Revenge of the Nerds
Revenge of the Nerds might be the only traditional fraternity film outside of Animal House worth calling an actually funny movie (I do not consider Old School a “traditional” fraternity film, but we’ll get into that later). Yes, the protagonists of this film are what every reader of this site would refer to as “bottom tier [insert wildly homophobic slur],” but there are a ton of genuinely hilarious moments in this film, both from the Alpha Beta antagonists (who pretty realistically burned down their fraternity house at the beginning of the film, seriously, that could happen) and the Tri-Lams, who, among other things, “baked” the most TFTC pies of all time. Not to mention Lewis Skolnick being the second great fraternity film protagonist to literally get away with rape. God that moon bounce scene was SO a rape. Also, John Goodman is a walking TFM.
But as much as Revenge of the Nerds was what I consider a good fraternity film, its humor is still a watered down version of Animal House, and it created a formula that would unfortunately be mimicked by pretty much every other subsequent fraternity and college movie, essentially turning the genre into the cheap, gross out joke shitshow it is today.
That formula, simply put, is relying on gags, usually gross out gags (like nose picking and burping, which was edgy for 1984 I guess). Animal House might seem like it was a collection of gags as well, but it wasn’t. Animal House was a collection of skits and stories. These stories were real, exaggerated, and imagined (but based in reality), and drawn largely from writer and Dartmouth fraternity man Chris Miller’s series of college and fraternity stories in National Lampoon Magazine. These skits and stories were (mostly) strung together into a coherent and enjoyable story line, though the Fawn Lebowitz/black night club skit is an unnecessary albeit hilarious tangent. Seriously it served no purpose to the story, but it was hilarious, so who’s complaining? This “collection of skits” style is also a reflection of Animal House’s director, John Landis. A year prior to Animal House he had directed the then popular Kentucky Fried Movie, which was quite literally a film that was a collection of mostly hilarious skits.
What Revenge of the Nerds did instead of taking actual fraternity stories and adapting them to film, was rather to take the very general shell of those stories, their settings essentially (rush, Homecoming, Greek Games, etc.) and insert its own, mostly unrealistic and outlandish jokes into them.
At the end of the day, that’s what separates Animal House from everything, its honesty and authenticity. Yes there were outrageous parts, but you can get away with that when you stay mostly planted in an authentic place.
With Revenge of the Nerds, the genre changed. Writers, studio execs, or whoever, began to say, “Oh, okay, so what works with the college film genre is taking college situations and putting our own stupid jokes and gags into them. Wow, that sounds way easier than trying to be honest, a concept regularly explaining away dead hookers has put me completely out of touch with. It’s decided! Write a check for the next shitty college movie, I’ve got cocaine I want to do and a job I don’t!”
They completely missed the point, though Hollywood usually does. This is what Revenge of the Nerds started, or at least mainstreamed. While it ended up being an enjoyable film for whatever reason, almost everything after it was complete garbage, and it was because those films followed the Revenge of the Nerds formula.
Old School is an absolutely hilarious movie, and in terms of fraternity films, second only to Animal House (though definitely not on the same level). Old School was a funny story in a fraternity-ish setting, but what really made it great was the fact that it was loaded with talent. Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Luke Wilson, Jeremy Piven, Rob Corddry, Juliette Lewis, Matt Walsh, and Elisha Cuthbert are all hilarious actors. Todd Phillips (who also helmed both Hangover films) is a talented comedy writer and director. Essentially, this was an all-star cast and crew that executed a funny story perfectly.
So what’s wrong with Old School then? For starters, it’s not about an actual fraternity. It’s about a bunch of old guys who hate their lives and make their own faux fraternity to cope. This is not a traditional fraternity film, it just happens to be a really, really funny movie that’s kind of about a fraternity. There are somewhat authentic moments, and there are plenty of memorable ones, but this isn’t a real fraternity film, in the strictest sense of the word. But whatever, we’ll take it, if only because we basically have to, since there are hardly any great fraternity films out there.
American Pie Presents Beta House
Everything I said that Revenge of the Nerds started, American Pie Presents Beta House epitomized in all the worst possible ways. From script to production this thing is a nightmare, but hey, it was a straight to DVD movie, created solely to make some money. There was absolutely no thought put into it, so what should we have expected?
For every funny bit in the film there were probably twenty cringe-inducing gags, and my God were there a lot of gags. While the ideas of going down on a squirter or playing Russian roulette with horse semen makes me (especially me) laugh, the former was stupidly and anticlimactically handled, and the latter has no place in anything that would like to bill itself as a true fraternity film. It’s funny, kind of, but it’s not real or authentic AT ALL.
There’s too much wrong with this pile of shit to dissect it all, but suffice it to say that when a movie has a fraternity that’s members are all midgets because LOLOLOLOLOLOL MIDGETS!!!!, that movie sucks a mountain of ass.
American Pie Presents Beta House is every single thing that is wrong with fraternity and college films today, in one dogshit DVD.
Animal House proved that fraternity films have the capacity to be at the very pinnacle of comedy. What makes something really funny is honesty. What makes Total Frat Move funny is that it’s honest. Even when it’s outrageous, TFM is tethered to reality. Besides, honesty is where the most outrageous humor comes from. To borrow from one of America’s greatest humorists, Mark Twain, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Authenticity is what the genre has lost, and it’s absolutely what the Total Frat Move film intends to bring back in full force.