Dave Jennings: Cool Teacher and a liberating figure much needed in a stuffy environment, or a bad, toxic influence without boundaries? Maybe it's a combo of the two with a deconstruction.
Given the constant, nightmarish and unchecked havok routinely caused by Delta House, the villain status of Dean Wormer can come off as questionable, at least until he goes out of his way to make sure the Deltas are drafted after they have already been expelled. On the other hand, there is the point of view that an authority figure who tries to enforce the rules should abide by them, be above reproach and shouldn't abuse his power in the first place, no matter the cause. It should be noted that more than one source states Wormer was modeled after Richard Nixon.
Wormer's draft-office notification adds another layer of contention. When the movie was made and released, the audience immediately connected the draft with The Vietnam War, thus making it a Uriah Gambit. During the time the movie is actually set, though, Vietnam had not yet become a hot, deadly theatre for draftees. Still a, dare we say it, Nixonian move, though.
Aluminum Christmas Trees: The freshman beanie that Kent is insistent about keeping on during rush seems ridiculous to younger viewers but was in fact something common at most colleges for freshmen in the era in which Animal House is set; the requirement was eliminated at many of them as part of reforms during the late '60s.
And You Thought It Would Fail: The film was the ambitious foray of the National Lampoon magazine into silver-screen entertainment. Universal execs politely allowed the filmmakers to go wild in their own special way, quietly hoping Animal House wouldn't damage the company's checkbooks. Donald Sutherland famously chose several thousand dollars in payment over a percentage of the box-office gross, expecting the film to be a bomb and be quickly forgotten. However, Animal House's charmingly dark and hard-hitting observations on college life, as well as its undeniably quirky brand of vulgar humor, was so refreshing to moviegoers in the late '70s that the film recouped its $2 million budget 50 times over. Sutherland, as you might imagine, was not pleased, and it probably explains why he never appeared in any interviews or in Where Are They Now?: A Delta Alumni Update, a direct-to-DVD short which suggested the film had been a documentary and John Landis was catching up with some of the cast, played by their original actors.
Otter pretending to be the ex-boyfriend of a dead coed in order to get grief/sympathy sex from her roommate. Not only that, but when reading the news story presented to him by the roommate ("sophomore dies in kiln explosion"), he accompanies his look of feigned shock with "She was gonna make a pot for me."
Crosses the line twice more when it drops hints that the roommate is also using Otter for grief-sex.
Pinto has a passed out girl lying in bed directly in front of him, and is considering doing something... unsavory to her while she's unconscious. Cue the most bizarrely-placed Good Angel, Bad Angel gag ever, played out exactly the way it would be in a Donald Duck cartoon.
The 13-year-old girl (you read that right) introducing her college-age boyfriend to her parents as "The boy who molested me last month. We HAVE to get married!" She just sounds so happy!
Designated Hero: Sure, they may be funny, but there's nothing actually heroic about the film's heroes, with their absurdly hedonistic and at times dangerous lifestyle making it shocking that they haven't already been removed from campus. Their opponents may be awful in their own right, but that doesn't make the behavior of pretty much every Delta member resemble anything even close to good. The entire climax is essentially the good guys committing a non fatal act of terrorism.
Even worse when you remember that most of the people present for the chaos the Deltas cause didn't even do anything to them, with those who wronged them being a small section of the targeted group. Of course, you might call that a foreshadowing of much of the rest of The '60s.
Designated Villain: The Delta fraternity constantly engages in disruptive behavior and outright acts of vandalism. Its members overall have dreadfully low GPA (which they intend to remedy through cheating). Considering all this, Dean Wormer is perfectly justified in disciplining the fraternity and wanting them off his campus.
Draco in Leather Pants: Due to the Deltas giving him more than enough trouble, some have gone so far as to call Wormer a Villainy-Free Villain. However, even in the early 1960s the following actions were at least ethically questionable:
Enlist one group of students to spy on another. It's not like this is The Wild West and Wormer needs to form a Posse. (Though, come to think of it, the "little known codicil" probably gives him the technical right to do so.)
Run a "disciplinary hearing" in which the spies try the spied-upon, and the latter have no reasonable chance to address the charges against them (at least one of which is absolutely false).
