John Landis David Denby - Essay

David Denby

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Fraternity-house pranks, which depend on humiliating your rivals and yourself at the same time, may be the lowest of all forms of humor, but they have a necessity that anyone can see: They are probably the only form of rebellion available to square college boys. (Hip kids tend not to join fraternities, i.e., they get laid off campus.) In a few years those boys will be doctors, lawyers, businessmen, but at nineteen they can make outrageously cruel and infantile jokes and no one will give them too hard a time. At college I halfheartedly admired the guys who tore themselves apart on Saturday night, but I never wanted to join their revels. National Lampoon's Animal House, which is a genial, uneven, occasionally hilarious celebration of frathouse anarchy, doesn't give you the chance to stand back: The movie says that anyone who won't join the fun is a prig….

Animal House was written by three National Lampoon contributors (Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney, and Chris Miller) as a continuation of that magazine's nonstop guerrilla war against respectful attitudes toward culture, women, blacks, animals, etc. The year is 1962 at Faber College, one of the less rigorous West Coast institutions. The place is in a state of war. On the one side is Delta House, a sorry collection of fatties, geeks, near-criminal misfits, and outrageous make-out artists (our heroes). On the other side are the embattled dean … and his obsequious...

(The entire section is 418 words.)