Harry and the Hendersons
aka Big Foot and the Hendersons
So what’s the takeaway here? It’s okay to eat fish, because they don’t have any feelings? Admittedly, John Lithgow’s (unlikely) born-and-raised hunter’s prominent wall display of multiple trophied heads of his kills is on the distasteful side, but Harry coming on all morally superior while chugging down the family goldfish is bang out of order. Doubtless, this Amblin (Spielberg’s executive producer role goes uncredited) flick had in mind the long-range goal of disarming all citizens and forcing them to eat Bill Gates’ bugs (because they have even less feelings). It’s a treacly position for this near-enough sitcom – the movie would spawn an actual one – to take, forswearing any impetus to keep its cryptozoological freak flag flying.
The real inspiration here is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, of course. Its success hatched any number of imitations, both of the cute-creature and family-encounters-the-extraordinary variety. Ones that could be sinister (Poltergeist) or sitcom (ALF). Variously, Gremlins (Gizmo), Short Circuit and even Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend exhibit such influences. The latter is closer to Bigfoot and the Hendersons – I’m going to refer to it that way, as it was the UK title – in terms of legendary/extinct species, certainly in its family-friendly, Disney-ish sensibility. Bigfoot and the Hendersons is far from The Legend of Boggy Creek’s rigid docudrama. Well, aside from Harry’s perma-body odour; Sasquatch’s stink consistently seems, from reports, to be entirely overpowering and repulsive.
Nancy: The roast is resting in a shallow, unmarked grave in the backyard.
However, Harry’s status as a devoted pescatarian is somewhat at odds with most reported lore. Bigfoot is generally recognised to dig fish, but he doesn’t draw the line there and – as anecdotalised in The Legend of Boggy Creek – has been said to kill wild hogs, along with deer and other small animals. Bigfoot and the Hendersons is similarly etching a retiring, peace-loving, unfairly maligned scenario when George Henderson (John Lithgow), researching Bigfoot lore from the library, exclaims “These books make them out to be monsters!” It seems Bigfoot has been documented as attacking humans on occasion, although such incidents are said to be unrepresentative; more commonly, they’re considered shy and likely to flee any humans in the vicinity.
Obviously, we have the famous Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film, but given Rick Baker’s creature design, director William Dear would have been as well simply to cast Ron Perlman on stilts and forego the extensive and expensive prosthetics. As it is, Kevin Pater Hall is in his first – by a whole week! – creature hit of the year as barrel-chested Harry (there’s even a point where he’s using da trees). Most of the time, aside from stinking the place out, Harry is prone to loveably causing wholesale destruction. We never learn if he’s successfully housetrained or the Hendersons accept the inevitability of cleaning up after his monster-sized shits after him (they do give him a scrub up in a neighbour’s pool, eliciting perhaps the best line in the movie upon inspection of its state the next morning – see the post title quote).
George: We don’t even know what it is. We don’t know if its male or female.
Sarah: Definitely male.
Nancy: How can you tell? (Sarah gives her a look.) Oh, don’t answer that, honey.
There’s also the question of Harry’s junk. I expected, Wookie-like, this would go unmentioned for General audiences, but teenage daughter Nancy appears to have seen something tell-tale her parents have not, either because Harry isn’t visibly discreet beneath all that matted hair, or because he has a particular fondness for the fifteen-year-old (he does seem to moon after her, and he gives her a posy at the end). This is, obviously, an Amblin movie, so any such untoward anglings would be far from its mind. You know, the way they are in their The Goonies (and One-Eyed Willie), or E.T. (and its “penis breath”).
Bigfoot and the Hendersons represented Dear’s first mainstream feature foray after a decade-plus making indies. The year before, he helmed easily one of the best Amazing Stories episodes (his second), Mummy Daddy, a kind of After Hours with an actor ensconced in a Mummy costume desperately trying to get across town to see his wife, about to give birth. Dear must have endeared himself to Spielberg, who then entrusted him with a project close to his heart: allowing a naked, big-bearded man-child into your house to befriend your kids. Perhaps the ’berg glanced at Dear’s filmography. His feature debut was 1973’s Nymph (poster by-line: “a little girl in a woman’s body underage and overeager”. Eesh!)
There’s nothing in Bigfoot and the Hendersons to suggest other than the most obvious, bordering-on-TV sensibility in terms of execution. It walks and talks like sitcom, give or take a prosthetic body suit. The actors come cheap because no stars are needed (it’s said the US title was to keep the presence of Bigfoot a secret, but the only thing hidden in the trailer is Harry’s face. Thus, the English one seems much more fitting).