And, turn a blind eye to acts of hazing, cheating and actual physical assault that, even in the early 1960s, could and should have brought the same fate to the Omegas as to the Deltas.
Esoteric Happy Ending: The climax is presented as a victorious moment for the Deltas, but they ultimately accomplish little more than terrorizing their antagonists and lots of innocent people. There's plenty of people present who know them, Wormer almost certainly has knowledge of where they live and would be able to point the authorities towards where to find them. And given their actions were very public, and very illegal, in the extremely likely chance of capture, the Deltas would easily face legal trouble. Despite this very real and likely possibility, they're shown to go on to lead successful lives afterwards, note Again, foreshadowing what happened to many real-life survivors of The '60s but given some of the positions and the characters of the men occupying them, that can leave a troubling image in the eye of the viewer. Particularly bad are the examples of Bluto achieving any level of political power, or Otter becoming a gynecologist. One has to wonder how those men or anyone even resembling them would abuse those positions.
Virtually all of the Delta actions, as demonstrated by the spirited discussion on this very page. At the time of its release, the worst that was said of the guys was that they were a subtle demonstration of the dangers of the Manchild & Growing Up Sucks tropes. The brothers never intend to hurt anyone until the very end, when they have even by today's standards been pushed too far. But they consistently demonstrate an inability to think through their actions and realize that what they're doing does, in fact, hurt others.
As soon as his drug use (yes, it's "only" pot, but still) with students, at least one of which is underage even by 2020s relaxed laws, and seduction of one of the same students who is still in his classes came to light, Dave Jennings would be certainly fired (or, if tenured, "forced to resign"), probably sued, and possibly arrested.
John Belushi partied even harder in real life than Bluto did here. Unlike in the movie, John Belushi actually died from it in 1982.
The actor who played the kid who yelled "Thank you, God!" after a Playboy Bunny drops into his room is now a preacher.
In the original "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue, it's stated that Bluto became a United States Senator. While John Belushi never did get into politics, the idea of a Saturday Night Live cast member becoming a politician is now a reality thanks to Al Franken, who was a writer and feature player for SNL during the first five years [and later from 1985 to 1995, making Franken the longest-running feature player who was never promoted to repertory cast member], which was the same time that John Belushi was a cast member.
The image of Kevin Bacon screaming "ALL IS WELL" during the parade riot has turned into a popular GIF on social media.
Misaimed Fandom: Post "Me Too," the film became a frequent target for accusations of giving impressionable young viewers the mindset that led to them committing sexual harassment and rape. This is despite the film having a scene where Pinto literally listens to the angel on his shoulder and doesn't take advantage of a drunk girl passing out in his room.
Through most of the first and second acts of the movie, the Omegas have been sneaky, snotty and slimy, as well as physically sadistic (see the first Memetic Mutation) — though, as shown in the stable scene, only Neidermeyer takes the latter up to eleven. The rest don't cross the line into pure evil until the infamous Rainbow Motel incident. Greg had something of an excuse, but the rest are just, as Otter says, acting like "Hitler Youth".
Speaking of Greg, his "excuse" gets flimsier the more one examines it. First, Babs tells him that Otter and Mandy are having an affair. Granted that they did have a one night stand, it's unclear if that was while she was committed to Greg. It is very clear that it was just one night and in Mandy's own (possibly insincere) words, "it wasn't that great." At any rate, Greg doesn't ask Mandy about it. He certainly doesn't have the guts to confront Otter one-on-one and man-to-man. Instead Greg and Babs set up an ambush, not unlike the Germans at Pearl Harbor.
By the end of the movie Neidermeyer is so far gone he's willing to respond to a seltzer bottle with rifle fire. This is even worse than it first appears, considering how many people are running around, and how easy it would have been to kill one of them no matter how intently he aimed at Flounder. At point-blank range, granted, Flounder would be hard to miss, but size notwithstanding he's not a Bulletproof Human Shield against .30-06 ammo from an M-1903 Springfield rifle.note This rifle and ammo combination was designed to be lethal at up to 1,000 yards.
Dean Wormer gloating about how he's notified the Deltas' local draft boards about their expulsion. As pointed out above under Designated Villain, he's completely justified in wanting the Deltas off his campus, but this makes it clear that he doesn't just want them off his campus, he wants them dead or at least assigned to a harsh, dangerous and inescapable (barring even more illegality) duty.
