The unreleased 1998 documentary "Frat House"
November 8, 2007 4:39 PM   Subscribe

In 1997, Todd Phillips and Andrew Gurland created a film documenting the savagely brutal hazing rituals that take place during Hell Week at U.S. college fraternities. Frat House was completed and won the Grand Jury Prize for documentaries at 1998's Sundance Film Festival, an award that was later rescinded. HBO was slated to air it later that year, but pulled it for reasons that remain debatable to this day. It has never seen an official release.

Frat House (60 minutes, Google video, )

Lawyers representing several fraternity organizations and frat brothers charged that Phillips and Gurland, among other things, staged events, recreated scenes, and that the frat featured in the most severe segments doesn't pledge during the spring semester when the footage was shot.

In interviews
, the filmmakers stood by their work, saying the only questionable matter was that some of the pledges were in fact already members of the fraternity.

In order to get a firsthand view of the happenings, Phillips and Gurland pledged and went through Hell Week at two northeastern U.S. schools. I'm not going to spoil the way it turns out, but it's a compelling and interesting watch. Whether or not it was fabricated, the film is a horrifying and realistic exploration of a side of undergrad life that most of us happily avoided.

Todd Phillips had previously directed Hated: G.G. Allin and & the Murder Junkies and then went on to the big time, helming such... um... classics as Road Trip and Old School. Andrew Gurland went on to make Mail Order Wife, a verry well done and... well, fake documentary.
posted by item (62 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- frimble

I'm pretty sure I did see this on HBO.
posted by birdherder at 4:49 PM on November 8, 2007

I have absolutely seen this on television. I assume it was HBO as well, but I may be wrong about that. But I have definitely seen it on television.
posted by ColdChef at 4:55 PM on November 8, 2007

Also: "documentary." I'm just sayin'.
posted by ColdChef at 5:03 PM on November 8, 2007

Whether or not it was fabricated, the film is a horrifying and realistic exploration...

I thought that "fake but accurate" had gone out of style.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:05 PM on November 8, 2007

I hate frats as much as the next guy but the uber seriousness of this video is almost farcical.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 5:05 PM on November 8, 2007

Who cares? The participants are willing, how could it be any worse then, say, a BSDM orgy?
posted by delmoi at 5:09 PM on November 8, 2007

Frat hazing and GG Allin? These guys are gluttons for punishment.

(tangent: I went to college in New York and the only frat was a collection of commuter students from Brooklyn who simply liked wearing matching hats and getting drunk together. Their 'hazing rituals' consisted of making pledges go to McDonalds to get them lunch, stuff like that. I knew a few of them, they were OK guys. I also attended at frat party at Columbia that a guy I'd met invited us too. There was lots of drunkenness and making out and stuff like that, but no more than at any college (or even high school) party I'd been to, so the whole anti-frat/pro-frat thing is kind of alien to me)
posted by jonmc at 5:13 PM on November 8, 2007

posted by delmoi The participants are willing, how could [a fraternity] be any worse then, say, a BSDM orgy?

I don't think there's a difference.

I think at a BDSM orgy nobody is wearing a dirty white hat or has a subscription to Maxim, but other than that, very similar yes.
posted by Divine_Wino at 5:22 PM on November 8, 2007 [3 favorites]

There was lots of drunkenness and making out

Boys will be boys.
posted by psmealey at 5:23 PM on November 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

"He was working on Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006); however, he resigned his position as director of the movie in early 2005, due to creative differences. Nevertheless, he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for his role in fashioning the story." [wikipedia]
posted by meech at 5:25 PM on November 8, 2007

I have zero idea how realistic this is, and I wish I could, because I went to a college that had policies against frats. I really wonder if this is authentic. I do know it's frightening how they use the verb "kill" for so many others.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:25 PM on November 8, 2007

Todd Phillips that is.
posted by meech at 5:25 PM on November 8, 2007

I think at a BDSM orgy nobody is wearing a dirty white hat or has a subscription to Maxim, but other than that, very similar yes.

Well, the whips and chains crowd would probably spring for imported beer, too, but I digress. I'm just saying that I've never understood the whole frat fixation a lot of people have. My (admittedly limited) experiences with them seemed harmless enough.
posted by jonmc at 5:25 PM on November 8, 2007

From watching a number of people going through the whole pledging process, hazing isn't anything secretive. It basically involves a hell of a lot of drinking (with requisite puking) and running around like an idiot when told to do so. Do it for long enough and you're in.
posted by cyclopticgaze at 5:38 PM on November 8, 2007

The participants are willing, how could [a fraternity] be any worse then, say, a BSDM orgy?

