Harry and the Hendersons (1987)

Posted: December 21, 2013 in Movie Review
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Harry and the Hendersons (1987)

Director: William Dear

Starring: John Lithgow, Melinda Dillon, Don Ameche, David Suchet, Margaret Langrick, Joshua Ruddy, Lainie Kazan, Kevin Peter Hall

Mythical and legendary characters have, at one time or another, piqued our curiosity to the point that many of us insist beyond logic and reason that they must exist. Kids believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Sure, some children are told straight away by their parents that these things are not real, and they come to accept it. But others let their imaginations persist. This is not a bad thing. Imagination is important, but it can leave us with a skewed perception of reality, turning belief into obsession. Adults have their own obsessions in proving the impossible, such as the existence of the Loch Ness Monster… or Bigfoot.

One day, while returning home from a hunting trip, the Henderson family makes a discovery that will change their lives forever. The patriarch of the family, George (John Lithgow), accidentally hits an animal with the family station wagon. With his wife, son and daughter remaining in the car, George gets out to see exactly what it is. To his surprise, the animal has very human-like hands and feet, and is otherwise enormous. George posits that this must be the legendary Bigfoot, and gets it into his head that the thing to do is to strap its carcass onto the roof of the car, bring it into town, and get rich. What Harry and his family haven’t counted on is that this creature is not yet deceased. George has been trained from youth to be a hunter. He even runs a guns & ammunition store with his father. But all it will take to change this man is locking eyes with the seven-foot-tall sasquatch, which he and his family will come to affectionately refer to as Harry (Kevin Peter Hall).

Obviously, with a movie like this, the makeup effects artist had better be at the top of their game. Fortunately, for the producers of “Harry and the Hendersons,” they had Rick Baker. The results are quite impressive even today, more than a quarter-century later. Credit should also be given to actor Kevin Peter Hall, who displays a wide variety of facial expressions to show that, although working with a different sized brain and somewhat different instincts, Harry has very human feelings. He laughs when something is funny (“Bedtime for Bonzo,” starring Ronald Reagan, really tickles his funny bone), screams out when he is physically hurt, and cries when he is sad.

If Bigfoot ever did turn out to be real, I wouldn’t be surprised to see people react with the same surprise, alarm, or sense of wonder that certain characters in this movie do. It also would not be a shock to find people with other thoughts besides scientific discovery racing through their minds. One such person within the film, Jacques LaFleur (David Suchet), has been tracking Bigfoot for many years, all the while scoffing at those who would presume to tell him he is crazy. He will not be satisfied until Harry becomes the latest of his trophies. Should he fail in his task, LaFleur could always become a criminal detective (Suchet’s most recognizable role being that of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot).

For me, the real reason to watch “Harry and the Hendersons” is actor John Lithgow. I’ve seen this guy in just about any kind of role: alien, serial killer, space explorer, absentee father, preacher, megalomaniac, judge, U.S. President, and Alzheimer’s patient. Most recently, in binge-watching the TV series “Dexter” on Netflix, I have enjoyed his terrifying performance as Arthur Mitchell a.k.a. the Trinity Killer, in the fourth season of that show. Recalling “Harry and the Hendersons” as a movie I loved as a kid, and one which I conveniently happen to own on DVD, seeing Lithgow in such a heartwarming role as a family man and friend to Bigfoot is the perfect antidote to any of his villainous roles. “Harry and the Hendersons” may not make you believe in the unbelievable, but it will at least make you smile.

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