One of the most iconic and hilarious college comedies of all time, ‘Animal House’ (1978) follows the misadventures of the Delta Tau Chi fraternity at the fictional Faber College in 1962. The film depicts the Deltas as a group of rebellious and fun-loving students who constantly clash with the uptight and snobbish Omegas and the authoritarian Dean Wormer. The film is full of memorable scenes, such as the toga party, the food fight, the road trip, and the final chaotic parade. But is ‘Animal House’ based on a true story? The answer is no, but it is inspired by some real-life events and experiences of the writers and the actors.
The Inspiration for Animal House
The film was adapted from an original script written by Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney, and Chris Miller, who were all involved with the humor magazine National Lampoon. The main source of inspiration for the film was Miller’s experiences as a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity at Dartmouth College in the early 1960s. Miller had written several stories based on his fraternity days for National Lampoon, which were later collected in a book titled ‘The Real Animal House’.
Miller’s stories described the wild and outrageous antics of the Adelphians, who were known as the “sickest” fraternity on campus. They included events such as secret initiation ceremonies, drunken parties, pranks, vandalism, and clashes with the authorities. Some of the characters in the film were based on Miller’s fraternity brothers, such as Otter (based on James Widdoes), Boon (based on Peter Iversen), and Pinto (based on Miller himself). The nickname “Animal House” came from an incident where an Adelphian shot a chicken from a window and others chased it to kill and eat it.
Ramis and Kenney also drew from their own college experiences, as well as from other sources of college humor, such as the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, and Mad magazine. They also incorporated some elements from the contemporary culture of the 1970s, such as the anti-war movement, the sexual revolution, and the rock and roll music. The film was produced by Matty Simmons of National Lampoon and Ivan Reitman, who had previously worked with Ramis and Kenney on the sketch comedy film ‘The Kentucky Fried Movie’ (1977).
How ‘Animal House’ Differs from Reality
While ‘Animal House’ was inspired by some real-life events and experiences, it was not a faithful representation of the actual state of college fraternities in the 1960s and 1970s. The film exaggerated and caricatured many aspects of the Greek life culture, such as the rivalry between the fraternities, the hazing rituals, the partying, and the rebellion against the establishment. The film also portrayed the Deltas as the heroes and the Omegas as the villains, while in reality, both groups were more complex and diverse.
The Delta House fraternity in the film was not a real fraternity, but a fictional one created for the film. The film was shot at the University of Oregon, which allowed the filmmakers to use its campus and facilities. However, none of the existing fraternities at the university agreed to let the film crew use their houses, so the filmmakers had to rent a rundown house and decorate it to look like a fraternity house. The house was later demolished after the filming was completed.
The film also depicted the Deltas as a racially and ethnically diverse group, which was not common in the fraternities of that era. The film featured characters such as Flounder (a Jewish student), Bluto (a Polish-American student), and D-Day (a biker). The film also included a scene where the Deltas visit a black nightclub and dance with the patrons, which was unlikely to happen in the segregated society of the 1960s. The film also showed the Deltas as being sympathetic to the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement, while in reality, many fraternities were conservative and supportive of the status quo.
The Legacy of ‘Animal House’
‘Animal House’ was a huge success at the box office and with the critics, becoming one of the highest-grossing and most acclaimed comedy films of all time. The film also launched the careers of many of its actors, such as John Belushi, Tim Matheson, Karen Allen, and Kevin Bacon. The film also influenced many future college comedies, such as ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ (1984), ‘Old School’ (2003), and ‘Neighbors’ (2014). The film also popularized many catchphrases, such as “Toga! Toga!”, “Food fight!”, and “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”
The film also had a significant impact on the Greek life culture, as it inspired many students to join fraternities and sororities, or to emulate the Deltas’ style of partying and pranking. The film also sparked a revival of the toga party, which became a staple of the fraternity scene. However, the film also generated some controversy and criticism, as some people felt that it glorified the negative aspects of the fraternity culture, such as the alcohol abuse, the sexual misconduct, the academic dishonesty, and the disrespect for the authority. The film also faced some backlash from the fraternity organizations, which felt that the film tarnished their image and reputation.
‘Animal House’ is not based on a true story, but it is inspired by some real-life events and experiences of the writers and the actors. The film is a hilarious and exaggerated portrayal of the college fraternity culture in the 1960s, which also reflects some of the social and cultural changes of the 1970s. The film is a classic comedy that has influenced many other films and has left a lasting mark on the Greek life culture. However, the film is also a product of its time and does not represent the reality of the college fraternities today.