I think a lot of the concern comes from when the brothers hazing the pledges ignore the safe word, so to speak.

My first-year roommate pledged, and his hazing basically consisted of him getting ridiculously drunk quite often, frequently to the point of vomiting. So, there's a realistic danger of alcohol poisoning for pledges who don't know their limits.
posted by LionIndex at 5:49 PM on November 8, 2007

Well, the first five minutes has enough man-on-man action to keep my attention...
posted by hermitosis at 5:51 PM on November 8, 2007

Item, you left off the sarcasm quotes on the word "documentary".
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:52 PM on November 8, 2007

I hate frats as much as the next guy

You sounds just like the filmmakers!

FWIW, I pledged a frat in the mid 80s and the hazing was 95% psychological. And yes, it was entirely voluntary.
posted by oncogenesis at 5:59 PM on November 8, 2007

As someone who actually did pledge a fraternity, and has seen it from both sides, this documentary is taking the issue far too seriously. It seems *kind of* serious when you're the pledge (it is tough at times and your grades suffer), but from the brothers' side it's all a big joke. My fraternity had the same ritual from the film (along with a bunch of others...funny how similar pledging is from frat to frat/college to college) where they blindfold you and make you think you're about to get branded... but really it's all about getting drunk and watching some freshman make some funny faces right when they think it's about to happen... not some calculated psychologically abusive mind control tool. What the camera doesn't show you is the pledges taking off their blindfold after they realize they're not getting branded, and letting them join in on the joke as the rest of the pledges come in one by one.

I can see how these things seem "abusive"/etc., but remember no one is being forced to do anything, and the vast majority of pledging is simply drinking, eating disgusting things, sleep deprivation and working the parties. All of which, again, is voluntary. And despite the fact that these things seem repugnant to many people, it does build an exceptionally strong bond with your fellow pledge brothers which lasts far beyond the college years.

My fraternity was not full of the meatheads that seem to dominate this "documentary", although there were some. The majority of the guys were smart, hard-working, industrious and genuinely likable. I wouldn't trade my undergraduate years for anything and I can't imagine what it would have been like without a fraternity. I think that movies like this are simply a mixture of "let's expose this group of elitist pigs for what they really are since they wouldn't let me in" and "let's capitalize on the hollywood mystique of frats". It wasn't about elitism, exclusivity or chicks (ok, sometimes about chicks). It was about having 90 best friends for 4 years and longer. It was about living in a big house with 60 of them and enjoying a fleeting period of your life without any real responsibility. I know some fraternities are not necessarily like this (including many at my same school), but I would venture to say that more kids had an experience similar to mine than one like those portrayed in films like this.

I hope that was coherent enough... typing quickly before leaving work.
posted by rooftop secrets at 6:00 PM on November 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's not that frats per se that suck, it's any loosely organized collection of post-adolescent boys with too much free time that does.
posted by psmealey at 6:01 PM on November 8, 2007

and as far as the percentages go, it was about 75% sleep deprivation/mindfucks, 15% working parties, 5% eating disgusting items and 5% drinking (that was the FUN part).
posted by rooftop secrets at 6:02 PM on November 8, 2007

Indeed, as SDB points out, calling it a "documentary" requires a stretch of the word that, in fact, breaks it.
posted by ColdChef at 6:03 PM on November 8, 2007

Fraternities are just like any other organization - some are bad, some are good. People tend to clump together in like groups: Engineers hang out with engineers, jocks with jocks and scum with scum. I had a fantastic, slightly dorky fraternal experience with 'character building,' but nothing like the degrading crap you see in this video. I also know guys who were utterly humiliated and went on to revisit that upon others.

Briefly: garbage in, garbage out; quality in, quality out.
posted by datacenter refugee at 6:03 PM on November 8, 2007

Hey want a bong hit?
posted by 517 at 6:07 PM on November 8, 2007

Seconding what rooftop secrets said.
posted by oncogenesis at 6:37 PM on November 8, 2007

Hey want a bong hit?

Somebody else watched until the end (and I'll take two please).

I pledged a fraternity in 1979. I was very anti-fraternity when I started college, but was sucked in by the parties and the fact that my fraternity is co-ed - we have female brothers, not little sisters. A lot of my professors were brothers also, which didn't hurt.

The pledging was like indentured servitude for ten weeks, but the hazing was mostly psychological. 28 years later, I can still recite the Greek alphabet and have 20+ friends I still see on a regular basis.

