National Lampoon’s Animal House – Double Secret Probation
December 9, 2001
Starring: Starring: Tom Hulce, Stephen Furst, Mark Metcalf, Mary Louise Weller, Martha Smith, James Daughton, Kevin Bacon, John Belushi, John Vernon, Douglas Kenney, Chris Miller, Bruce Bonnheim, Karen Allen, James Widdoes, Tim Matheson, Peter Riegert, ,
It’s time to put on your toga and tap a keg because Animal House is celebrating its 25th anniversary. And what better way to celebrate the misadventures of Bluto, Otter and Flounder than with a brand spankin’ new DVD. This is the third version released by Universal—aptly labeled the Double Secret Probation Edition—and it features all the extra material included on the previous Collector’s Edition disc with a few additions and newly re-mastered transfer.
Kent Dorfman (Furst) and Larry Kroger (Hulce) are freshman looking to rush a fraternity. They try Omega House first but are put off by the air of elitism as personified by the politely vacuous Greg Marmalard (James Daughton). It quickly becomes evident that they are not welcome there so, they try Delta House next, because Kent’s brother was a member. However, Delta has the reputation of being the worst house on campus and with good reason. As Kent and Larry approach the house, a naked mannequin hurtles out of a window.
Pretty soon Kent and Larry have successfully rushed Delta House and fit right in with the motley crew of misfits. Dean Wormer (John Vernon) is fed up with Delta’s antics and decides to put them on double secret probation: one more screw-up and they all are not only kicked off campus but also expelled. This sets in motion a series of pranks and dirty tricks that pits the Omegas against the Deltas which culminates in a hilariously chaotic finale.
What separates Animal House from its countless imitators is the fantastic ensemble of actors that the filmmakers assembled. The casting was dead on. Furst, with his baby-faced pudge is perfect as the naïve Kent Dorfman. Tim Matheson exudes charisma and smarmy confidence as the irrepressible Otter. And let’s not forget John Belushi. Animal House was initially seen as a vehicle for Belushi and his character, Bluto, is definitely tailor-made for his considerable comedic talents. However, over the years the film seems more like an ensemble comedy with a talented cast of largely then unknowns. At the time, Belushi and Donald Sutherland were the only real big names but everyone is given their time to do their thing. There is a real sense of camaraderie among the talented cast and this is readily evident in how easily they interact with one another. It feels like they’ve been working together for a long time.
What also makes the film work is the dialogue. It’s not what the actors say (although, there are many classic quotes), rather how they say it. For example, when Otter and Boon first meet the clueless Kent and “marvel” at his tie, the interplay between Matheson and Riegert is that of a well-rehearsed comedic team. Their comic timing is perfect as they play off each other: Matheson the suave ladies man and Riegert is his dry-witted sidekick. These actors understand the how dialogue is delivered is crucial in making it funny.
One of the new extras on this DVD is “Where Are They Now? A Delta Alumni Update.” This twenty-minute featurette is a hit and miss affair as many of the cast members reprise their roles from the movie and act out the epilogue from the movie. While it’s good to see Peter Riegert and Karen Allen together again, James Widdoes’ segment falls flat.
The pop punk rock band, MXPX cover the classic tune, “Shout” for no particular reason other than to feature footage of them playing intercut with clips of the movie. They certainly aren’t Otis Day and the Knights. This music video reeks of extra padding.
The highlight of the supplemental material is an impressive 45-minute retrospective entitled, “The Yearbook: An Animal House Reunion.” Ported over from the “Collector’s Edition” DVD, this is a detailed look at the origins and making of this landmark movie. Originally, it was set in a high school but the numerous references to sex and drugs forced the change to college. The producers then brought in National Lampoon writer Chris Miller who had written several articles about his college days. He provided the crucial guts of the movie.
Also included are the obligatory cast and crew biographies and filmographies. There is a vintage theatrical trailer narrated by none other Tim Matheson in character that is very funny.
Lastly, there is the “Did You Know That? Universal Animated Anecdotes.” Once enabled, subtitles appear periodically throughout the movie dispensing interesting (co-screenwriter, Chris Miller’s frat name was actually Pinto) and not so interesting factoids (Donald Sutherland is Kiefer Sutherland’s dad). Unfortunately, for widescreen TV owners, the good folks at Universal did not format the subtitles properly and the bottom of the screen cuts off some comments. This comes across as sloppy on the studio’s part.
Animal House has spawned countless imitators, some good (PCU) and some not so good (Van Wilder). Accept no substitutes—the original is still the best and revisiting it again on DVD only reaffirms how well this film has aged. While the extras are uneven in quality, the film has never looked or sounded better—so much so that director John Landis has said that the transfer looks too good. So put on your pledge pin and get ready to have some fun with the boys from Delta House.