Monday, January 31, 2011

Film Review: THE BOY WHO COULD FLY (1986, Nick Castle)

Stars: 2.5 of 5.
Running Time: 107 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Lucy Deakins (AS THE WORLD TURNS, CHEETAH), Jay Underwood (AFTERGLOW, UNCLE BUCK), Fred Savage (THE PRINCESS BRIDE, LITTLE MONSTERS), Bonnie Bedelia (DIE HARD, NEEDFUL THINGS), Colleen Dewhurst (ANNIE HALL, THE DEAD ZONE), Fred Gwynne (THE MUNSTERS, THE COTTON CLUB), Jason Priestley (TOMBSTONE, BEVERLY HILLS 90210), Louise Fletcher (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC). Music by Bruce Broughton (TOMBSTONE, THE ICE PIRATES, MOONWALKER). Featuring the one and only Coupe de Villes. Visual Effects by Richard Edlund (THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, GHOSTBUSTERS, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, the opening sequence for TALES FROM THE CRYPT).
Tag-line: " A very special love. And a very special magic. But is it real magic or just an illusion?"
Best one-liner: "In da back of da bus....just you and us"

Well, allow me to take a brief respite from my exploration of the horror portmanteau in order to bring something to your attention: THE BOY WHO COULD FLY. Now, how you'll feel about the movie itself likely will hinge on when you saw it: its greatest devotees are nostalgia-driven sentimentalists who saw it as kids back in '86. I, on the other hand, saw it this weekend, and, uh... well, let's just say that it's a little corny.

With a little bit of E.T. and a little bit of DUMBO (but with an autistic kid instead of a Reese's Pieces-luvin' alien or a floppy-eared elephant), THE BOY WHO COULD FLY launches itself headfirst into heavy-duty mawkishness and attempts to leave no tear unjerked.

I don't wish to badmouth the film, though- I'm a fan of filmmaker (and John Carpenter crony) Nick Castle, and if this film brings comfort or nostalgia to its fans, then I'm all for it. Now, in my mind, there are a few memorable elements in it, and one really noteworthy element, so I shall discuss them without further delay:

We've got Louise Fletcher as a well-meaning psychiatrist. And even though she's friendly, I guess I can't stop myself from making a comparison to Nurse Ratched.

Anyway, in a puzzling twist she chose to go uncredited, yet receives a very special thanks– was she unhappy with how the film turned out, or did she want her appearance to be unexpected? Who knows.

We got Fred Savage playing THE LAST STARFIGHTER video game (THE LAST STARFIGHTER was Nick Castle's previous picture),

a gang of tubby eight-year-old kids who terrorize Fred Savage and whose leader wears an Anarchy t-shirt, a nuanced performance by THE MUNSTERS' Fred Gwynne as a drunken parental figure (he really is mind-blowingly great- his facial contortions alone are possibly the movie's most genuine facet),

and an un-nuanced performance by Bonnie Bedelia (who's obviously been directed to be overly... indicative).

(Note that she's looking at an alarm clock and is running a few minutes late– she's not running a few hours late, nor has the alarm clock transformed into a portal to another dimension or flashed some obscene message á la MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE. She is just running... a few.... minutes... late.)

But then....thirty-four minutes in....they drop an ATOM BOMB. An atom bomb I like to call: THE COUPE DE VILLES...

Hollleeee shit. If you have no idea who or what the Coupe de Villes are, may I refer you HERE, HERE, and HERE.

So two gals are engaging in some underage drinking/slumber partying, when who should appear on TV but the legendary Coupe de Villes, doing their best 80's glam band impersonation.

KISS, eat your heart out. Clockwise from upper left: Tommy Lee Wallace, John Carpenter, Nick Castle, and guest Coupe Warren Carr (the production manager).

(And who is this mysterious 4th Coupe de Ville, Warren Carr? I see he was the production manager here, but it seems to be his only professional contact with any of the Coupes.)

Now, the song, which does not appear on their album, WAITING OUT THE EIGHTIES, is written by Nick Castle, is entitled "Back of the Bus," and is further evidence that there may be entire vaults filled to the brim with unreleased Coupe de Ville treasures. It features a high-pitched plea from Nick Castle ('Heyyyyy pretty baby'), a booming, intense chorus by Carpy himself ('in da back of da bus.'), and it pretty much made my weekend.