And I thoroughly agree with datacenter refugee: garbage in, garbage out; quality in, quality out.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:45 PM on November 8, 2007

Thirding what rooftop secrets said. However, I did help hide a friend in our frat that was going through a fairly brutal hell week at another frat. We didn't even have hell week. Maybe a hell weekend, but it was much more about drinking and partying than anything else.
posted by COD at 6:48 PM on November 8, 2007

Where I went to school, people seemed to die fairly regularly from frat/hazing-related drinking incidents. They usually drink themselves to death, but occasionally they fall from a high story window or balcony. I think 3-4 people died during my 4 years of college.
posted by fructose at 7:00 PM on November 8, 2007

What's really freaky is "Cold Airs"
posted by delmoi at 7:11 PM on November 8, 2007

Right out of high school I worked third shift at a Steak N Shake near the University of Illinois. I hated frat boys. They were the loudest most obnoxious and cheap customers I had to deal with. Even the homeless who would come in and drink coffee all night would leave me a dollar or two or maybe a roach for letting them sit inside all night. A few years later I spent the summer working in a friends music store near Bradley University. It must have been pledge week or something because one Saturday afternoon it seemed like every one who came in was drunk. Not just drunk but smashed all afternoon. But they were spending money on everything. It was the best single day my friend had while he owned the shop. As one guy pulled out some money to pay for his stuff he said he was going to puke. I looked at his friend and said if he gets sick your cleaning it up. He dropped a wad of cash on the counter and grabbed his friend and hurried him out of the store. I picked up the cash and counted out $120.00 dollars. I never saw either one of them again.
Somewhat related, here is an article about hazing at the high school level. It seems to have taken on a sexual overtone.
posted by Sailormom at 7:23 PM on November 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Blossom is the type of guy who will die from carbon monoxide poisoning, quietly in his own house. It will be mysterious and oh so tragic.

BTW I pledged an extremely hardcore frat, made it right to hell *week* without getting hazed at all, the only guy in my pledge class to escape it to that point. When I was finally locked in the house for hell week, it took about 12 hours before I had to walk out on the frat to avoid choking one of the "brothers" to death. I knew exactly what to expect, but among other objections that arose once in the actual experience, it occured to me that I was being pushed through a "liminal phase"... same thing the military and cults do to recruits, as well as what abusive parents and spouses do. This is where they break down your individual identity and then build it back up as part of a group.

The whole "a few of them were enjoying it too much" thing was what bugged me the most. I seriously got closer than I ever have to following the impulse to seize someone who was in my face and gouge their fucking eyes out and bludgeon them to death.

Toga parties rule though.
posted by autodidact at 7:48 PM on November 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have to say though, that "line up" which occured at the beginning of the regular Sunday meeting during the 4-month pledge period, where 20 of us had to stand in front of the brothers to be berated, is just about my funniest set of memories. It's hard not to laugh at some of the shit they say to a guy, or like this one time when they made a guy wear a pot on his head because he wouldn't stop looking around (you have to look straight ahead), and some of the brothers started pinging pennies off the pot.
posted by autodidact at 7:53 PM on November 8, 2007

Sorry to spam but I'm commenting while I watch, and come to think of it I did sorta get hazed a couple times before hell week, but it was nothing big. At the time I remember just wanting to soak it all in because it was such a different experience.
posted by autodidact at 7:59 PM on November 8, 2007

I went to UT in the late 80s/early 90s. Every year, a frat would get busted for a) putting a "spearchucker" figure on their front lawn (the Fijis), b) putting a "kill all the niggers and fags" float in the Rush Week parade, or c) in two instances, killing someone (usually through alcohol poisoning). I always wondered just how stupid these guys had to be to do this sort of shit. Frankly, this fake doc explains a lot.

Personally, I went to rush parties all the time, to get drunk. My friends would actually pretend to pledge, only to back out at the end of the night. I'm sure it could have ended a lot worse.
posted by fungible at 8:00 PM on November 8, 2007

You can totally tell they like made this because they’re not in a frat and totaly jealous of the people who are.
Never understood the concept of “brotherhood” with out some kind of uniting principle, sport, or experience beyond, say, alcohol abuse.
That said, I gotta etc’ing datacenter refugee tho on the level headed GIGO comment. I’m sure frats do...something, some people seem to get something out of them.

