Home > Comedy, Family, Fantasy > Harry and the Hendersons (1987)

Harry and the Hendersons (1987)

Ways to acquire evidence of the existence of Bigfoot:

  • Take a still photograph and hope it turns out clear enough.
  • Capture it on video and hope it is not a bear.
  • Hit one with your station wagon.

A humble surburbanite is about to acquire definitive evidence of the existence of Bigfoot, but this will only be the start of his problems.

Harry and the Hendersons is a comedy film directed, co-produced, and co-written by William Dear. It stars John Lithgow, Melinda Dillon, Margaret Langrick, David Suchet, M. Emmett Walsh, and Kevin Peter Hall as the Dude in the Suit, with Rick Baker’s creature effects as Harry.

When George Henderson accidentally hits a Sasquatch with his station wagon on the way home from a family camping trip, his first reaction is to recognize the biological find of the century and bring home what he thinks is a corpse. However, the Hendersons soon discover that the Sasquatch was merely stunned, and when he wakes up disoriented and out of his element, he bumbles and stumbles through their house, which really wasn’t built to handle a creature that strong. Fortunately, once he gets his bearings the Hendersons realize that the gentle creature doesn’t want to hurt anyone. Unfortunately, the admittedly frightening-looking Sasquatch soon draws the attention of local hunters, including a cryptid hunter named LaFleur, whose life mission is to bag himself a Bigfoot pelt for his trophy room.

Although Harry and the Hendersons is an older film, it still holds up today as a heartwarming comedy featuring a gentle fish out of water. Rick Baker’s phenomenal special effects resulted in one of the most expressive animatronic characters of its day, and even today the range and subtlety of emotion in Harry’s face is still amazing (though most primates would interpret his big toothy grin as a gesture of aggression or fear, but it gets a pass anyway), and the rest of him is brilliantly acted by Dude in the Suit Kevin Peter Hall, seen elsewhere as the similarly imposing title characters of Predator and Predator 2. Despite being about eight feet tall and strong enough to flip a car, Harry is a gentle monster, of a sort not often seen in the 80’s, and his careful movements once he realizes how relatively frail his human friends (and their stuff) are communicate this expertly. An interesting kink in diplomatic relations comes with the discovery that Harry is vegetarian, and gets upset at furs and butchered meat (though certainly he must have seen dead animals in the forest before).

Among the human cast, John Lithgow shines as conflicted hunter and loving dad George, wanting to protect his family from danger – even though one of his “family” is a huge Bigfoot. The rest of the Hendersons are your average 80s comedy family – ambivalent mom, dramatic teenage daughter, overly enthusiastic younger son – as they play off Harry, George, and each other in trying to come to terms with their new hairy friend. David Suchet’s LaFleur is a family-friendly villain, dangerous on paper but ultimately ineffective when he matches wits with his prey and its protectors. He talks the talk, but can’t walk the walk, and while he might pose a vague threat to Harry, you aren’t left with any real sense of danger from him. In fact, Harry seems to be in more peril from Nosy Neighbor Irene (the archetypal bane of friendly monsters everywhere) than any of the potential hunters in the film, but he somehow inspires an instinctive desire to protect him, like he’s a gigantic kitten.

This kid-friendly monster flick remains one of my favorites, even after all these years. I would recommend it to any parent looking for a heartwarming comedy that doesn’t fall into the Death by Newbery Medal trap.

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