- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Those boisterous boys of Delta House are back and badder than ever in National Lampoon’s Animal House: Double Secret Probation Edition DVD, new from Universal Studios Home Video ($19.98). It’s our …

Video pick of the week

It’s slobs versus snobs as director John Landis’ surprise 1978 trendsetter pits dedicated 1962 party animals Otter (Tim Matheson), Bluto (John Belushi) and the rest of the Delta brew crew against no-nonsense Dean Wormer (John Vernon) and his uptight allies at a rival, conservative frat house, led by mean ROTC martinet Greg Marmalard (James Naughton).

That basic premise clears the way for a wild series of rude gags and anarchic set pieces running the gamut from Otter’s seduction of the dean’s wife (Verna Bloom) to the Deltoids’ guerrilla-style destruction of the cherished Faber College homecoming parade.

While not every joke works, “Animal House” emerges as that rare film that actually plays better today than it did 25 years ago, partly because, with its developing talent and sharp wit, it easily outshines the scores of clumsy imitators (from “Porky’s” on down) it inspired.

Enduring highlights include the screen’s first toga party, Mr. Belushi’s hyperactive comic performance, and the showcase musical number “Shout,” rendered by the redoubtable Otis Day and the Knights.

Among the DVD’s bonus features, the standout is Mr. Landis’ newly lensed segment “Where Are They Now?” — a mockumentary that cleverly updates the “Animal House” characters’ fates, from Mr. Matheson’s Otter (now a slick Beverly Hills gynecologist) to Martha Smith’s cheerleader Babs Jensen, currently a bubbly tour guide at (where else?) Universal Studios.

We recently spoke with Mr. Landis to get his thoughts about the film’s lasting appeal. “A lot of hindsight in this,” he admits, “but ‘Animal House’ somehow is able to connect with people’s memories of their youth. The picture is extremely romantic. And I think everyone romanticizes their college experience.

“It’s basically the first time you’re independent. And even though it’s very specific to 1962, it’s much more universal. All the members of the cast will tell you that so many people say, ‘Oh, that was my school,’” Mr. Landis says.

Universal, meanwhile, keeps the comedy coming with this week’s release of its two-disc 20th Anniversary Edition of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life ($26.98). The new set reunites the surviving Pythons, who contribute not only the expected commentary and interviews but original comic bits, including a hilarious new song by Terry Jones.

Both “Animal House” and “The Meaning of Life” rate as essential additions to any serious comedy collectors’ home video library.

The ‘A’ list

The laughs continue — or at least attempt to — in several recent theatrical comedies making their home video debuts. Next week, West Coast white guy Jamie Kennedy looks to establish his “gangsta street cred” in Malibu’s Most Wanted (Warner Home Video, $27.95 DVD, $19.95 VHS), co-starring Ryan O’Neal.

Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment introduces a pair of higher-profiled farces later this month with the Jack Nicholson-Adam Sandler free-for-all Anger Management and the Eddie Murphy vehicle Daddy Day Care ($27.95 each DVD). Both titles will also be available on VHS (priced for rental).

Stan & Ollie eternal

Classic comedy buffs can’t go wrong with Artisan Entertainment’s delightful new Laurel & Hardy DVD ($19.98). The sharp-looking disc assembles 1933’s Sons of the Desert (arguably the boys’ funniest feature film) along with the classic shorts Another Fine Mess, Busy Bodies, County Hospital and the Oscar-winning The Music Box.

Bonus materials include a tribute to L&H; producer Hal Roach, the featurette Location Tour — Then and Now, Laurel & Hardy biographies, a photo gallery and more. Withal, a full evening of timeless mirth.

Tele-video

Sci-fi dominates the busy cult-TV DVD scene. This week, MGM Home Entertainment journeys back to the 1960s with The Outer Limits: The Original Series: Season Two ($69.95). The three-DVD set offers all 17 episodes, featuring such soon-to-be-famous guest stars as William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Adam West and Robert Duvall.

The same label likewise releases the more contemporary (1999) Stargate SG-1: The Complete Fourth Season ($69.95). The five-DVD collection contains all 22 season episodes, along with a raft of extra features.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: With biographies of Winston Churchill getting released, any chance that we’ll ever see ABC’s The Valiant Years, narrated by Richard Burton with a music score by Richard Rodgers?

Rick Thompson, via e-mail

No word yet, though that documentary would surely be welcomed by couchside historians.

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or e-mail us at: [email protected] Check out our Web site (www.videoscopemag.com).

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