Metafilter: not some calculated psychologically abusive mind control tool
posted by Smedleyman at 8:17 PM on November 8, 2007

I saw this documentary. It was ace. It gives a real insight into why Americans do what they do in Abu Graib, Guantanamo Bay, etc.
posted by dydecker at 8:19 PM on November 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Hey, take it easy on the frat boys. It's pretty tough, living in a herd of universally mocked dumbasses for three years before you have to start taking over daddy's business.
posted by Krrrlson at 8:25 PM on November 8, 2007

Not all fraternities are about booze and hazing. Just like not all community websites are fark.
posted by Green With You at 9:02 PM on November 8, 2007

For what it's worth I was in a fraternity. I was never coerced into drinking (I was nearly talked out of it one night, in fact). I'm pretty sure nothing that happened to me would be considered hazing by anyone. Being in the fraternity has not contributed to my career in any way, shape, or form. The most psychologically distressing aspect of being in my fraternity are knowing that people like Krrrison will immediately assume that I'm like the people in the fraternities that do act like total ass wipes. The people in my fraternity were kinder and more supportive than my real brothers, that's for sure.

I sincerely hope that someday the bad kind of behavior is abolished in every fraternity because fraternities can and should be about building bonds of trust and friendship like mine was instead of abusive like so many have been and will continue to be for awhile.

I guess it's like how I feel to be American. Many of the people in my country can be utter shitheads and it feels like other people in other countries look at America like many people look at fraternities. But I'm not an ugly American and I'm not an ugly frat boy even if many frat boys and many Americans are.
posted by Green With You at 9:15 PM on November 8, 2007

That's ugly in personality. In appearance I'm quite grotesque :)
posted by Green With You at 9:18 PM on November 8, 2007

I saw this documentary. It was ace. It gives a real insight into why Americans do what they do in Abu Graib, Guantanamo Bay, etc.

Rush Limbaugh "...said that [Pfc. Lynndie] England and the other accused soldiers [at Abu Graib] were engaging in acts that were 'sort of like hazing, a fraternity prank. Sort of like that kind of fun.'"
posted by ericb at 9:49 PM on November 8, 2007

A Fraternity Hazing Gone Wrong.
posted by ericb at 9:49 PM on November 8, 2007

“because fraternities can and should be about building bonds of trust and friendship”

Well, there you go. Don’t know much about them myself, but if that’s what it’s supposed to be, not a bad idea at all for kids who, for the most part, are away from home for the first time in their lives.
Of course, as with everything, it only takes a few idiots...
posted by Smedleyman at 9:49 PM on November 8, 2007
posted by ericb at 9:50 PM on November 8, 2007

Going to school I had no intention of joining a fraternity, but being shy and 3000 miles from home, it seemed like a good way to force myself into social situations and meet a lot of people. My fraternity had a reputation as one of the toughest initiations on campus, and I went into it nervous but confident that if I found myself in a situation that really scared or threatened to harm me I'd walk (a bit easier to do given I was a few years older than the average pledge). It was tough, but not in the way most people thought. While other houses on campus did the stereotypical sleep deprivation / disgusting food / nudity / humiliation bit we were:

1. Forbidden from drinking for the week.
2. Given a full-night's sleep (though woken with pots and pans)
3. Fed the same food as everyone else (if you were willing to sit at the able and take the verbal abuse)
4. Expected to be at class, and given 2 hours day to study.

What did happen? We spent most of the week on our hands and knees scrubbing every square inch of a house that slept 40 or so people. I've never been more exhausted. And on the night we went "through" the proudest I'd ever been in my life before becoming a parent.

My fraternity brothers were football players and theatre majors, honors college geeks and barely ambulatory stoners, engineers and artists. I've no doubt the stuff ericb is linking too is all too common, which is a shame, because at its best, the experience can be a special one.
posted by jalexei at 10:49 PM on November 8, 2007

reminds me of this short story
posted by scose at 11:13 PM on November 8, 2007

I pledged a frat. Hazing had been long banned by the time I pledged, and I was told they didn't do it. Hazing began immediately, in military style lineups where the frat president, who seemed to be somewhat father back on the evolutionary scale than a Cro-Magnon, would alternate between screaming at us and quoting REM lyrics. We were made to promise that these activities would be kept secret.

I started to refuse to go. I was told, on no uncertain terms, that the fraternity would not accept a student who would not go through their hazing process. I bid them adieu. My friends who stayed all had horror stories about how the demeaning treatment continued, but, further, their descriptions of what passed for fun in the frat was just pathetic. Honestly, getting wasted on cheap beer? Vomiting in the bathroom? There was one girl who was a sort of frat mascot, and was passed around them as a sexual favor. She was a hollow eyed gal who always seemed like the she was about to burst into tears. I don't know what her feelings were about her position in the frat, but I was made very uncomfortable by the fact that the other members essentially treated her as a thing, a sex toy to be shared among each other.

