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'Animal House' shaped comedies that followed

In 1978, a raucous, raunchy, testosterone-laden, anarchic comedy hit movie theaters -- and changed how movies have been made ever since.

The movie is Animal House, a tale of the losers and slackers in the Delta Tau Chi fraternity in the early 1960s. They drank, smoked dope, cheated on exams, lusted after women, swore, lied, swaggered and gave a horse a heart attack.

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Before its release, it appeared to be a forgettable, cheap comedy. After seeing the script, Universal Studios "hated it," producer Ivan Reitman said. "Nobody really wanted to make that movie."

And when it finally was made, "we had no idea how popular it would become," director John Landis said.

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In spite of all those doubts, the movie took in more than $100 million at the box office, still qualifying as a blockbuster a quarter of a century after its release. It has become a primo example of male bonding, and Spike TV aired a tribute special to the movie Sunday night. A 25th-anniversary DVD will hit stores today.

Now, Animal House has its detractors, especially among people who wear skirts.

Yet half a dozen elements of contemporary comedies have their roots in Animal House's antics.

Consider:

Class warfare. More than anything else, Animal House revels in poking fun at the establishment. "It really spoke in the language of the baby-boom generation," Reitman said.

Look at the early scene where Flounder (Stephen Furst) and Pinto (Thomas Hulce) first walk into the elitist Omega Phi Alpha fraternity. They are dismissed as "a wimp and a blimp" and shuffled off into a corner with the other misfits.

Their revenge? Joining Delta, the "Animal House." They gleefully engage in mayhem inflicted by frat brothers Bluto (John Belushi), Otter (Tim Matheson), Boon (Peter Riegert), D-Day (Bruce McGill) and Hoover (Jamie Widdoes).

Look to subsequent films such as Revenge of the Nerds, where a house of geeks do battle with a jock frat. Or the ultimate example of comedic class warfare, Caddyshack, where the pretentious snobs of Bushwood Country Club get their comeuppance courtesy of the club caddy.

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Sex. Animal House blew away the notion of what was permissible in film comedies when it showed a sex toy in the movie's first 10 minutes. For many first-time viewers, the most memorable scene was Bluto peeping on sorority sister Mandy Pepperidge (Mary Louise Weller) as she disrobed.

Animal House paved the way for Porky's and the American Pie films.

Gross-out humor. Bluto's infamous cafeteria stroll is a classic. So is his popping a scoop of mashed potatoes into his chubby cheeks to imitate a zit.

Such scenes are also tame compared with what appears on film now -- and Landis has argued that Blazing Saddles and Monty Python broke grossness limits before Animal House. Still, Animal House took things another step, making later crudeness possible. Think of gross moments in Caddyshack, There's Something About Mary or Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, and you're thinking of the children of Animal House.

Saturday Night Live goes big-screen. There's a reason John Belushi's character served as a focal point for many of these observations. He dominated the movie with his sheer presence and comedic genius.

SNL-er Chevy Chase had gone big-screen before Belushi broke through in Animal House, but Chase also acted as someone apart from the SNL spirit, while Belushi took its raucous attitude to the movies.

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And for Hollywood, Belushi's breakthrough led movie bosses to regularly tap the cast from the SNL.

Of course, we can also blame Belushi's success with the SNL spin-off The Blues Brothers for sticking us with dubious cinematic versions of The Coneheads and It's Pat.

No wonder, then, that Landis says Animal House "was hugely influential and has been ripped off as much as any film ever."

He did some ripping himself in The Blues Brothers and Trading Places, while Reitman has been involved in such Animal House-tinged films as Stripes, Road Trip and Old School.

Landis is quick to argue that Animal House built on other films, including college comedies of the '30s, especially the Marx Brothers' farce Horse Feathers.

But does it have Bluto advising Flounder, "My advice to you: Start drinking heavily." Or Otter declaring, "We're not going to sit here and listen to you bad-mouth the United States of America"? Does it have Otis Day and the Knights? Does it have Neidermeyer? Neidermeyer, for heaven's sake!

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We're laughing again. And always will.


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