Lithgow was alternating between sympathetic and loveable, comedy and drama, and was simply wholly reliable (he’s the best thing about the movie). Dillon, who’s supremely likeable (and effortlessly talented) is best remembered for signature parent parts (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, A Christmas Story) and makes this a hattrick. Don Ameche was experiencing a pensionable second wind (Trading Places, Cocoon) and gets the de-rigueur role of the true believer whose dream encounter comes true. M Emmet Walsh, a mere decade older than Lithgow, plays George’s dad, and you don’t doubt it for a second (the family business of selling guns and ammo is signposted in a negative light, a lifestyle-choice approach that’s a far cry from the “way of life” huntin’ and shootin’ and fishin’ that characterises Bigfoot encounters among the folk of Boggy Creek).
There’s also David Suchet, two years from Poirot and leading the way in English villainy by playing a Frenchman (Jacques LaFleur); his relatively infrequent Hollywood sojourns have tended to be bad guys. Joshua Rudoy, who could be seen, terrifyingly, as Keifer Sutherland’s nightmare nemesis Billy Mahoney in Flatliners a few years later, is son Ernie Henderson, obviously the Elliot equivalent but given to more comedic dialogue and exuberant delivery: “Pull over, dad. She’s going to launch!” Ernie’s enthusiasm for massacring animals gets the movie’s message across in the first scene (“Yeah! It’s my first blood!”)
The plot is no more or less than one might expect; Harry’s taken home when the family hit him, is initially dreaded but soon beloved, runs off, returns, must be kept from the public/authorities (E.T.) and returned to the wilds (E.T.) and his own kind (actually shades of the end of Predator 2). Even LaFleur ends up seeing how delightful Harry Pearlman is. It’s all pretty shameless.
Officially, of course, Bigfoot doesn’t exist, and silly sods have, over the years, either dimly mistaken other creatures for the Sasquatch or suffered the effects of an overactive imagination. Some foolish cryptozoological types have sought establishment respect, so positing the missing-link theory. This is mentioned by George, that Harry may be the “primitive ancestor of modern man”.
The truth of the matter is considerably more exotic, it seems. Bigfoot, per the Ra Material, hails from the planet Maldek. Its inhabitants, “destroying their planetary sphere, thus were forced to find room for themselves upon this third density”. Maldek’s was a similar fall (according to lore) to Atlantis “in that it gained much technological information and used it without care for the preservation of their sphere following to a majority extent the complex of thought, ideas, and actions which you may associate with your so-called negative polarity or the service to self”. Other channelled material commonly has Maldek as “once located between Mars and Jupiter”.
Ra tells it that after the Confederation of Planets assisted the Maldekians, so as to “untie the knot of fear” and recall that they were conscious, they made a group decision to undergo “a type of what you may call karma alleviation” and develop of a less distorted vision of service to others (than the one they embraced prior to the disaster). They thus incarnated from 3D into the 2D Bigfoots. This process allowed most of them, over time, to incarnate “elsewhere in the creation for the succeeding cycle in third density. There remain a few who have not yet alleviated through the mind/body/spirit coordination of distortions the previous action taken by them”. Ra refers to three types of Bigfoot in all: the Maldekians, those able to withstand radiation in the event of nuclear war (hmmmm*), and a thought-form.
The Q &A provides a few caveats to the Maldek explanation for Bigfoots. They aren’t from another planet – there are no planets per se, not in the “NASA space” sense – but rather, Maldek is a continent beyond the Ice Wall. The karmic-alleviation part is correct, but it represents one of consciousness rather than form; they were always Bigfoots, but retreated from 3D to 2D in awareness. As for how they get here, that would be via portals (at least, originally). How else would you happen here from the realm beyond the Ice Wall?
All of which would have made for a much more intriguing tale than Bigfoot and the Hendersons, but when it doubt, keep things simple and slapstick. I have to admit, the movie didn’t especially win me over at the time, and this revisit has done nothing to change that. It shows keen commercial savvy (appropriate any property that might benefit from the prosthetic creature boom) and formula family fun, and while those things can be delivered with sparkle and verve, this one becomes faintly tiresome after the first forty minutes.
*Addendum 24/06/23: I was chasing the wrong conspiracy with that one, it seems. It’s almost inevitable that, when you think you’ve grasped the nettle of some subjects, you instead get stung to blue blazes. There’s long-standing theorising concerning the legitimacy of the nuke threat, and of nuclear technology generally, it took me a while to warm to it (probably in the last three or four years). Warm to it I did, though, and it seemed Q & A answers were confirming the counterfeit nature of the subject (this, however, as tends to be the case, was based on misconception of the parameters of the response). The concomitant threat of mutually assured destruction is another matter, however, since one does not necessarily follow on from the other.