I was creeped out by the whole experience. I was further creeped out by the fact that they would occasionally confront me after I had left the frat to warn me not to tell anyone what I had experienced. There were threats of violence. I was astounded. All that had ever happened to me was a little yelling. I left long before they brought in the strippers and prostitutes and spent Hell week physically abusing the new pledges. But they had violated school policy, even with just the yelling. Which was just the start.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:45 PM on November 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, my school wasn't so big on the whole frat thing, being--at the time at least--a sort of coffee- and discussion- and poetry-on-friday-night-while-doing-your-laundry-sort-of place--but when I did manage to fuck up my dormitory paperwork at the end of the summer while I was working at the astrophysics lab, one of my friends offered to let me store my stuff in his hippie/geek frat house while I slept in my office for two weeks.

So that was super sweet, and all the people there were cool, and I wasn't even the right sex. And I thought the soda machine filled with beer was cool. But that frat was the exception--the cool kids (and most everyone else on campus) tended to keep clear of the bizarre sadistic repressed homoerotic jock frat houses. The funny thing was that they were more scared of the culturally alternative than we were of them.
posted by cytherea at 11:56 PM on November 8, 2007

Well, the first five minutes has enough man-on-man action to keep my attention...

Yup, that's definitely the gayest thing I've seen in my life. I like a man who 'goes Greek'.

I'm curious how they managed to record Blossom berating them on that motel phone, when there was no apparent recording equipment in sight. I smell a rat. A rat with its head bitten off.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:49 AM on November 9, 2007

My alma mater had the first non-secret frat in the U.S., but they'd gotten rid of them at least twenty years before I got there, thank goodness.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:51 AM on November 9, 2007

I just watched the movie. Yeah, it's kind of extreme, and kind of off base on some things.

Here's the thing. The torture isn't really what creeps me out. What creeps me out is when people say (and I've heard many friends who've been in fraternities say things like this), "When it's all over, you understand exactly why you had to go through everything you went through." That's abusive relationship talk.

Do they actually think that they alone experience a level of friendship that can't be achieved through the normal meet-people-in-class route? That's what scares me; running around with Tobasco sauce in my mouth, not so much.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:52 AM on November 9, 2007 [4 favorites]

Joseph, are you talking about DU?
posted by roll truck roll at 12:53 AM on November 9, 2007

Also, why are so many of them wearing Stussy? Did this 'documentary' have some kind of product placement deal, or are the 1980's still big on the Frat House scene?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:05 AM on November 9, 2007

Send 'em to Iraq.
posted by trondant at 1:16 AM on November 9, 2007

Hazing is bad, film at _______?
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:15 AM on November 9, 2007

I tried to join a frat at my college, but I take classes online, so pledge week involved a terse email from a student named "" ordering me to drink a bottle of jack in one sitting, stick my head in the toilet, and download several key Dave Matthews MP3s.

I decided not to pledge after he made lolcat macros out of all my facebook photos and then asked me to drink some more.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:43 AM on November 9, 2007 [9 favorites]

I feel sorry for anyone who pays money to be with their friends.
posted by tiger yang at 7:43 AM on November 9, 2007

Is there any actual screwing in this or just lots of F-words?
posted by Mister_A at 9:26 AM on November 9, 2007

Torture? Extreme? I have no doubt that hazing is bad, and bad hazing happens, but the stuff in this flick didn't seem any worse than basic training (as autodidact kind of referenced above). I mean, they have to do pushups? Oh, Heaven forbid!
posted by Hal Mumkin at 12:10 PM on November 9, 2007

Man, do these guys ever like baseball hats.
posted by kalimotxero at 2:01 PM on November 9, 2007

their descriptions of what passed for fun in the frat was just pathetic. Honestly, getting wasted on cheap beer?

What's the matter with that?
posted by jonmc at 5:01 PM on November 9, 2007

new perspective: hazed by a sorority.

I watched the whole video, intoxicated by the realness by the whole thing. I was in the greek society to the fullest extent and was the last pledge class to truly be hazed in my sorority. I don't know if this video was real, but it reminded me a lot of my college days (except for the NJ accents). And why did I do it? It was funny. I laughed a lot.

Maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment.
posted by janelikes at 5:57 PM on November 9, 2007

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