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Harry and the Hendersons 1987 ***

Bigfoot and the Hendersons was the UK title; those outside the US were not expected to enjoy being on first name terms with the gigantic creature described in William Dear’s film. But let’s not get stuck on a name like Bigfoot, Harry it is, and he’s a big boy; Predator’s Kevin Peter Hall was encased within Rick Baker’s still impressive monster suit. Except Harry isn’t really a monster, the real monster is those who seek to trouble the big guy, and thus Harry and the Henderson manages to get the same message across as The Shape of Water, but with a more kid-friendly feel.

Seattle is the background to this story of family-meet-monster, family lose monster, family-save-monster; that’s where George (John Lithgow) and his brood reside peacefully, until one day their family car collides with Harry while up in the Cascade mountains. George’s impulse is to blow away the mutant with one of the many rifles he and his son so admire, but Harry’s big eyes, furrowed brow and good manners work wonders. Soon the Hendersons generate a new plan and that’s to use Harry to ‘get rich.’ But opportunities to exploit Harry for capitalist gain are curtailed by the arrival of a big-game hunter (David Suchet) who means to kill Harry for real.

What’s still cool about Harry and the Hendersons is that the film’s heart is firmly in the right place; Harry could and should be left alone, and the Hendersons are on a learning curve to appreciate the balance of nature. Harry is a vegetarian, and tries to bury all the dead animals that George has festooned his house with. This makes some kind of sense since some animals (elephants, chimps) do bury their own dead, and the film suggests that it’s humans and not Harry who transgress.

Elsewhere there’s adult-pleasing cameos from Don Ameche and M Emmet Walsh, a hideous power ballad from Joe Cocker, and a whimsical sense on bonhomie that makes one wonder why Harry hasn’t been remade. There’s also Suchet, a perennially dignified Hercule Poirot, absolutely throwing himself into the role of a Dick Dastartdly-style hunter, perhaps not the high-point of his CV, but he doesn’t phone it in by any means.

This Amblin’ production doesn’t have Steven Spielberg’s name attached, and doesn’t seem to have settled into pop culture the way Gremlins or The Goonies have, and yet for little ones, it’s an effective transitory piece between cartoon and live action. And perhaps it’s nice to see Harry heading off into the sunset with his own furry family, knowing that aside from a short-lived tv show, sequels, reboots and other cash-grabs would never trouble their hairy noggins again.

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  1. I’ve heard of this movie enough that I always assumed it was popular and made some money. But the lack of all the stuff you mention at the end makes me wonder.

    And a sympathetic bigfoot doesn’t really appeal to me either to be honest. Give me a monster, not a buddy 🙂

  2. Each to his own; Harry is not for everyone, and he will wreck your house if you let him!

  3. While I never saw the film, the iconic heart-wrenching ending sometimes gets play in various comic ways. Notably on 30Rock when Baldwin’s character Jack ends up in an unlikely friendship with Judah Friedlander’s goony, oafish role. The friendship has to come to an end and Judah plays the “Harry” role to a T. Good fun. Makes me want to yell, “Shane!”

  4. Aha! yes, I’d seen the 30 Rock episode, and understood that Harry’s departure would be a harsh but fair moment. They have to be horrible to him, or he’ll never leave; a surprisingly thoughtful moment, but one that reflects the film’s priorities. Thanks for this comment, made me smile thinking about how 30 Rock drew life-lessons from this story!

  5. It feels very familiar, and yet probably looks better now than at the time; it was part of a slew of ET rip-offs….thanks for commenting!

  6. Enjoyed this movie and used to watch it on VHS with my oldest daughter over and over again. It was cheesy, definitely 80’s, but still some great family fun.

  7. Glad to hear this, you’re not alone! Like the mask too! Thanks for the comment!

  8. Relatively goofy. My first ever jump scare when he sticks his head to the windshield from the roof of the car! I’ll never forget yelping at that scene!

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