Tag Archives: Rick Baker

Harry and the Hendersons

Harry and the Hendersons

Today’s movie is 1987’s Sasquatch-centered family comedy: Harry and the Hendersons.

The plot of Harry and the Hendersons has the following synopsis on the Internet Movie Database:

The Henderson family adopt a friendly Sasquatch but have a hard time trying to keep the legend of ‘Bigfoot’ a secret.

Harry and the Hendersons was co-written and directed by William Dear, who is best known for directing Angels in the Outfield, The Perfect Game, and If Looks Could Kill, as well as providing input on the story for The Rocketeer.

The cast for the movie includes John Lithgow (Cliffhanger, Raising Cain, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension, Footloose, Blow Out), Melinda Dillon (Captain America, Magnolia, A Christmas Story, Close Encounters of The Third Kind), David Suchet (Wing Commander, A Perfect Murder, Poirot), Don Ameche (Cocoon, Cocoon: The Return, Trading Places), and M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple, Fletch, Critters, Slap Shot).

The cinematographer for Harry and the Hendersons was Allen Daviau, whose other credits include Van Helsing, Congo, The Astronaut’s Wife, The Color Purple, E.T., and Empire of the Sun.

Harry and the Hendersons was cut by Donn Cambern, who also worked as an editor on movies like Ghostbusters II, Twins, Time After Time, The Glimmer Man, The Cannonball Run, Easy Rider, and The Last Picture Show.

The musical score for the film was composed by Bruce Broughton, who also composed scores for movies like Silverado, Tombstone, The Monster Squad, Stay Tuned, Baby’s Day Out, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, and Lost In Space, as well as for television series like Dallas, Hawaii Five-O, and Gunsmoke.

Rick Baker, the special effects master who has, to date, won seven Academy Awards (with five additional nominations),  was the creature designer for Harry and the Hendersons. He ultimately won one of his Oscars for his work on the movie, and has claimed that the gigantic, lumbering Harry is his favorite of his many created characters.

Speaking of the creature work for the film, the suit worn by actor Kevin Peter Hall in order to play Harry stood at well over 8 feet tall, making for an immense presence on set.

While Harry and The Hendersons did not receive a sequel, it did spawn a television series, which ran for 72 episodes over 3 seasons, from 1991 to 1993. The series did not follow the continuity of the movie, however, as Harry is shown living with the Hendersons rather than returning to the wild as shown in the film.

Harry and the Hendersons was released internationally as Bigfoot and the Hendersons. A number of promotional images with this alternate title can be found around the internet with a little bit of digging.

Harry and the Henderson features a handful of characters who are obsessed with the hunt to capture or document a Sasquatch. These characters fit the mold of “cryptozoologists,” people who study unconfirmed mythical creatures (with the assumption that they exist), and “squatchers,” who are essentially Bigfoot hunters.

Harry and the Hendersons grossed just over $50 million in its lifetime theatrical run, making a significant profit on its production budget of $16 million.

Critically, however, the movie had a mixed reception. Today, it holds an IMDb user rating of 5.9/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 44% from critics and 54% from audiences.

If there is anything that must be said about Harry and the Hendersons, it is that the effects for Harry are incredibly impressive. Even though it looks creepy as all hell, the intricate facial expressions displayed by Harry are almost unimaginable for a monster suit in the 1980s. Rick Baker absolutely outdid himself here.

Beyond Harry, the big highlight of the movie has to be John Lithgow: I can’t think of a single performance of his career in which he hasn’t been entertaining in one way or another, and Harry and the Hendersons might be his pinnacle of his scene-chewing prowess. The guy is just a delight throughout the movie, and gives it more energy and passion that it had any right to deliver. The humor as it is written is a bit hit or miss, but Lithgow manages to elevate it at every turn. Without his presence, this movie might have been unwatchable.