One can argue the Deltas cross it at the end when they terrorize an entire town of people just to get back at Wormer and the Omegas, who are only a fraction of the civilians present. While nobody dies, what they did was still clearly dangerous and served no point other than trying to get back at a few assholes.
Both Otter and Pinto can be considered to have crossed it when the former tries to sleep with Shelly and when the latter does sleep with Clorette. While both women are willing, it's still rather Questionable Consent, as the former is already in a poor frame of mind given she's grieving, and the first reason she accepts Otter's advancements are because he lied to her about who he is. (In Otter's defense, Shelly's later statements make it clear she was using him at least as much.) And in Clorette's case, someone of that age sleeping with an adult (even a young one) is statutory rape. Granted, Pinto is just as clueless about sex as Clorette, but that wouldn't hold up in court.
Narm Charm: Many of Bluto's lines are delivered by John Belushi yelling directly into the camera. By all accounts this should seem amateurish, but somehow it works.
Periphery Demographic: The film was originally made for grown up Baby Boomers who were part of the youth counterculture of The '60s (the story is set in 1962, just a few years before all of that happened). Lo and behold, the film's biggest fans turned out to be high school and college students, while many of the adults it was marketed at were turned off by its raunchiness.
"Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: This film was to Comedy what Jaws and Star Wars were to Blockbusters. So many of its tropes (The idiotic but lovable protagonists, the strict authoritarian villains, the final scene where the slobs beat the snobs) have been used so many times it's impossible to see it the way audiences in 1978 saw it.
Special Effects Failure: During the infamous scene where Bluto drinks an entire bottle of Jack Daniels, the liquor in the bottle has clearly been replaced by iced tea because of the way it foams as Bluto is chugging it.
Strawman Has a Point: Dean Wormer's point of view is understandable — no sane college administration would want the Deltas around, and the rest of the student body might well have been good and tired of their endless pranks, hell-raising, and rule-breaking. The Deltas may have been Affably Evil, but from Wormer's point of view (and from the point of view of many others today) they were evil nonetheless — a lot of the stunts they pulled would get people who tried them in Real Life tossed straight into jail. That Wormer goes overboard and goes out of his way to target the Deltas when his favored Omegas are arguably worse (overtly xenophobic, hypocritical cheats, five-on-one Assault & Battery) ultimately justifies him being the villain. Again, just like his real-life model.
Dean Wormer. His actions against the Deltas are clearly unethical, but that doesn't change the fact that their behavior is absolutely abysmal and even dangerous, making him completely justified in wanting them gone. And while it doesn't excuse everything he did, the mayor did threaten him with violence if he doesn't deal with the Deltas. And after their retribution against him, that threat may very well have wound up happening. And then there's the "Where Are They Now?" mockumentary where it's stated he lost his job and marriage after accepting the blame for the Delta's attack on the parade. Then he's shown to be senile in a retirement home where the mention of the Deltas causes him to have a violent episode, showing that all the trouble they put him through has had lasting psychological effects. Additionally, though Wormer doesn't seem to be a good husband, that doesn't mean Otter seducing his wife is remotely okay.
While the Omegas are just as bad, Wormer crossed the line in his retribution, and the mayor is a corrupt brute, everyone else present for the Deltas assault on the parade falls into this. They didn't do a single thing to the Deltas, yet all their misfortune during the frat's chaotic attack is Played for Laughs.
Otter is clearly supposed to be a Lovable Sex Maniac, but his methods come across as rather creepy and manipulative, at one point straight up lying to a grieving girl to sleep with her, which also makes his consent rather questionable at best. The fact that his future job is one that he almost certainly uses as an excuse to feel up women doesn't help.
While his fellow frat bros aren't exactly well behaved, Bluto goes further than all of them, intentionally causing all kinds of chaos on campus, and coming across like a perverted freak to the point where he straight up kidnaps a woman in the climax. It may be funny, but the idea of this man holding any kind of political power in the real world would be terrifying.
