National Lampoon's Animal House is a 1978 comedy film directed by John Landis and adapted by Douglas Kenney, Chris Miller and Harold Ramis from stories written by Miller and published in National Lampoon magazine based on his experiences in the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity at Dartmouth College, as well as Ramis's experiences in the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity at Washington University in St. Louis. The film is about a misfit group of fraternity boys that takes on the system at their college.
It is considered to be the movie that launched the gross-out genre, although it was predated by several films now also included in the genre. Produced on a small $2.7 million budget, the film has turned out to be one of the most profitable movies of all time. Since its initial release, Animal House has garnered an estimated return of more than $141 million in the form of video and DVDs, not including merchandising. In 2001, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. This film is first on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies." It was #36 on AFI's "100 Years, 100 Laughs" list of the 100 best American comedies.
Meanwhile, Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon) is trying to remove the Deltas off campus. Since they are already on probation, he puts the Deltas on "Double Secret Probation" and orders the clean-cut Omega president Gregg Marmalard (James Daughton) to assign Doug Neidermeyer (Mark Metcalf) the job of finding a way to get rid of the Deltas once and for all. As the campus ROTC detachment drills, Neidermeyer, the pompous cadet commander, spots Flounder wearing a pledge pin on his uniform and begins berating him. Two Deltas, "Otter" (Tim Matheson) and "Boon" (Peter Riegert), witness this and object to the mistreatment. They take turns hitting golf balls, aiming for the horse Neidermeyer is riding. A ball eventually strikes the horse, causing it to rear up. Then, a second ball hits Neidermeyer on the head, knocking him out of the saddle. The already spooked animal bolts, dragging a screaming Neidermeyer behind, entangled in the stirrups. Later, he orders Flounder to clean his horse's filthy stable stall. Bluto and D-Day talk Flounder into sneaking the hated animal into Dean Wormer's office. They give him a gun and tell him to shoot it. Unbeknownst to Flounder, the gun is loaded with blanks. He cannot bring himself to kill the horse and fires into the ceiling, but the noise causes the horse to have a heart attack and die.
In the cafeteria the next day, Bluto provokes Gregg and Omega pledge Chip (Kevin Bacon) with his impression of a popping zit. This starts food fight that engulfs the cafeteria. Later that day, Bluto and D-Day rummage through a trash bin to steal the answers to an upcoming psychology test. Unfortunately, the exam stencil had been planted by the Omegas, and the Deltas get every answer wrong. Their grade point averages drop so low that Wormer only needs one more incident to revoke their charter which allows them to reside on campus. Undaunted, the Deltas organize a toga party. Pinto invites Clorette (Sarah Holcomb), the cashier at the local supermarket. She turns out to be the underage daughter of shady Mayor Carmine DePasto (Cesare Danova). When she gets drunk and passes out, Pinto is tempted to take advantage of her. In the end, he takes her home in a shopping cart. A drunken Mrs. Wormer (Verna Bloom) crashes the party and spends the night with Otter. That turns out to be the last straw. Wormer gets the fraternity's charter revoked, and all of their belongings are confiscated.
To take their minds off their troubles, Otter, Boon, Flounder, and Pinto go on a road trip. Otter picks up some girls from Emily Dickinson College, a local liberal arts college, by pretending to be the boyfriend of a girl recently killed on campus in a kiln explosion and go to a roadhouse called the Dexter Lake Club, which has an all-black clientèle. Otis Day and the Knights happen to be playing there that night. Some of the hulking regulars are not amused and intimidate the guys into fleeing without their dates. In their haste to leave, they damage several cars in the parking lot.
Things go from bad to worse. "Babs" (Martha Smith) lies to Gregg Marmalard, telling him that his girlfriend, Mandy (Mary Louise Weller), and Otter are having an affair. Marmalard and some of his fellow Omegas lure Otter to a motel and beat him up. The Deltas' midterm grades are so bad that they are all expelled from school by Wormer and their draft boards notified of their eligibility. For revenge, the Deltas decide to wreak havoc on the annual Homecoming parade, inspired by Bluto's impassioned speech. In the ensuing chaos, he steals a car, abducts Mandy and drives off into the sunset, or rather to Washington, D.C., as the futures of many of the main characters are "revealed". Bluto and Mandy become Senator and Mrs. John Blutarsky.