The biggest issue I have with the movie, apart from the aforementioned comedic writing issues, is its tendency to get preachy: the message of nonviolence is really over the top, to the point that it almost feels like a PSA at times. That said, it isn’t terribly distracting, and kind of fits with the overall silly tone of the movie, but I would be remiss not to mention it.

Overall, I think that Harry and the Hendersons is 100%, grade A cheese. It certainly isn’t good by any conventional standards, but it is a true product of its era, and is worth watching for that aspect alone. Lithgow and Harry definitely solidify it as a recommendation for bad movie fans, but I think it is worth a watch for anyone, just because of how much it has seeped into cultural crevices over the years. It is also almost completely inoffensive, like a bumper car lined with plush animals, so almost anyone could enjoy it.

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Larry Cohen Collection: “Bone”

Bone

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Today’s entry into the Larry Cohen Collection is Bone, his controversial directorial debut.

Bone is a tense and darkly humorous home invasion thriller that presents the story of a robbery that goes rapidly awry, and circuitously winds up unraveling the lives of all of the parties involved.

Bone was written, directed, and produced by Larry Cohen as his first feature film, after a notable career as a television writer. It laid the foundations for a long tenure in front of the camera that bounced between genres, and garnered Cohen a significant cult following.

The movie was co-edited and shot by George Folsey, Jr. (Hostel, Black Caesar, The Blues Brothers), with Michael Corey (God Told Me To) acting as his co-editor.

Aside from Larry Cohen, the producers for Bone included his then-wife Janelle Webb (A Return To Salem’s Lot, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover) and Peter Sabiston (It’s Alive, Hell Up In Harlem, Black Caesar).

The score to Bone was composed by Gil Melle, who also provided the music for movies like The Andromeda Strain and Killdozer.

A number of the effects in the movie were provided by eventual Academy Award winner and master of the field Rick Baker, who worked on a number of Cohen’s films early in his career.

The relatively small cast of Bone includes a young Yaphet Kotto (Alien, Live And Let Die, The Running Man), Andrew Duggan (A Return To Salem’s Lot), Jeannie Berlin (Inherent Vice, The Heartbreak Kid), and Joyce Van Patten (Grown Ups, Marley & Me, The Bad News Bears).

Bone proved to be a difficult movie to market, thanks to a combination of controversial themes and pitch-black humor. As a result, it received a handful of alternate titles, though the most ofen seen one is Housewife.

Bone was shot almost entirely in Larry Cohen’s own house and property, and even features his dog.

While Bone certainly has a positive cult reputation, its reviews on the whole are mixed. It currently holds a user rating of 6.8 on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 67% from critics and 75% from audiences.

Personally, I see Bone as a bold work of a young director with an interesting vision. It is certainly unpolished and the product of a developing talent, but there are some flashes of really fantastic film-making here, particularly whenever a scene calls for a building of tension. Not only do the shots help build a simultaneous sense of uncomfortable distance and dangerously close proximity between the characters, but Cohen was able to get some really outstandingly emotional and creepy performances out of all four of the primary characters.

Oddly, the writing is really the weakest aspect of the movie. At first, the film has a clear clock on it to build the tension, but then it is dismissed outright. Honestly, I was a bit confused as to how much time was passing between scenes, and eventually the screenplay just drops the point altogether. Once that happens, the pacing of the movie gets kind of strange, and the last act makes for an odd sort of chase and rapid resolution. Looking back on it, I think this was a screenplay that Cohen wasn’t quite sure how to end, and it shows.

As far as a recommendation goes, Bone was definitely made for another time, which plays out as a positive and a negative. The movie provides a visual snapshot of Los Angeles at the time that is pretty cool to look at, but the political and social context behind this movie isn’t nearly as potent now. The humor is also sporadic and uneven, and it isn’t always clear what the message of the movie is. Regardless, as a exercise in building tension, there are some big positives to Bone. On top of that, one scene in particular features some of the earliest makeup work by Rick Baker, which adds a cool trivia bonus to the flick. Cohen fans at the least should check this one out, if you happen to be able to find a copy.

