I’ll be honest, I don’t get it. Animal House along with Caddyshack always seem to come up when talking about all-time great comedies. John Landis’s late-night comedy about a bunch of 30 year old men masquerading as college students getting up to ill-advised high-jinx at Faber College is about as funny as its premise would suggest. In its defense, time has ravished this movie, managing in its 107-minute runtime to hit the holy trifecta of gay slurs, rape jokes, and racism. Time can’t entirely excuse this film however, Mel Brooks was making his bet work in the early 70s, 4-8 years before Animal House’s release. I think litigating comedy is both a thankless and unfair task, I still love Raw despite the fact that on one in their right mind would say anything that Murphy does in private much less in front of a stadium of people. But the least of Animal House’s sins is that it’s offensive; there’s barely a laugh in the movie. The film feels like a 5 minute SNL sketch that got stretched out way past it’s breaking point.
The toga party scene is of course the film’s most famous but I think Animal House is best summed up by a sequence in the second act where following Gregory Marmalard receiving neither his first nor his last unsuccessful handjob of the film John Belushi as Bluto climbs a ladder to pear in a sorority house window in which a group of girls are topless and having a pillow fight. The scene is punctuated with the ladder tipping over and Bluto falling back first into the front yard. It’s a scene that has no bearing on the film before or after it and is barely explicable during. Slapstick, tits, and dick jokes, Animal House has it all and little else.
Time has done Animal House no favors, not only have many of its racier jokes aged like milk but so many of its good ones have been aped and referenced for the past 40 years to make them so predictable to be almost groan-worthy. I imagine in 1978 that people we’re losing their mind over the antics of the Deltas but so much of this movie rings hollow so many years later. Landis has masterworks in his filmography though, I would say Trading Places and Coming to America are both much better than Animal House, not to mention cult classic An American Werewolf in London.