This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I chose “Harry and the Hendersons.”
The Movie: “Harry and the Hendersons” (1987)
Starring: John Lithgow, Melinda Dillon, Margaret Langrick
Director: William Dear
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) The Henderson family adopt a friendly Sasquatch after accidentally running him over on a hunting trip, but have a hard time trying to keep him away from the authorities and an eccentric hunter who’s determined to catch “Bigfoot.”
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 44 percent
Froemming: Alright, for this JOE-DOWN I chose a childhood favorite, “Harry and the Hendersons,” a story about a sasquatch that’s been minding his own business in the woods for decades until one day he is hit by a car driven by a family of lunatics. But before we delve into this family comedy, Brown, how has this movie aged for you?
Brown: It’s tough for me to say that. When this movie came out, I wasn’t even a year old. But, I know my siblings loved this movie. In fact, a lot of people loved it. And that was proven by the fact that every time I mentioned to someone that “Oh, we’re reviewing ‘Harry and the Hendersons’ this week,” I was met by angry glares and comments that we better not make fun of this movie.
I feel like when this review is over, I’m going to get hit by a car just like Harry did.
Froemming: OK, so this film starts with a family camping trip for the Hendersons, a family that we see right away includes a psychotic son (Ernie) who is obsessed with murder, blood and guts. This kid wants to kill everything, which is not a joke. He literally wants to shoot every animal that crosses his path. Also, George (Lithgow) has to lie to his wife about his obsession with bringing guns with him everywhere he goes. This is a screwed up family, and they become even more screwed up when George runs over a sasquatch in the woods. And, being the unhinged man that he is, instead of calling the DNR or the police, he decides to take this man-beast, strap him to the top of his station wagon and bring it home.
Brown: OK, the whole idea of the wife, Nancy, being upset about the guns makes no sense whatsoever. We find out later in the movie that George is a hunter and has heads and trophies EVERYWHERE in the house. Not to mention, the man works for his dad in an outdoor sporting goods store. And George and Nancy have been (presumably) married for 15 years with their teenaged daughter and all. … And it’s NOW that you’re upset about guns and hunting?
Froemming: I just want to state this here for the record. I simply did not buy John Lithgow as either a hunter or a man who sells weapons in a sporting goods store. It didn’t add up to me. It would be like Prince in “Purple Rain” working at a McDonald’s. Just doesn’t connect.
So they strap this unknown beast to the roof of their car, assuming it is dead, and lo and behold, it isn’t, causing the car to suddenly stop and launch the poor animal from the roof of the car. And after this, George is convinced the animal is dead, again. Dude, do you not know how to check a damn pulse?
Brown: George does check his pulse the second time, but for all intents and purposes, this sasquatch should be all sorts of dead. I’ll accept that it could have survived being hit by the car the first time. OK. But the second time, flying off the roof of the car? No, the sasquatch is not getting up after that. But, because this is a family movie, we got another 90 minutes or so to go instead of the three minutes this movie should have been because George should have double-tapped and taken Harry out.
Froemming: One more thing, the son really wants George to blow Harry’s brains out the first go-around with the car. Again, this child has issues. So they bring Harry to their home in Seattle (where it never rains for some reason). And because this family is obviously not right in the head, they seem surprised when a 10-foot tall sasquatch starts destroying their home. Also, when George gets the ladder to go up a floor outside the home, when I saw the roof, I immediately thought this was the same house from “3rd Rock From The Sun.”
Brown: Something I want to mention before we get to the house shenanigans: While the family drives away from the forest, there is a mystery man roaming the woods with a beret on who looks like either a reject from the “Predator” cast or one of John Rambo’s Vietnam war buddies who’s also hitchhiking through the Pacific Northwest. This guy turns out to be Jacques LaFleur: Big-game hunter.
I also bring up the “Predator” reference for a reason. The man playing Harry is Kevin Peter Hall, who also played the Predator. Part of me really hopes that Predator and Harry are related and before this movie the sasquatch was soaked in his prey’s blood.
Froemming: When I first saw Jacques, I thought it was Johnny Depp’s character from “Tusk.” Also, we learn later that Jacques is not only a big-game hunter, but an author as well. I think they even allude to him being a scientist or doctor at one point. His character was kinda baffling to me. But it was the 80s, and they needed some crazy antagonist, so here we are.
Brown: Jacques had a bald head and a beard. Because of that, you know he’s evil.
Still thinking the sasquatch is dead, the Hendersons return home and leave the thing on the roof of their station wagon. But SURPRISE! The sasquatch lives and is making a mess in their house. And the whole time I’m watching this, knowing they were going to make all the big and tall jokes in the small house that they could, we see the sasquatch drinking milk out of the carton and I’m thinking, “Just imagine how smelly that creature is with its disgusting matted-down fur and now milk breath?”