Values Dissonance: This film can invoke this to some people, considering how fast and loose it is:
The Good Angel, Bad Angel scene where Pinto wonders whether he should have sex with the unconscious, teenaged Clorette has become extremely cringeworthy since rape, both among teenagers and in colleges, is an even bigger concern, particularly since her knowingly lets her get drunk despite knowing that she isn't of legal drinking age.
Jennings' affair with Katy is not as cringeworthy, because she is certainly of the age of consent, but today's set of American Federal laws collectively known as "Title IX" would still make this legally actionable behavior on his part. This becomes even clearer when one remembers that Katy is still in his class (as shown in the "Milton lecture").
Pinto finding out, in the midst of having sex with her, that the mayor's daughter is only 13 comes across as unfunny today, when public tolerance for sexual relations between adults and minors, even where the minor may have misrepresented themselves as an adultnote Even at the time the film's set, were Pinto to be prosecuted, the burden of proof that he genuinely believed she was of legal age would have been on him. has gone way down, to a level far lower than it was in 1978, and to modern audiences the scene is more horrifying than funnynote As has been noted elsewhere, she was originally supposed to be 16, which is the age of consent in many states. Had the filmmakers gone with her original age, it would have made the scene considerably less creepy.
The scene in which Otter, Boon, Flounder, and Pinto visit a roadhouse bar which turns out to have an exclusively black clientele and, as a result, immediately fear for their lives, is also cringeworthy for some viewers today. It doesn't help that several tall Scary Black Man stereotypes proceed to verbally intimidate the Deltas by asking to dance with their dates. This was also during the early sixties when segregation was still around. The scene was already contentious in its day. Ned Tanen (head of Universal's film division) wanted the scene gone, but famous comedian Richard Pryor found it to be incredibly hilarious and wrote a letter that reads “Ned, ‘Animal House’ is f***ing funny, and white people are crazy”, so the scene was kept.
Both Delta and Omega initiations ("Thank you sir, may I have another?") are very problematic, now that virtually all American universities (the exceptions being those that bar "Greek" fraternities altogether) are cracking down on hazing due to actual pledge deaths, and hazing itself is a crime in most states.
Neidermeyer repeatedly calling his own men "faggots" during the finale comes across a little harsher now than it did in 1978. Then again, Neidermeyer is supposed to be a completely unlikable and psychotic asshole (plus he's clearly being unreasonably harsh towards them for something that really isn't their fault), so the movie isn't portraying what he says in a positive light. It's also sort of apropos given that he's very insecure in certain conspicuous ways.
A (comparatively) small wince for anyone who works in higher education comes when the Dean discusses the Delta disciplinary files with Greg. Today, that runs afoul of a little thing called FERPA — Wormer would be literally breaking federal law. He does it again when he reveals the grade point averages of each individual Delta to Hoover, Pinto, Bluto, D-Day & Flounder collectively. Granted none of the guys care, but under FERPA you're still not supposed to do it.
The treatment of all women — not just Clorette, but Babs, Mandy, Mrs. Wormer and even Katy — is a lot more cringe-worthy from the viewpoint of the new millennium. All of them have their expressions of their sexuality depicted in rather creepy ways.
Tying into the treatment of women, Otter's really not as sympathetic a character to modern audiences as he was back then. He's meant to be a Chivalrous Pervert, but using straight up deception on a mourning girl to sleep with her is at best, Questionable Consent. If a character in a modern film ever pulled something like that, you can bet they'd be a villain.
The "I'm in love with a retard" scene can mean something else today, due to the more ableist meaning the word has now.
Values Resonance: The scene where Pinto is briefly tempted to have sex with Clorette while she's intoxicated and passed out in his bed. While modern viewers may be taken aback by such a scene being played humorously, the film still depicts having sex with an unconscious person as unequivocally wrong, and Pinto's refusal to go through with it is one of his biggest redeeming moments.note Note that the film depicts it as wrong even though Clorette had previously consented to sex, and even though she later happily consents again when she's sober and conscious. (While she eventually turns out to be below the age of consent, Pinto didn't know that at the time). As plenty of advocates for sexual assault victims will happily point out: having sex with an unconscious person is still assault, even if they previously gave consent while still conscious; consent must be explicit, and it can never be inferred from previous consent. Considering sexual consent is taken much more seriously today than it was in the late 1970s, the basic moral message of that scene is still likely to resonate with modern viewers.