Ed. note– My original HOWARD THE DUCK review was as awful as most people claim HOWARD THE DUCK is. I rewrote it from scratch. I also went off the rails with profanity, something I’ve never done in a review, and I’m not likely to do so again. I don’t apologize for this. Just giving you fair warning. This is clearly not a normal review. HOWARD THE DUCK is not a normal flick, nor am I a normal reviewer.– P.F.
It’s fitting that I’m pairing this review with THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, because my love for HOWARD THE DUCK is a product of when I saw it. I turned 14 in the summer of 1986, and felt like I was trapped in a world I never made. I’ve always been an outsider, but even more so during those confusing teenage years. Into my life that summer came a foul mouthed action hero duck who could defeat Dark Overlords of the Universe AND get the 80s hot chick. The fact that he did so in a flick loaded with bad duck jokes, has at times questionable special effects and doesn’t know if its audience should be adults or six year old kids… well, I wasn’t sophisticated to pick up on any of that at 14, and I don’t give a damn at 43.
The flick starts on Duckworld, in the apartment of one Howard T. Duck. He’s sitting in his armchair, when a force violently drags him and the chair out of his apartment, off his planet, all the way to… wait for it, wait for it… Cleveland. In an alley, he saves punk rocker Beverly Switzler from two thugs. The two form a quick bond, and she brings him back to her apartment. With the help of her friend Phil, a lab assistant/ janitor at the local museum, Bev tries to get Howard back to his planet, even as it seems the two are falling for each other. Plot machinations lead to the arrival of a Dark Overlord of the Universe, who came to Earth the same way as Howard and wants to bring down some of his buddies, so they can enslave the Earth. Will Howard ever get back to Duckworld? Will he and Bev consummate their romance? Can Howard stop the Dark Overlord from enslaving mankind? And how the Hell did Beverly not know her friend Phil was a janitor?
Conceived as a Marvel comic character by Steve Gerber, adapted by George Lucas hot off the success of the original STAR WARS trilogy, written and directed by the people behind the classic AMERICAN GRAFFITI, HOWARD THE DUCK is one strange bird. And that’s probably why I’ve always loved it so much. This is one oddball flick, and I’m an oddball. This is not how normal movies are made, and I’m not normal, so you know what? Fuck normal.
For example: Howard’s 3-foot-2, and Lea Thompson is so 80s hot, it’s a miracle she didn’t start literally smoking during production. In this flick, Howard gets the girl. People balked at how bizarre a coupling that is. I’ve even heard the word “bestiality” leveled against the flick. But it’s not about that. It’s about two “people” who don’t fit into the very defined Reagan-era society finding one another and making it work. Is it weird watching Lea in a sweater and panties fondling a duck man in bed? Sure is. And you know what? I don’t judge. I know that five minutes after the credits roll, Howard and Bev are fucking. And I think that’s fucking fabulous.
Or how about this? That same duck manages to put up a fight against a 15-foot tentacle-armed monster who has several rows of teeth. He’s fighting not for his own world but for ours. This isn’t Thor or Captain America. It’s Howard the Duck. Fuck those guys, Iron Man, the Hulk, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four… well, they fucked themselves. None of those dudes were the first movie adapted from a Marvel Comic. Howard the Duck was. And he didn’t have the benefit of CGI magic. He’s a midget in an animatronic suit, and I love him all the more for it. And he plays a pretty mean electric guitar. You go, duck.
X Marks the Oscar: For a flick that’s universally regarded as a piece of shit, HOWARD THE DUCK has more Oscar nominees and winners involved it than you can shake a stick at. You can check them all out on its IMDB page.
So what if the tone is all over the place? HOWARD THE DUCK wants to be a comic flick, an action movie, a sci-fi film, a comedy, a romance, a horror flick and possibly an interplanetary porno. The first several minutes of the flick on Duckworld are so overfraught with duck jokes that it’s a wonder it doesn’t collapse under the weight of its terrible puns. In a complete 180, the climax involves lasers, that monster I mentioned above, and the fate of the planet. What movie includes both of those? And what kind of kids’ movie has its female lead almost get raped in her introduction? Because as I’m watching it the other night, I’m telling myself if Howard doesn’t fall into that particular alley on that particular night and fight off those thugs, they’re going to rape Beverly.
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the duck tits! Yes, duck tits! I took my seven-year-old sister with me to see this flick. I apologize if it did any psychological damage, Sarah. Though I know we both loved Howard and Philsy’s escape on the ultralight.
I don’t even give a fuck that during an action scene in a diner, I can see the wire pulling a guy during a special effect. HOWARD THE DUCK cost $35 million to make— in 1980s money— and director Willard Huyck left a wire in. And I bless him for it.
Sadly, I’m an outlier. And so the world doesn’t see HOWARD THE DUCK in the same light I do. It bombed terribly when it came out. It cost one of the studio heads his job. Lucas had to sell part of Industrial Lights and Magic, which Disney turned into Pixar. The flick is the butt of jokes even today. Even with Marvel’s dominance over the summer popcorn movies, there’s no reboot in line. Like his 80s counterpart Rodney Dangerfield, Howard gets no respect.
To which I say, who cares? I love HOWARD THE DUCK, warts, feathers and all. Fasano taped it off cable for me when we were teens, and I rode that tape for years. I bought a bootleg DVD years ago at a convention, when Universal refused to give it a legitimate release. When Universal finally ponied up, I drove to eight—count ‘em, EIGHT—different outlets on its release day before I secured my copy. I’m a devotee, even now, at 43, when I acknowledge it’s not a great flick. It’ll always be a great flick to me.
When I met Lea Thompson a few years back at the Mad Monster Party con, I didn’t get her to sign a photo from BACK TO THE FUTURE, SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL or Caroline in the City, all fine shows. I got her to sign a pic of Beverly Switzler. Lea hugged me, and for several minutes I was too stunned to say anything but, “Oh my God, Lea Thompson hugged me. Oh my God, Lea Thompson hugged me. Oh my God, Lea Thomp…” She’s still as beautiful as she was when I saw her onscreen back in summer of 1986, when I was 14. In every way to me, so is HOWARD THE DUCK.