20 Things You Didn’t Know About Animal House
Animal House is one of the most acclaimed and celebrated comedy movies ever made. It was the first movie produced by the comedy magazine the National Lampoon and it turned out to exceed all expectations and become a resounding success. This movie was, at the time, the highest grossing comedy movie of all time and it is still remembered as a classic to this day. And the fun doesn’t stop with the movie itself – there are a ton of interesting facts about the making of that movie. So, here are 20 things that you (probably) didn’t know about Animal House!
20. John Landis followed up on Neidermeyer’s fate in Twilight Zone: The Movie
Animal House introduced that comedy trope of revealing all of the characters’ fates in captions at the end of the movie. Neidermeyer’s caption states that he was “killed in Vietnam by his own troops.” Director John Landis followed up on this with his segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie, in which a couple of soldiers can be heard talking about the regret that they feel over killing Lieutenant Neidermeyer. So, John Landis has been subtly building up his own cinematic universe, which is shared by all of his films. Maybe Stork went to London and got attacked by a werewolf.
19. John Landis and Bruce McGill tricked reporters into thinking they had witnessed an on-set incident
On one day of shooting, when a group of reporters were visiting the set to check up on the production of the movie and get some promotion going ahead of its completion, John Landis and Bruce McGill decided to play a trick on them. They staged an on set incident in which Landis yelled at McGill for being difficult to work with. The heated argument escalated until finally, Landis grabbed a breakaway pitcher and smashed it over McGill’s head, knocking him out cold. The reporters were completely fooled, and when Landis told McGill to get up and that the gag was over, he refused to move. That’s dedication.
18. The movie is more political and countercultural than meets the eye
It might be assumed from first glance that this is just a goofy, crass, tasteless gross out comedy, but there are actually more politics at play in this movie than one might assume. It has a very left wing and countercultural stance with edgy and subversive references to some of the most hot button political issues of its time: Richard Nixon, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Kent State massacre, and President Harry S. Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to name just a few. The movie is much more political and countercultural than meets the eye.
17. Bluto was conceived as a cross between Harpo Marx and the Cookie Monster
When John Belushi first signed on to do the movie, his first order of business was to sit down with director John Landis and work on developing his character. In the initial script, the character had next to no dialogue. They decided that Belushi’s character Bluto would be a cross between Harpo Marx and the Cookie Monster (in other words, he would remain without much dialogue, because he was a cross between a silent film star and a growling Muppet). Belushi had learned to work without a lot of dialogue and communicate comedy through other means, because his grandmother had spoken very little English.
16. Some hilarious scenes were cut after the initial version of the movie was three hours long
The first cut of Animal House ran to 175 minutes, which is absurd, because it’s almost three hours. It’s longer than any movie Quentin Tarantino has ever made, and it’s not a historical epic, it’s a gross out comedy. So, certain scenes had to be cut. The movie lost a John Landis cameo in which he plays a cafeteria dishwasher who tries to stop Bluto from eating all the food; a scene where Deltas recall stories of their most legendary frat brothers; various scenes of Otter with his girlfriends; and an extended version of Bluto’s “I Am the Mustard Man” scene.
15. Donald Sutherland made Karen Allen feel more comfortable with the nudity
When it came to the time of shooting Karen Allen’s nude scene, she felt uncomfortable with director John Landis’ request that she bare her ass for the film. She was reluctant to do so, and Donald Sutherland could see that, and so he stepped in and said that he would bare his ass if she bared hers. Allen appreciated the solidarity and went for it. She said, “I thought he was so sweet to do that, so I sort of let go of my objections and said, ‘Okay, if Donald Sutherland is going to bare his bottom, by golly, I’ll bare mine too!’”
14. The movie made toga parties a staple of college campuses
One of the most iconic sequences from the movie is when the Deltas decide to have a toga party. They just start chanting, “Toga! Toga! Toga! Toga!” The film is credited with popularizing this unusual, yet very fun kind of party. After the movie came out and became a monstrous hit at the box office, toga parties became a staple of college campuses across America, with the studio pumping $4.5 million in toga party promotions for the movie. One such party at the University of Wisconsin Madison tried for a crowd of 10,000 people and a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
13. A scene had to be deleted because young men were hurting themselves trying to copy it
A few months after the release of Animal House, a scene had to be removed in which a double jointed D-Day contorts his foot and twists it backwards. There had been too many cases of young men who had seen the movie trying to copy the stunt, so the studio decided to pull the prints of the film back and cut the scene out. It’s a shame, because a sequence in which the expelled Deltas go through a medical screening after having to register for the draft sounds hilarious. If only men weren’t such idiots, we’d still have this slice of fried comedy gold.
12. Dean Wormer was not necessarily based on Richard Nixon
Thanks to his “little known codicil” power play, the villainous Dean Wormer character in this movie has been read by many viewers as a satire of President Richard Nixon. However, other than that, it is not made overtly clear that Wormer is based on any specific real life figure. Chris Miller, one of the film’s writers, did once say that “Nixon was Dean Wormer,” but he only said that to make it clear that the dean in the movie was nothing like the dean that he remembered from his own college days. So, Dean Wormer was not necessarily based on Richard Nixon.
