Animal House (1978)

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The 1970s – an era that helped redefine comedy, and some of the greatest comedy films made today owe it to those made in the 1970s for allowing them to exist. A combination of the end of Vietnam, hippie subculture becoming even more popular, and an increased political landscape allowed for more edgy comedy. The fact that indecency lawsuits against films were becoming less common allowed for filmmakers to stretch the limits as to what was acceptable, and people like Mel Brooks and Woody Allen made comedy films like Young Frankenstein and Annie Hall, which served as bedrocks for the smart spoofs and intelligent romantic comedies we often see today. However, the most profitable comedy subgenre today is that of gross-out, raucous humor, and there is one film that served to turn that subgenre into one of the most popular kind of comedy films, and that is Animal House.

With a true ensemble cast led by a quartet of well-meaning young students, and anchored by comedy titan John Belushi, Animal House assembles a gaggle of quirky, strange young characters making their way in the world of college. Our protagonists live in Delta Tau Chi, the worst fraternity on the campus, known for the bad behavior and outrageous pranks of the fraternity brothers who reside there. The biggest culprit is John Belushi’s now iconic Bluto, a deplorable, disgusting human being who is also one of the most endearing, lovable characters in the film. Belushi is not the sole focus of the film, having about equal screentime as the rest of the cast of relative unknowns. However, he lets his comedy genius shine through, showing us the fireball of talent he was and makes us feel a little nostalgic when we realize that his incredible comedic abilities were cut short when he was only 33-years-old.

In the supporting cast, there are some considerable standouts. The best supporting performance comes from Donald Sutherland as the ultra-liberal pothead English professor. John Vernon is also gloriously evil as the grumpy and maniacal Dead Wormer. In the ensemble cast of students, there hides some young actors who would go onto to greater fame, including Karen Allen and Kevin Bacon.

Animal House lead the way for outrageous, inappropriate comedy. Up until that point, mainstream comedies were basically slapstick humor and family fare. Animal House brought biting social commentary, pairing it with a wonderfully hilarious story that has a lot of heart and realism to it (mostly because it is loosely based on the screenwriter’s own college experience).

Animal House is a legendary comedy – the toga party, the epic one-liners and the beautifully choreographed final sequence that is a ballet of chaos. An incredibly insane, but bitingly hilarious and deservedly iconic comedy that will go down as one of the greatest of all time.

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