However, Kenney felt that fellow Lampoon writer Chris Miller was their expert on the college experience. Faced with an impending deadline, Miller submitted a chapter from his then-abandoned memoirs (later published in 2006 as The Real Animal House) entitled, "The Night of the Seven Fires" that recalled his fraternity days (Alpha Delta Phi) at the Ivy League's Dartmouth College, in Hanover, New Hampshire. The antics of the Alphas became the inspiration for the Delta Tau Chis of Animal House. Filmmaker Ivan Reitman had just finished producing David Cronenberg's first film, Shivers and called the magazine’s publisher Matty Simmons about making movies under the Lampoon banner. Reitman had put together The National Lampoon Show in New York City that featured several future Saturday Night Live cast members, including John Belushi. When most of them moved to that show except for Ramis, Reitman approached him with an idea to make a film together using some of the skits from the Lampoon Show.
The result was a 110 page treatment (the average was 15 pages) that Reitman and Simmons pitched to various Hollywood studios. Simmons met with Ned Tanen, an executive at Universal Studios who was encouraged by younger executives Sean Daniel and Thom Mount that were more receptive to the Lampoon type of humor. Tanen hated the idea. Ramis remembers, "We went further than I think Universal expected or wanted. I think they were shocked and appalled. Chris’ fraternity had virtually been a vomiting cult. And we had a lot of scenes that were almost orgies of vomit . . . We didn’t back off anything". As the writers created more drafts of the screenplay (nine in total), the studio gradually became more excited about the project, especially Mount, who was responsible for championing it. Surprisingly, the studio green-lighted the film and set the budget at a modest $3 million. Simmons remembers, "They just figured, ‘Screw it, it’s a silly little movie, and we’ll make a couple of bucks if we’re lucky – let them do whatever they want.’"
The initial cast was to feature Chevy Chase as Otter, Bill Murray as Boon, Brian Doyle-Murray as Hoover, Dan Aykroyd as D-Day and John Belushi as Bluto, but only Belushi wanted to do it. Chase turned them down to do Foul Play. The character of D-Day was based on Aykroyd, who was a motorcycle aficionado. Aykroyd was offered the part, but he was already committed to Saturday Night Live. Landis met with Jack Webb to play Dean Wormer and Kim Novak to play his wife. Webb ultimately backed out due to concerns over his clean-cut image, and was replaced by John Vernon.
Belushi received only $35,000 for Animal House with a bonus after it became a hit. Landis also met with Meat Loaf to play Bluto in case Belushi did not want to do it. Landis worked with Belushi on his character and they decided that Bluto was a cross between Harpo Marx and the Cookie Monster. Much of the cast, including Karen Allen, Tom Hulce, Mark Metcalf, Bruce McGill and Kevin Bacon, were struggling actors just starting out. The studio hated Landis' choices and wanted to cast dramatic actors as well as comedians. Despite the presence of Belushi, Universal wanted another movie star because they said that the whole movie did not have a star; just a lot of sub-plots. Landis had been a crew member on Kelly's Heroes and had become friends with actor Donald Sutherland (he even used to babysit his son, Kiefer). Landis called up Sutherland and asked him to be in the film. He ended up becoming the highest-paid member of the cast. Sutherland's casting was essential for the movie being picked up by Universal as they were reluctant to produce a picture with no stars, and the veteran actor was one of the biggest stars of the 1970s. For two days work on the picture, Sutherland was offered either a $40,000 flat fee or a percentage of the film's gross; assuming that the movie would be quickly forgotten, he opted for the sure money, a decision which (by his own admission) has cost him millions.
The filmmakers' next problem was finding a college that would let them shoot the film on their campus. They had submitted the script to a number of colleges and universities, and the movie was set to be filmed at the University of Missouri until the president of the school read the script and refused permission. The University of Oregon agreed because after consulting with student government leaders and officers of Pan Hellenic Council, the Director of University Relations advised the president that the script, although raunchy and often tasteless, was a very funny spoof of college life.
The president of University of Oregon had been a senior administrator of a major California university years before. Back in the late 1960s his campus was considered for being the location for the film The Graduate. After he consulted with other senior administrative colleagues who advised him to turn it down, production moved to the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Southern California. The reason given by the president was that the board believed the film script to be without artistic merit. The Graduate went on to become a classic. He was determined not to make the same mistake twice, even allowing the filmmakers to use his office as Dean Wormer's.
