The Existential Horror of “Howard the Duck”
I was going to give this movie a full, if somewhat satirical critical treatment. Then I watched it again and realized that no measure of postmodernist deconstruction or critical insight could possibly be applied to something so abominably bad. The following is pretty much everything you need to know.
Produced by George Lucas and made for the then staggering sum of $36 million dollars (more than the combined budgets of the first two Star Wars films), 1986’s Howard the Duck was intended to be a high-tech, family friendly film about an humanoid duck that gets brought to Earth when a science experiment goes awry. The film was to feature special effects served up by Lucas’s now legendary Industrial Light and Magic. The technological benchmark, however, was to be the main character himself. Using state-of-the-art animatronics, Howard was intended to be as lifelike as possible, and posters and trailers for the movie promised something special.
What we got, instead, was this:
Once the chuckling stopped and the children stopped crying, the movie continued its audio-visual assault. It was as if the director (Willard Huyck, who would never direct again) couldn’t decide if the material in front of him was supposed to be funny or horrifying. What was supposed to be a children’s film with loaded with images that could only serve to send a generation of unsuspecting pre-teens into years of intensive psychotherapy. Case in point:
Take a long hard look at the above picture. Forget the glaring biological anomaly of a duck bearing (and baring) breasts. Ask yourself what kind of person thought a busty, and seemingly masturbatory ducklet (Trust me, it’s as bad as it looks) would be appropriate for anyone, let alone a child? The audience went dead quiet at this point, suddenly suspicious that they had become pawns in some deranged lunatic’s practical joke.
And yet, that was only the beginning. As the story progressed, the audience is forced to endure an onslaught of “fowl” puns (heh) and increasingly bizarre behavior from the human elements within the story. Leah Thompson, fresh from the blockbuster success of Back to the Future, gamely tries to imbue her character Beverly with some sense of decency, only to see the script shatter those dreams by placing her in situations like this:
So… yeah… Howard the Duck. It was a movie – it had a plot, cinematography, and some acting. And it seared the souls of anyone who saw it. And its still out there… somewhere in the DVD bargain bins… waiting to violate the sanity of an unsuspecting victim. You want real horror for Halloween? Look no further than Howard the Duck.