In Not Guilty, we look at movies that the general consensus tells us that we should feel bad for liking, but that our hearts tell us we should embrace -- "guilty pleasures" we don't feel guilty about. This time around, we look at the first go-round for a comic-book character who's recently experienced a resurgence: Howard the Duck.
It's been at least 20 years since I've seen -- or thought about -- Howard the Duck. But thanks to a 3-second cameo in a bonus scene from a certain blockbuster this summer, the most infamous degenerate Anatidae came rushing back into my mind and pop culture. While everyone started engaging in the lastest round of trying to decipher what Marvel was hinting at when they included Howard in that very talked about after-credits appearance, I appreciated his inclusion as just another nugget of nostalgia for all the children of the '80s who flocked to, and loved, GOTG.
Then, last month, Marvel announced that they were bringing back Howie after all, at least in comic-book form. This just added more fuel to the raging fire of Marvel gossip and rumors. Sure, I could speculate about what kind of hint Marvel was putting out there as to the future of Howard's role in the studio's bid to control Hollywood (and the world), but I took it as a sign that it was time to give everyone's favorite anthropomorphic duck another cameo, this time in a Not Guilty look at his 1986 film debut.
Granted, all I was going on was my memory of loving this movie as a kid and watching it some ridiculous number of times. And it was highly possible I saw it so much because HBO played it with the same voracity that a radio station plays Taylor Swift. But aside from Lea Thompson singing the famous theme song, I couldn't really recall too many specific details about the movie itself. So, was nominating Howard the Duck for Not Guilty the right call? Or were my childhood memories made warmer, fuzzier and kinder by James Gunn's gentle pull on my nostalgic heart's strings this summer?
Well, it's safe to say that the fact you're even reading this means that yes, Howard was Not Guilty approved. But before you start attacking that decision in the comments section, let me be the first to say that I am well aware of all the glaringly obvious issues with the film. And the studio was, too. Howard the Duck was supposed to an animated film, and many of the movie's issues during shooting largely came about due to complications with animatronic Howards and various casting problems. Add to it a script that wasn't exactly Oscar-caliber, and the result was a film that has been widely labeled one of the worst ever made. Of course, such a distinction almost assures some sort of unexplainable cult following, which ended up being the case.
Issues aside, however, there were some notable aspects to the movie. Ones that even the most jaded and sinister geek can agree didn't suck.
Live-action Howard works, in spite of itself.
Trying to bring Howard to life was a huge challenge for the studio. Between exploding animatronic ducks and generally bad-looking final products, it was clear from the get-go that they may have bitten off more than they could chew.
At the time, critics panned the end result. Howard's mouth didn't move, he looks drunk, he's a pervert. Oddly, it's every single one of those things that actually works in his favor all these years later. The Howard character was born from the super weird horror-comedy genre of comic books. The idea of a humanized duck is a little horrific, and the creepy Howard we see in the movie definitely has the twisted horror-like feel to it, even if the rest of the movie doesn't. We've already discussed how horror movies can get away with bad-good theatrics, and Howard somewhat fits the bill (get it?) here, too. It may not have been intentional, but that Howard suit provided the cheeky version of horror that existed in the comics.
The theme song still rocks. Admit it.
Not all actresses can sing, and Lea Thompson admittedly never considered herself a singer. Not only did she sing every song herself as the lead of the fictional Cherry Bomb, but the movie's theme song ended up being one of the few things that stay embedded in my memory 20 years later.
The tune itself was pretty catchy, but props to Lea for nailing it. Her singing style is the epitome of an '80s synth-pop diva, and as much as your conscious self may claim to hate that, you secretly love it. And any song that reminds you of Prince and the Revolution deserves a gold star. Also, the mere mention of said theme song almost guarantees that you will now have it stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You're welcome.
It's part of the '80s vortex
There's a special phenomenon that happens when you watch any movie from the '80s. I touched on it when discussing Warlock, but noticed it happening again while watching Howard the Duck. For whatever highly unscientific reason, we abandon all taste and reason whenever it comes to this decade. It was a silly, tacky and often ignorant time on so many levels, yet instead of being truly offended by any of it, we indulge and find every aspect of it entertaining. Watching Howard the Duck, you know you're watching a bad movie. You even know that you probably LOVED this movie as a kid, which just shows how easily amused you were back then. Maybe it's nostalgia at play and we're being reminded of a simpler time when all it took was an actor in a tiny duck suit to make us laugh. Maybe it's because for all the eye-rolls it garners, bad jokes can still be funny. Whatever it is, it works.
It's good weird.
Between its sanitized version of adult humor and slightly uncomfortable duck/human sexual tension, Howard the Duck is a super weird movie with no shortage of cringeworthy moments. Then again, what exactly should someone expect from a movie about a duck that lives among humans on Earth? The entire concept of a humanized duck is bizarre and off the wall, and it's meant to illicit an awkward reaction. The horror-comedy comics created an entire universe of humorous oddities that, if brought to life, should stay weird instead of being reimagined as high-quality Hollywood megahits. If Howard the Duck had been an animated film, it may have risked being too childish and fun instead of maintaining the very ick factor needed to keep it part of the freaky world it exists in.
Weird can be good, and in this case Howard the Duck's legacy as a bad movie has only made it mature into a bit of a sideshow attraction, which is exactly how it should be.
What do you think? Is Howard the Duck worth a revisit? Would you like to see more of Howard at the movies? Let us know in the comments!