11. Obscenity law changes meant that the movie had to be censored for its home video release
In the theatrical release of Animal House, when a topless Clorette passes out, there is a shot of her bare breasts. Then, later in the movie, she says she is “only thirteen.” That was just for the gag – the actress was eighteen at the time of filming. But by the time that the movie came out on home video, the obscenity laws in the United States had changed so that nude imagery of minors in sexual situations, “actual or depicted,” was banned. While the actress was eighteen and this wasn’t “actual” minor nudity, the latter term “depicted” has been found in courts to apply to acting. The movie depicts her as thirteen years old. So, amid the legal complications, that scene was cut from the home release.
10. The popularity of the movie led DeWayne Jessie to change his name to Otis Day
Otis Day and the Knights was the fictional band that was created specifically for the movie. They perform covers of the songs “Shout” and “Shama Lama Ding Dong” in what would later rank among the most memorable musical moments in film history. DeWayne Jessie, the musician who played the role of Otis Day in the movie, saw his popularity boosted so much by the movie that he became better known as Otis Day than DeWayne Jessie and decided to just embrace it and change his name to Otis Day. From then on, he toured and recorded with Otis Day and the Knights.
9. The cast was supposed to be very different
One of the best things about this movie is its cast. They’re all hilarious and they completely click with the film’s comic sensibility and they sell every character as someone you remember from your own college days. But the cast was actually supposed to be very different. The characters were written with Chevy Chase in mind for Otter, Bill Murray in mind for Boon, Brian Doyle-Murray in mind for Hoover, Dan Aykroyd in mind for D-Day, and John Belushi in mind for Bluto. In the end, out of those five actors, Belushi was the only one who committed to doing the movie, and it ended up making him the biggest comedy star in the world at the time. They were all poached by Lorne Michaels for the first season of Saturday Night Live, so it was just a case of bad timing.
8. The original script was called Laser Orgy Girls
The original screenplay for Animal House, as written by Doug Kenney and Harold Ramis, was about a young Charles Manson attending high school and it was called Laser Orgy Girls. It was only when they were encouraged by their producer Matty Simmons to think about making a movie that will actually appeal to audiences as well as being funny and twisted and brilliant that they decided to change the title and set it on a college campus, in a “northeastern college…Ivy League kind of school.” Until then, they had just been screwing around, writing whatever goofy thing came to mind.
7. The security at the premiere didn’t recognize Kevin Bacon
Kevin Bacon is a big movie star now. He would not only be let into the VIP section of a film premiere, but he would also be the guest of honor. But back in the late ‘70s when he got his first movie role in Animal House, no one knew who he was – including the security team at the film’s premiere. They didn’t believe him when he told them that he was in the movie, and so they didn’t let him sit with the rest of the cast. So, Bacon had to go and sit with everyone else in the back.
6. Donald Sutherland’s lack of faith in the movie lost him $4 million
Donald Sutherland, who only had to work for three days to fill his role in Animal House, had so little faith that the movie would be a success that he turned down the chance to take a percentage of the gross as payment in favor of an upfront fee of $75,000. That meant that he would’ve lost out on money if the movie made more than $7.5 million. Well, it ended up becoming the highest grossing comedy ever made at the time with $141 million, and he ended up losing what would eventually be worth an extra $3-4 million by having no faith in the movie.
5. John Belushi improvised a lot of his scenes
John Belushi died tragically young from a drug overdose, and his death was made all the more tragic by the fact that he was a comedic genius. Everything that this guy did was hysterical. And he didn’t just stop at the script – he would improvise a lot of scenes, too. The now iconic “I’m a zit” bit was improvised, and the reaction from the actors was totally genuine. He also improvised the cafeteria scene. What would end up being one of the funniest moments in the movie was conceived when Belushi just started doing it. He began piling food onto his tray and director John Landis told the cinematographer to “stay with him.” Hilarity was born.
4. The script originally included a JFK assassination gag
Animal House is set in 1962, which the filmmakers described as “the last innocent year…of America.” The homecoming parade at the end of the movie takes place on November 21, 1963, one day before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy shook the nation irreparably. In the original script, there was supposed to be a parade float modeled after Kennedy’s head that would crash and be damaged at the same point that the magic bullet hit the real JFK’s head in Dallas. Director John Landis ended up cutting the gag from the script, because the tone of it felt wrong.
3. John Belushi got the idea to form the Blues Brothers during shooting
During his time off in the middle of shooting for this movie, John Belushi would go and hang out at the local nightclubs. In one of them, he saw a musician named Curtis Salgado play. He became such a huge fan of Salgado’s sunglasses, harp playing, and love of the blues that it gave him the idea to form his own blues duo. He took this idea to his friend and colleague Dan Aykroyd, and from that conversation, the Blues Brothers characters were born. So, one comedy classic grew out of another. The comic genius didn’t stop whirring around in his brain.
2. Richard Pryor loved it
Remember the Dexter Lake Club scene in the movie? It’s about race, but not in an insensitive or offensive way. It’s simply about the differences between black and white people, which can’t be ignored, and that’s where the laughs come from. Studio head Ned Tanen wanted director John Landis to cut it, because he was sure that the scene would incite race riots. So, Landis screened it for legendary standup comic Richard Pryor, who loved the scene, thought it was hilarious, and wrote Tanen a note that read, “Ned, Animal House is fucking funny, and white people are crazy. Richard.”
1. The script originally featured “orgies of vomit”
Doug Kenney and Harold Ramis’ original story treatment for this movie ran to 110 pages. That’s longer than most full length screenplays, let alone their story treatments. Treatments are usually only about 15 pages long. And the studio executives were furious that the writers went so far with the gags in the script, which were based on the actual experiences of National Lampoon writer Chris Miller. Ramis explained, “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.”