I faintly recall seeing this movie when I was younger. For some odd reason though, I decided to check it out since I was watching old John Belushi movies and it happened to be on Netflix. Bored, I decided to see if this classic still had the magic that made it a classic.
The movie is pretty old but the basic theme of the stereotypical party atmosphere fraternity system has not changed much. Besides attire, diction and technology, the basic premise of this movie could exist today. Hell, I knew stories at my university of a few fraternities that eventually got expelled for destroying their houses. Essentially, this is the ultimate reference for extreme college partying.
Now, re-watching this movie much of the humor is lost upon me. The movie is a big mess but I cannot tell if it’s intentional or just a sophomore effort from the writers. It seems that the intention was simply to capture college life from a fraternity point of view in an extreme case. A lot of the timing for jokes just didn’t seem to be there for me and there wasn’t much of a rhythm beyond this microscopic lens to view college life.
If anything the movie really should be about John Belushi’s character, Bluto. He was the big name star (although a few people went on to their own mega success such as a young Kevin Bacon and Karen Allen). You watch the movie for his outrageous antics such as the cafeteria scene with him eating up the line of food, popping the potato salad into the faces of the rival fraternity, his perpetual inebriated state, the expressions of sexual perversion or his sudden burst of rage. Unfortunately, his character, though stealing every scene, pretty much was a side character to hoist up the other bland people.
The other characters were utterly dull and forgetful. Maybe the closest character that had any remarkable personality besides Bluto was Neidermeyer, who would later have a similar infamous character in Twisted Sister’s videos (most notably I Want to Rock and We’re Not Going to Take It). Beyond that the motivation for most of the characters was sex, alcohol or partying. Even the rival fraternity Omega Theta Pi was so bland that you couldn’t really take their side outside of the fact that both fraternities were rivals.
Of course, the end result is this slowly accumulating conflict that results in Delta Tau Chi getting kicked off of campus for disobeying regulation and then having their act of revenge against the school, fraternity and city to a degree. But it’s really hard to get behind Omega Theta Pi since none of the characters have any redeeming qualities beyond Bluto for his antics. Any sane school would’ve probably had everyone arrested in that fraternity beyond just expelling them.
Yet the end message for this movie is quite poor in that Delta Tau Chi would somehow end up being successful despite showing no virtuous qualities while their rivals met pretty morbid fates. I get that the movie is intended to be a dramatized parody of college life in a fraternity but in the end the movie ends up glorifying the party lifestyle that is highly celebrated in Hollywood.
I suppose a comparable movie would be Revenge of the Nerds. With Revenge of the Nerds, the plot is a lot tighter, characters far more memorable and the end message ending on a positive tone. Even if the humor might still be dated to a degree, the primary message behind Revenge of the Nerds is really about bullying, being an outcast and brain over brawn. With Animal House, the only message being sent is that you should party to death because you’ll succeed thereafter without having a tangible plan in place.
Overall, Animal House really doesn’t hold up well for me. Again, the only real reason to watch this movie is for John Belushi or if you want to see younger versions of a few actors/actresses.