And if you’re asking yourself if the family has the same reaction, you are in for a treat. I think 20 minutes of this movie is devoted to jokes about Harry’s stench.
Froemming: Boy, was that joke beaten to the ground. I think we got it the first time. After a while, I started feeling bad for a fictional sasquatch being mocked by a group of smug jerks who kidnapped him from his natural environment in the first place.
Brown: Then we get to this strange revelation about the sasquatch. While he’s in the Hendersons’ poorly-constructed house, we see Harry taking all the animals heads and skins out of the house and burying them in the yard. And, we see him eating Sarah’s corsage from her 15th birthday. Turns out, Harry’s a vegetarian. And he’s peaceful.
I’m calling bunk on this because Harry engulfs a few of the family’s goldfishes. This became every argument I have with people around Lent: Fish is meat. What you eat from fish is the flesh of the animal. No one has ever given me a good reason as to why fish is not considered meat.
Froemming: I never understood the rationale of fish not being meat. I’m also not religious, so I don’t have anything else to add to that.
Also, Sarah was pretty upset about the corsage. Well, Sarah, if you fear you have peaked and your 15th birthday was the happiest day of your life that will never be topped, you’re correct. It is all downhill from there.
So, while Harry is destroying this dump of a house, the neighbor lady who has been watching the family’s dog shows up. She drove me bonkers with rage. I hate pushy people, and I really hate people who have no respect for privacy. She just barges into their home. You know what, Hendersons? You owe her no explanation at all as to why your fridge is toppled over and all your food is spoiling. It is none of her damn business.
Brown: We forgot to mention how the family fell in love with the sasquatch. When George is thinking of killing the thing for the THIRD time, he looks down the scope of his rifle and sees Harry’s soulful eyes. It was like Frank Reynolds making eye contact with the rabbit in “Always Sunny” and thinking the rabbit was staring into his soul. And all of a sudden, the Hendersons LOVE this disgusting creature to the point that when the neighbor returns the dog, they leave our Rick Moranis Jr. in Ernie alone in the basement with a beast. Harry has shown you nothing but destruction, but your precocious child is safe all of a sudden? That kid was moments away from murder and he doesn’t even know it.
Froemming: Again, this family’s mental health is off the rails. Sure, leave your bloodthirsty son in the basement with a Big Foot. Sure, let this beast destroy your home. This family needs a therapist and some anti-psychotics.
Case in point: George teaches Harry to sit, as if this 10-foot beast was a dog. You know what, George, you deserve that giant hole in your floor for that.
Brown: So because Harry (which they now named. Don’t name wild animals!) is Gozer the Destroyer to this family’s home, George decides to take him back to the forest and tries to lure him in the car with cheeseburgers. Oh no, wait, it’s Filet O’Fish sandwiches, which may be the only time outside of Lent that McDonald’s has ever sold those sandwiches. I’ll say it again: FISH IS MEAT.
But, Harry doesn’t want to leave the family so he… leaves the family and runs off into the great unknown of Seattle? I don’t know. I was confused by this sequence.
Froemming: Of course he wants to leave, he was kidnapped by the yuppie version of the Manson Family. If I saw this family out camping, I’d probably run for my life, too. I’m convinced later on Harry is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome because of his frightening love for this family.
So Harry is trying to get back to the mountains, but is trapped in a hellish suburbia. And he begins to get spotted by folks, which causes the town to freak out and arm themselves to the teeth. Also, Jacques is around looking for his white whale.
Brown: Since this is our second John Lithgow movie, can we discuss how this man’s life has been changed? I say this because I think George Henderson and Rev. Moore are the same person. Think of how both of his families have been destroyed. First, some smart-ass teenage from Chicago dances his way into his daughter’s heart and destroys his quaint community. So, he moves on with his life, works with his father to become an outdoor sports salesman (who wears a tie. I’ve been to these stores… people who sell you guns and fishing rods most certainly don’t wear ties) and remarries. And again, some stranger charms his way into his family’s life and destroys the sanctity of their lives.
George Henderson/Rev. Moore, I pray for you and your family.
Froemming: I’ll take this one step further and argue Moore and Henderson eventually turned into the Trinity Killer in “Dexter.” It explains that character’s obsession with controlling his family to the point of locking them in their own rooms, his paranoia and his insatiable blood lust. Also, Dexter becomes the next Ren/Harry in destroying his life just by entering it. VIDEO BELOW IS NSFW.
Brown: I’ll also mention that my theory is strengthened by how George laments that he never wanted to sell guns with his dad. He wanted to draw! He is a repressed artist who hates his dad and decides to move to the Pacific Northwest. He is a handlebar mustache away from being every hipster stereotype that vows to move to Portland but never actually leaves northeast Minneapolis. I’ve run into a few of these types…
Froemming: OK, that whole thing about being an artists kinda came out of nowhere. Kinda like every hipster I met in college who suddenly decided to major in art.
