I should have kept the T-shirt. When I was 11, my civil servant Howard the Duck The T-shirt, won in a promotional contest organized by a local television station, attracted a lot of abuse from older teenagers in the neighborhood, one of whom never failed to call out. “Hey! It’s stupid Howard—!” – rhymes with “duck” – every time he saw me. Within days of its initial release, the 1986 film was already considered a “failure” and a “failure”, a reputation that continues to this day. However, these vintage T-shirts now sell for between $160 and $300 on eBay. Unfortunately, I wore mine with ribbons.
I loved this flop. I still do it. Aside from being a hugely entertaining 80s cult classic, Howard the Duck was my gateway to the joys of more “mature” monster movies.
A film “unsure of what it wanted to be”?
To be fair, everything that turned off general audiences about Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz’s subversive, big-budget film A Talking Duck from Outer Space perfectly appealed to a viewer on the cusp of adolescence.
The usual criticism is that the film “didn’t know what it wanted to be.” He was based on Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik’s 1973 Marvel Comics character, a moody, cigar-smoking, anthropomorphic duck out of water in a human world “he never created” after having been dragged across the universe from his home. planet, Duckworld, and deposited on earth. Alas, in the film, the “laser spectrometer” that accidentally transported Howard also attracts a monstrous “Dark Lord of the Universe”, whom our caustic duck must defeat to save our planet from hairless apes.
Comic book fans were dismayed to find that the film made the character cute rather than caustic, and his tantrums silly rather than existential. It was, they thought, a neutered Howard – but not enough for the horrified parents. Time magazine Critic Richard Corliss called the film a “pornographic parade at the zoo.” Gene Siskel found its “scenes of sex, violence and rock ‘n’ roll” too “stupid and inappropriate for toddlers”. In the UK, two scenes had to be cut for general audiences.
Rated PG, Howard the Duck was apparently a kids’ movie, with silly jokes about “quak-fu” and “space rage.” Katz and Huyck also slipped in references to pot, cocaine, massage parlors, “Satan’s Sluts” bikers, duck preventatives and… uh, duck boobies on display.
Worse yet, but true to the comics, when Howard arrives in pre-gentrified Cleveland, he has a human “girlfriend” named Beverly, a rock ‘n’ roll singer played by Lea Thompson. Rather than avoiding the question of whether this is the case or not?, the film leans into it, showing Thompson in his underwear in bed playfully teasing his “duck” before be interrupted. The characters finally make it clear that they don’t, even though the film heavily implies that they really want to and probably will at some point.
A more “mature” monster movie – but still rated PG.
Who was in the world Howard the Duck For?
I’ll tell you: boys and girls from 11 to 13 years old. I was a little too old to Puppets in 1986, but my humor was more oriented towards the Crazy Magazine brand of “edginess” that R-rated raunchy comedies had. Léa Thompson in her underwear was starting to hold a certain fascination for me, even if I wasn’t quite ready for it to go beyond the movie. And, honestly, at this age, crazy ducks are objectively funny. And, let’s be honest, that’s still the case, no matter how old you are.
Plus, the movie is better than you remember. Mark Kermode of the BBC, another Howard the Duck champion, affirms that it is not a “great” film, but that it remains “a bizarre and subversive film that is really very funny”. Because it was too bizarre to be adopted by the general public, but also too offbeat to be forgotten, Kermode argued for Howard the Duck as basically the definition of a cult classic. It’s worth noting that Katz and Huyck began their creative collaboration with a legitimate cult film: the surreal horror masterpiece Evil Messiah. I would love to see these two crazy films on a double bill (OK, pun intended).
Howard the Duck showed that body horror could be fun.
For me, the true revelation of Howard the Duck It was the final hour in which the film suddenly transformed into a body horror comedy. Howard and Beverley are stuck with a possessed scientist (played by Jeffrey Jones, one thing about the movie that hasn’t aged well) who plays host to one of the hideous “Dark Lords of the Universe” who want to destroy this world . Of course I had already seen Halloween And The thing At this age. But I did it with my fingers, because they were supposed to scare you – and I succeeded. ghost huntersmeanwhile, it seemed silly to me.
Howard the Duck managed to strike the right balance between disgusting tentacled latex monsters and a fun adventure comedy. It was the kind of “scary” movie that an 11-year-old could enjoy without fear and showed me that horror movies could be more like a roller coaster ride than an exhausting night in a haunted house. It prepared me to spend teenage years reading Fangoria magazines, making latex masks in the basement, and laughing at every Freddy Krueger punchline, no matter how cheesy.
And now with the MCU an established cinematic phenomenon and Howard appearing in guardians of the galaxy films, maybe we will finally get a sequel. Or, at least, I can get a new T-shirt.