Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Incredible Hulk: "The Antowuk Horror" (September 29, 1978)

In “The Antowuk Horror” by Nicholas Corea, David Banner (Bill Bixby) is hiding out in a small resort town, and has taken a job in a local hardware shop.

There, he tutors a young girl, Sam (Debbie Lytton), and works for her temperamental and resentful father, Harlan (Bill Luckings). 

When Harlan treats David badly and makes him complete an inventory in a messy and dangeroius storage closet, David injures himself on a propane tank and crow bar, and transforms into the Hulk.

Harlan sees the Hulk, and realizes that a monster like him could revive Antowuk’s  ailing economy. 

He sets out to orchestrate a hoax involving “The Antowuk Horror,” unaware that an old friend of McGee’s (Jack Colvin) -- a hunter looking to make a name for himself again -- is hell-bent on shooting dead the Hulk and any other monster in his sites.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this early Incredible Hulk (1978 – 1981) episode is the strong recession vibe it so dramatically expresses.

In one early shot in “The Antowuk Horror,” a young girl (Samantha) walks down a small-town street and behind and around here there are signs everywhere for stores going out of business or “fire sales.”  Some buildings are even boarded up.  It looks a lot, in other words, like America circa 1978-1979 (or, actually, 2008…).

Indeed, the central premise of the episode is that the economy of a resort town has failed to such an extent that only a myth like “Bigfoot” (name-checked in “The Antowuk Horror”) can resurrect its fortunes. You almost can’t blame the desperate Harlan for seizing on the inspiration the Hulk provides: his friends (including one played by Lance LeGault) are planning to leave town permanently.  Everyone is giving up.

In some ways, what’s much worse about Harlan than his hoax is his resentful, insecure, anti-intellectual attitude. He’s a bully, and acts abusively towards David.  In fact, he’s an arrogant, entitled redneck, and those qualities go some distance towards making him less-than-sympathetic, whatever his economic woes.  I mean, he basically beats David up, and David – unable to go to the authorities – stands for this behavior. 

In The Incredible Hulk, David is often the very definition of long-suffering.  He always attempts to control his anger, fear and rage, but those limits are severely tested (at a rate of twice per hour-long episode) all the time.  Here, he tolerates being pushed around, and gauging his palm with a crow-bar, but when a heavy gas tank falls on his foot…that’s it. 

The Hulk is in the building.

“The Antowuk Horror’s” other contextual subject (besides the Carter Era recession) is the nation’s fascination -- in the 1970s -- with the Bigfoot legend. 

Here, we see lemming-like news crews, recreational campers, tourists, and other folks storm into the resort town for a glimpse of a Sasquatch-like cryptid.  In the decade of the Bionic Bigfoot, Bigfoot and Wild Boy, and In Search Of, “The Antowuk Horror” is a not-unexpected our out-of-place addition to the Hulk canon.  

Unfortunately, the episode doesn’t feature the kind of final fight it might were the Hulk were actually to battle the real Bigfoot.  Harlan is a paper tiger a man masquerading as a werewolf-like beast.  The Hulk makes short work of him, but when Samantha is endangered, comes to his aid. 

I always loved this aspect of the TV rendition of the Marvel character. David’s goodness shines through, even when he’s mean and green.  Angry or not, if you've good character is good character, I guess you might say.

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