"Mmmmmm----heh, heh, heh/Hey pretty girl/You goin' to school/We gonna teach her/The golden rule/in da back of da bus/Just you and us/Heyyy pretty baby/we like your looks/come here and study/put down your books/in da back of da bus"

And then they change the channel. But I never thought I would see John Carpenter looking like a member of Twisted Sister and menacing a young lassie in the back of a schoolbus:

Carpy imperils a studious young da back of da bus

And now, to shed some long-sought light upon the Coupe de Villes phenomenon, I have transcribed the audio commentary for this scene from THE BOY WHO COULD FLY DVD (said commentary features Nick Castle, Jay Underwood, Fred Savage, and Lucy Deakins):

Nick Castle: I wrote and performed that song as The Coupe de Villes. The Coupe de Villes are in various other films as well. They're in HALLOWEEN, they're in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, so we sort of spread ourselves around. But it is basically a vanity band. We would play the wrap parties for some of our films, and, uh, make everyone listen to us.

[everyone laughs]

Jay Underwood: I can't remember, did you play at ours?

Nick Castle: I sang, but uh–

Lucy Deakins: It was your Bruce Springsteen lookalike phase. The bandanas and everything.

Nick Castle: This was an in-joke, having flown my two friends into Vancouver for this little bit of playing the rock n' roll band, John Carpenter, of course, the famous director who did HALLOWEEN, and another friend, Tom Wallace, who's another director, with the opportunity of actually pretending to be a rock group. I threw us all together for this little bit.

Lucy Deakins: I still have the record you cut.

Jay Underwood: I got the same album...WAITING OUT THE EIGHTIES.

Lucy Deakins: Yeah!

[then the subject is changed to how Nick Castle played Mike Myers in HALLOWEEN, and how he receives more fan mail for that than for all the movies he directed]

Interesting. Though obviously Nick sells himself short when he refers to it as a vanity band. And now I have to rewatch HALLOWEEN: apparently it contains some hidden Coupe-de-Villery that has flown right over my head the five thousand or so times that I've watched it. And you know what warms my heart more than THE BOY WHO COULD FLY? The fact that Nick Castle gave the cast of THE BOY WHO COULD FLY LPs of WAITING OUT THE EIGHTIES!

Two and a half stars for the Coupe de Villes, but where is the rest of the music video footage? must exist, and it demands to be seen!

-Sean Gill


Jeroen Kooijman said...

re: the Coup Devilles in Halloween, "Some songs can be heard in the film, one being an untitled song performed by Carpenter and a group of his friends who formed a band called The Coupe DeVilles. The song is heard as Laurie steps into Annie's car on her way to babysit Tommy Doyle." Love your blog by the way!

Tempest said...

I did not know that the singer was actually John Carpenter or about his band, but I saw this film when it came out. I laughed when you wrote it was cheesy, today, it would be. It was one of my favorite films. Jay Underwood--I saw him in a commercial for some OTC painkiller a few years ago. I wondered what happened to Lucy Deakins, too. It was like this was a huge movie for them both, but you did not see too much of them after the 80s. I loved the dog and he made a name for hismelf appearing in Down and Out in Beverly Hills--I think it was the same dog.

J.D. said...

Never seen this film but I do remember reading about it in the pages of STARLOG the year it came out. Wow, a Coupe de Villes appearance?! Now, I almost want to see this film JUST for that.

Sean Gill said...

Thanks for the info and the compliment! I obviously need to revisit HALLOWEEN soon and do review!

I guess it is all about when you see it. I have a few friends who mention it frequently as being dear to their hearts, but I don't think they've seen it for 15 years or more. I guess Jay and Lucy did kinda fall off the map, but that fate awaited all too many young actors of that era, even higher profile ones like Jennifer Grey, C. Thomas Howell, Andrew McCarthy, Ally Sheedy, and the like.

Well, you see, I've put the entirety of the Coupe de Villes clip on YouTube here precisely so you DON'T have to see the film. Ha! Seriously, though- it's a pleasant enough little jaunt if you're the mood for something more saccharine than, um, say, Saccharin itself(?). And the flying effects, though so corny in context, are on the whole remarkably well done from the SFX standpoint.

Jason said...

"IN THE BACK OF THE BUS, JUST YOU AND US"...classic! Thanks for sharing man!

Sean Gill said...


I'm glad you enjoyed the soulful strains of the Coupe de Villes!

Phaota said...

Thanks for posting the links to the songs on YouTube. I did not know about the album. They will make a great addition to my vast 80s MP3 archive. Sure wish the full "Back of the Bus" song would get released.

Sean Gill said...


No problem, and thanks for stopping by- I, too, wish that "Back of the Bus" and whatever untold Coupe de Villes back catalog may exist would get a release. Ah, well.