The actual house that was depicted as the Delta House was originally a residence in Eugene, the Dr. A.W. Patterson House. Around 1959, it was acquired by the Psi Deuteron chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity and was their chapter house until 1967, when the chapter was closed due to low membership and the house was sold and slid into disrepair, with the spacious porch removed and the lawn graveled over. The interior of the Sigma Nu house was used for nearly all of the interior scenes. The individual rooms were filmed on a soundstage. At the time of the shooting, the Phi Kappa Psi and Sigma Nu fraternity houses sat next to the old Phi Sigma Kappa house. The Omega House was actually the Phi Kappa Psi House, it is now the Alpha Epsilon Pi house. The Patterson house was demolished in 1986. A suite of physicians' offices now occupies the site. A large boulder placed to the west of the entrance to the parking lot displays a bronze plaque commemorating the Delta House location.
One night, some girls invited several of the cast members to a fraternity party. They arrived assuming they had been invited and were greeted with open hostility. As they were leaving, Widdoes threw a cup of beer at a group of drunk football players and a fight broke out. Tim Matheson, Bruce McGill, Peter Riegert, and Widdoes narrowly escaped with McGill suffering a black eye and Widdoes had several teeth knocked out.
The actors playing the Deltas stayed at the Rodeway Inn where they moved an old piano from the lobby into McGill's room which became known as "party central". Belushi and his wife, Judy, had a house in the suburbs in order to keep him away from alcohol and drugs.
While shooting the film, Landis and Bruce McGill staged a scene for reporters visiting the set where the director pretended to be angry at the actor for being difficult on the set. Landis grabbed a breakaway pitcher and smashed it over McGill's head who fell to the ground and pretended to be unconscious. The reporters really believed the incident and when Landis asked McGill to get up, he refused to move.
The studio became more enthusiastic about the film when Reitman showed executives and sales managers of various regions in the country a 10-minute production reel that was put together in two days. The reaction was very positive and the studio ordered 20 copies and sent them out to exhibitors. The first preview screening for Animal House was held in Denver four months before it opened nationwide. The crowd loved it and the filmmakers realized they had a potential hit on their hands.
The soundtrack is a mix of rock and roll and rhythm and blues with the original score created by film composer Elmer Bernstein, who had been a Landis family friend since John Landis was a child. Bernstein was easily persuaded to score the film, but was not sure what to make of it. Landis asked him to score it as though it were serious. Bernstein said that his work on this film opened yet another door in his diverse career, to scoring comedies (he would write the so-called "God music" segment in the Landis picture The Blues Brothers, for example).
In the film, the R&B band Otis Day and the Knights is depicted performing 'Shout' at the Delta house toga party and later, at an all-black club, doing "Shama Lama Ding Dong". On the soundtrack album, the tracks are credited to a singer named Lloyd Williams. In the film, Otis Day is portrayed by actor DeWayne Jessie.
When the film was released, John Landis and cast members James Widdoes and Karen Allen went on a national promotional tour. Universal Pictures spent $4.7 million dollars promoting the film at selected college campuses and helped students organize their own toga parties. One such party at the University of Maryland attracted approximately 2,000 people, while students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison tried for a crowd of 10,000 people and a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Thanks to the film, toga parties were the model for the fall of 1978's favorite college campus happening.
Animal House also inspired Co-Ed Fever, another sitcom but with none of the involvement of the film's producers or cast. Set in a dorm of the formerly all-female Baxter College, the pilot of Co-Ed Fever was aired by CBS on February 4, 1979, but the network canceled the series before airing any more episodes. NBC also had its Animal House-inspired sitcom, Brothers and Sisters, in which three members of Crandall College's Pi Nu fraternity "interact" with members of the Gamma Iota sorority. Like ABC's Delta House, Brothers and Sisters lasted only three months.
The film's writers planned a movie sequel set in 1967 (the "Summer of Love"), in which the Deltas have a reunion for Pinto's marriage in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco. The only Delta to have become a hippie is Flounder, who is now called Pisces. Later, Chris Miller and John Weidman, another Lampoon writer, created a treatment for this screenplay, but Universal rejected it because the sequel to American Graffiti (More American Graffiti), which had a few hippie-1967 sequences, had not done well. When John Belushi died, the idea shelved indefinitely.