Water Foul: Octaman

Octaman

octaman2

Today’s movie is Octaman, which features a human-octopus hybrid suit designed by repeat Academy Award winner Rick Baker.

Octaman was written, directed, and produced by Harry Essex, who was also behind such films as It Came From Outer Space and Creature From The Black Lagoon.

The cinematographer on the film was Robert Caramico, who also shot numerous episodes of the television shows Just Shoot Me and Dallas, the Fred Williamson blaxploitation western Boss (that’s, uh, not the original title), and Ted V. Mikels’s The Black Klansman.

The effects team for the movie included Academy Award winner Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London, Men in Black, Ed Wood, Wolf, Videodrome, It’s Alive, It Lives Again, Black Caesar), Doug Beswick (Aliens, The Terminator, Evil Dead II, Ghostbusters), and Ron Kinney (Wild Riders, The Cremators). Beswick and Baker specifically designed the Octaman suit, under the belief that it would be kept in shadows and obscured for most of the film. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

octaman4The cast of Octaman included Pier Angeli (Battle of the Bulge, The Angry Silence), Jeff Morrow (This Island Earth, The Giant Claw, The Creature Walks Among Us), and Kerwin Mathews (Jack The Giant Killer, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad).

The story of Octaman is delightfully straightforward: a team of scientists stumbles upon a mysterious mutated hybrid of an octopus and a human, and the creature proceeds to make all of their lives miserable and significantly shorter.

Footage of Octaman shows up under a variety of different titles in movies like Gremlins 2 and Fright Night, as an homage both to the influence of Rick Baker as an effects master, and as a throwback to traditional, b-level horror and monster movies.

octaman1The reception to Octaman was unsurprisingly negative, and it currently holds a 3.5 rating on IMDb, alongside a 23% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

The budget for the movie was reportedly $250,000, which is a pretty astounding microbudget. However, the product on screen holds true to the saying “you get what you pay for.”

Octaman is a movie that feels, looks, and sounds misplaced in time. The movie could have been made any time from the tail end of the 1950s to (particularly cheaply) in the 1980s, and I don’t think it would look or sound all that different. It is a curiosity of a film that rides the line between being an homage and legitimately being the thing that it is trying to send up (honestly, I’m still not 100% sure which this is).

octaman3The suit itself is probably the most impressive aspect of the movie given the budget, but the way it is shot and used is just hilariously awful. It is a real testament to the importance of cinematography and editing when it comes to movies with practical monsters, because the way it is shown on screen makes all the difference between it being intimidating and it being impossibly goofy.

Speaking of which, the lighting throughout the movie is astoundingly terrible, and most of it comes off looking like incomprehensible blackness (except for the monster, the one thing that should be kept a bit obscured). For most of the film, it is a chore to parse out what the hell is supposed to be happening on screen, because all of the colors used are on a scale of pitch black to relatively dark blue.

Octaman uses a few moments of monster point-of-view shots, which popped up here and there throughout the history of b-movies. However, it became particular famous for its use in highly-acclaimed, b-movie influenced films like Jaws, Predator, and Halloween.

The only real highlight to the film comes when a plot is executed to capture the monster by confusing it with strobe lights and encircling it with fire, in order to “burn up the oxygen all around him.” Astoundingly, this works, and the team throws a net over the monster and calls it a day. That part of the plan, however, doesn’t turn out so well.

octaman5Overall, Octaman is a pretty run-of-the-mill, cheaply made b-movie. If not for Rick Baker’s involvement, it would probably only amount to a footnote in the history of bad movies. However, Baker’s participation and future success adds an element of trivia to the movie, which makes it moderately more worth checking out. Personally, I think the movie is pretty dull, but I’d recommend looking up some clips and photos of the suit in action to get an idea of where a 12-time Academy Award nominated (and 7-time winner) effects guru comes from.