One of the craziest, most comic movies in the history of cinema, able to snatch applauses and laughters just raising an eyebrow: this would be the answer for those who ask what Animal House is. The film by John Landis, released in theaters in the last days of July 1978, was written and conceived by the National Lampoon group, one of the most anarchist and desecrating journals of the 70s.
Laughing at the misadventures of the Delta Tau Chi fraternity, jumble of the worst elements of Faber College and strong enemy of the more prestigious and selective Omega Theta Pi fraternity, was something that certain intellectuals of that time lived with embarrassment, not able to understand why they felt so attracted to those scenes, simple and hilarious at the same time. Animal House has no special demands: it just need to be watched, with his paradoxical situations one after the other, always triggering laughters on laughters, telling a story of revenge in the fabulous 60s (1962, to be precise). Omega Theta Pi’s white elite represents the arrogant, right-wing America of that period, aggressive towards minorities and sexually repressed, in constant contrast with the very unorthodox Delta House, a bunch of elements made by voracious appetites and uncontrollable instincts. Backing the Omegas we have the authority represented by Dean Wormer, who wants more than anything else to expel the Bluto’s group: behind the tyrannical role interpreted by John Vernon, many critics have seen the representation of the former President Nixon, crushed only a few years earlier by Watergate scandal.
The initial idea of Ivan Reitman (who plays the role of producer for the film) was to include as many artists as possible from Saturday’s Night Live, the show-symbol of that late 70s and able to launch, besides Belushi, also other big names like his buddy Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. Delta characters are built around the most trivial and common archetypes of the typical attendees of the American college congregations and were intended to be interpreted by the full cast of the NBC show: unfortunately, the limits on budget brought only Belushi (who made the fortune of the movie) and the production had to look elsewhere for the rest of the cast.
The script (written by Harold Ramis and others) was based on a strong improvisational component, allowing John Belushi’s genius to face the camera with all his powerful imagination, outstanding the other Delta members (Tom Hulce, Peter Reegert, Stephen “Flounder” Furst and Bruce McGill): Bluto is a force of nature and frees every ounce of the comic verve of the actor from Chicago, flooding the film in every part. Every shot, every drink, every meal, is nothing but an incredible opportunity to get astonished by his overflowing talent.
If there wasn’t Belushi, we probably wouldn’t be talking about Animal House today. His insane presence, able to change gear in every scene, put him among the most popular comedians in Hollywood: The Toga Party, the Food Fight in the cafeteria, are nothing but examples of his boundless skills.
The success of the movie also led to the creation of a sit-com (Delta House), that resumed the story from where it was interrupted and had many of the characters played by the same actors of Animal House. Obviously John Belushi did not return in the role of Bluto (which among other things saw the debut of a young Michelle Pfeiffer) and was replaced by John Mostel, who gave birth to Blotto, the younger brother of Mr. Blutarsky. Universal evaluated a couple of sequels, but they never went on production and they were stopped after Belushi’s death in 1982. Animal House grosse 142 million dollars, outclassing each previous comedy and changing the way to realize most of the subsequent movies in the same genre (Police Academy and Porky’s above all): it went far beyond the expectations, although it was just a little movie about drunk students and fibrillating hormones. Sometimes it takes very little to become a cult.