Wednesday, April 30, 2014

#1,353. Harry and the Hendersons (1987)

Directed By: William Dear

Starring: John Lithgow, Melinda Dillon, Margaret Langrick

Tag line: "When You Can't Believe Your Eyes, Trust Your Heart"

Trivia: According to co-writer Bill Martin, the character "Harry" in this film is named after singer Harry Nilsson

I spent exactly one day (or, to be more precise, a few hours) in the Los Angeles area. It was in August of 1986, during a family trip to California. We were driving from San Diego to San Luis Obispo, and on the way stopped off in Hollywood to take the Universal Studios tour (seeing as I was the only real cinephile in my family, this was done solely for my benefit, and for that, I’m eternally grateful). Needless to say, I had a great time. I got to see (among other things) the Psycho house, and the “European” set where many of the studio’s classic horror films (such as Frankenstein) were shot. It’s a day I’ll never forget.

Anyway, while we were taking the tour, our guide informed us there were several movies in production on the lot that day. Of the three she mentioned, the only one I remember is Harry and the Hendersons.

While driving home from their camping trip, the Hendersons; father George (John Lithgow), mom Nancy (Melinda Dillon), and kids Sarah (Margaret Langrick) and Ernie (Joshua Rudoy), accidentally run down an animal that darted in front of their car. At first, they think they hit a bear, but upon further examination, discover their victim is actually a Sasquatch… the legendary Bigfoot! Hoping to cash in on the notoriety this amazing find will bring him, George ties the gargantuan creature’s lifeless remains to the hood of their car, then heads home to Seattle. Unfortunately, there’s a problem: Bigfoot isn’t dead. In fact, he’s alive and well, and tearing up the Henderson’s house. When George, a skilled hunter, can’t bring himself to shoot their unwanted guest, he looks for a way to get Bigfoot, who they lovingly nicknamed “Harry”, back to the mountain woods he calls home, all while trying to dodge big-game hunter Jacques Lafleur (David Suchet), who’s hoping to bag what would quickly become the most impressive “trophy” in his collection.

Harry and the Hendersons is a good ‘80s family flick, with plenty of comedy to keep the kids entertained (one highlight is a scene where George teaches Harry to “sit”, with predictably disastrous consequences). What lifts the movie above the normal family fare, however, is Harry himself, brought to life through the combined efforts of make-up artist Rick Baker (who’d win the second of his 7 Oscars for his work in this film) and actor Kevin Peter Hall (whose next role would be as the title alien in 1987’s Predator). Aside from his appearance, which is very convincing, Harry has a childlike quality, an innocence that immediately endears him to both the Hendersons and the film’s audience. Though he speaks only a single word (which doesn’t come until the final minutes of the movie), we always know exactly what’s on Harry’s mind by looking into his eyes (the early scene where George, trying to save his house, prepares to shoot Harry in the head, only to stop when he catches a glimpse of the creature’s sorrowful eyes, is arguably the film’s most poignant moment). Harry and the Hendersons is fun, but it’s Harry himself who’ll stay with you well after the picture is over.

Aside from Harry and the Hendersons, there’s one other movie that figured prominently in my all-too-brief visit to the Hollywood area. More on that tomorrow.