Brown: And if you were never into guns and hunting, George, then why do you have all the animal heads and furs? You are such a phony. Just because you take mercy on one 7-foot animal, you’re all of a sudden a nurturing soul and never wanted to collect animal furs like Mr. Burns? You sit on a throne of lies, George Henderson.
Froemming: Well, because of the town’s irrational fear of Big Foot, George’s dad asks him to draw a picture of the beast to help boost gun sales. Because when everyone is scared of their own shadow, you want them packing heat. So, George is trying to draw something up, but gets frustrated with the job. And gives his father a calm, relaxed Big Foot picture for the store. George, not only have you failed at being a hunter, family man and an artist, you have failed as a son.
Brown: George gets mad because his dad changes the calm drawing of Harry into a menace with sharp teeth and claws. It was one of those “You never understood my art, Dad!” comments you’d expect from a teenager. George Henderson was a hipster before that became a thing. I’m sure before he started looking for Harry, he played in a jug band where they were serving Pabst’s Blue Ribbon.
Froemming: Well, George rushes to find Harry in a town full of armed citizens with the itch to kill. He tries to downplay the danger, even mocking a guy who fell off his bicycle in fear of Harry. Which was the one moment I liked George: Mocking a lying cyclist.
Brown: We’re in the Pacific Northwest. How was this cyclist not riding a pennyfarthing?
Anyways, we get an urban combat scene where guys armed like rejects from “The Expendables” looking for Harry. Well, George finds Harry in a dumpster with Jacques and eventually helps Harry escape. But, to do this, George carries the dumpster with a garbage truck and Harry only escapes when George slams the brakes and causes the dumpster to fly off the truck. So, for the third time this movie, because of George’s driving, Harry (and Jacques) should be next-level dead. Being a sasquatch is one thing. But an immortal sasquatch? Now you have my attention.
Froemming: There can be only one! Also, when George takes the garbage truck, the first thing that popped into my head was the slow chase scene from “Mitchell,” one of the greatest MST3K episodes ever.
Brown: Harry is safe and we get the scene where Don Ameche, two years removed from winning an Academy Award, comes into this
dumpster fire movie. Why don’t you set the awkward scene, Froemming?
Froemming: When he just randomly shows up at the right time? Yeah, so he plays Dr. Wallace Wrightwood (I assume his doctorate was from a clown college), who we met earlier in the film. He has been obsessed with Big Foot his whole, sad, pathetic life. And he is having dinner with the Hendersons, yammering away about sasquatch. Then he sees Harry and, yeah, they had more chemistry than Travolta’s character had with the mechanical bull in “Urban Cowboy.”
Brown: How awkward was the sequence with Dr. Wrightwood grabbing a sleeping bag to spoon with Harry on the floor? I mean, this had the beats of a seduction scene. And I even wrote in my notes: How did Don Ameche get dragged into this mess?
It’s made even weirder when Ernie wakes up with Harry and Dr. Wrightwood. I’ll just stop talking here…
Froemming: Wrightwood knows of a place where Harry can go and be free from society, but one problem remains: Jacques, who is on the hunt for Harry. Also, did you find it odd that a guy, who has been hunting for Big Foot his whole life, knew a secret spot where there are more of them, but never knew that little factoid? It was damn odd.
Brown: What has made sense in this movie up to this point?
Anyways, Harry is set free, Jacques catches up and is on his trail, only for Harry to attack once the Hendersons’ dog is in danger. But Harry gets talked out of harming Jacques and he doesn’t get a bullet in the head for his troubles.
The family says goodbye to their friend that they fell in head-over-heels love with after a day and George tells Harry “Thank you.” Thank you for what?! This monster has been responsible for nothing but misery in the time he’s known your family. He’s destroyed your house. He’s dented the roofs of three cars (another ongoing gag) and was the reason you quit your job.
But, I did laugh when Harry talked and it turns out, he speaks like Andre the Giant.
Froemming: Let’s get into our destroyed station wagons and head to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: I grew up with this film. It is ridiculous, but a fun film for little kids. It hasn’t aged very well now that I’m 34, but it wasn’t terrible. So, yeah, if you have kids or are babysitting, I’d recommend this movie to you.
Brown: It’s harmless, so if someone wanted to watch it, great. No harm, no foul. But if I have the choice, I’m saying no. There’s several other family movies from the 80s that have aged so much better and aren’t as frustrating to watch and enjoy as an adult. I’ll take something like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” over “Harry and the Hendersons” any day.
Hey, family and friends who threatened me over this movie: Come at me, bro!
Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: