John Carpenter and The Boy Who Could Fly

With Halloween being our Movie of the Month in October, it was a no-brainer for us to look to John Carpenter for our connected solo entries. That was my plan. I chose the film. I got excited. Then something unexpected happened.

One of the joyful byproducts of writing for a blog with friends is the rabbit hole-y nature of digging into films and the subsequent discussions that ensue between Greg, Aaron, and me. In that vein, I was perusing the Carpenter catalog a few weeks ago, and lo and behold, an oddball entry revealed itself to me. There it was, embedded amongst such horror classics as The Thing, Halloween, and They Live:

The Boy Who Could Fly.

I’ve been thinking about this film obsessively since I read an anniversary article on it a few months ago. What the heck was it doing on Carpenter’s list of brilliant and not-so-brilliant horror films?

Turns out the jump to Carpenter wasn’t so big, after all. Google entry “John Carpenter The Boy Who Could Fly” provided a few links to Nick Castle, the film’s writer and director.

Wait, who?

Sounded familiar, but I wasn’t connecting the dots. One more quick search on IMDb, and there it was. Nick Castle = Michael Myers. The actor who played one of the scariest characters ever to grace the screen directed a lightly sentimental movie in the 80s about young peoples’ perspectives on loss and change and fitting in when you’re a little different.

No. Way.

The Boy Who Could Fly consumed a big portion of my movie watching during childhood. It’s a movie that, were I to mention it to my Mom today, would likely inspire an eye roll so big that she would injure herself. That’s how often I watched it. My Dad, also a lover of film, was a master of hitting the video store and picking movies which would eventually became the fabric of my movie-loving being. The Parent Trap (1961). Flight of the Navigator. Harry and the Hendersons. Short Circuit. Batteries Not Included. This is how The Boy Who Could Fly made it into the pantheon of Films Over-watched by Karen in the Page Household during My Childhood (otherwise known as FObKitPHdMC).untitled

There isn’t anything particularly distinctive about The Boy Who Could Fly, I suppose. It’s well-made and well-acted and well-cast. It’s a film that feels quintessentially 1980s, in the loveliest of ways. Roger Ebert called it a “sweet parable” and said that “Frank Capra could have directed it, […] except in the Capra version, the boy wouldn’t have been autistic and the girl wouldn’t have been grieving because of the recent suicide of her father, who was dying of cancer.”


Therein lies the magic of a film like The Boy Who Could Fly. A film about how to handle loss, be kind to someone who is different, and just generally survive the potential trauma of childhood is an important film to put in front of a kid. Especially when that movie stays away from cloying dialogue and oversentimentality and sticks to solid content and performances to support the message.

Nick Castle wrote and directed something special in The Boy Who Could Fly, and I’m left sort of stunned that a guy who played the personification of Pure Evil on screen could write and direct something so wholesome. He directed other children’s films, such as The Last Starfighter and Dennis the Menace. He has writing credits on films such as Escape from New York, Hook, and August Rush. His catalog of film is limited, but pretty varied. And by all accounts, he was asked to play the part by Carpenter since they were friends, so there is very little actual Castle in Myers. Even so, it will be a while before I reconcile Michael Myers being the artistic force behind a film which was so important to me as a child.

Thanks for making a film that was such an important part of my childhood, Mr. Castle. I’ll try to forgive you for Haddonfield.

The Scariest Witch We’ve Never Seen

I can’t escape the month of October and our Halloween-themed movie essays without saying something about The Blair Witch Project. I just can’t. The film is too important to horror, and to me, to avoid mentioning it in some way.

blairwitchGotta be honest, the film’s shaky handheld camera, the incessant use of the F-bomb, annoying Heather, the sense of “nothing’s happening” that many had while watching this movie for the first time, all made a lot of viewers unreceptive to the pop culture phenomenon. I get it, and I will even concede that the film isn’t for everyone.

What I can’t get around, and what the naysayers would also be unable to deny, is how this horror movie single-handedly revolutionized the always-dying-in-some-way horror genre.

You see, every few years, the horror genre goes through a long period of unoriginal duds, each and every one spawned by some sort of re-invention of the genre brought on by a handful of gems. What I mean is, the horror genre is all about scaring you – Greg’s “duh” moment of the day. But there are only so many ways to accomplish this, and once you’ve been subjected to them a few times, you aren’t scared anymore. . .you’re numb to it. Horror writers and directors are faced with the dilemma of finding new and interesting ways to scare you. I’d suggest a theory that horror is harder to pull of than comedy, but this is another debate.

So, when the slasher movie comes out (Halloween in 1978) there are dozens and dozens of slasher films to follow until they are eventually run into the ground. When the ghost story comes out (Poltergeist in 1982) there are dozens and dozens of ghost story films to follow until they are eventually run into the ground. Slasher was reinvented with Scream, ghost stories were reinvented with The Conjuring and Insidious (both of which James Wan had a hand in making – Wan being a horror innovator in a league all his own, if you ask me). And so you go through the years of horror and its various subgenres.

Which brings me back to The Blair Witch Project, the very first hand-held, found-footage movie of the entire horror genre. The Blair Witch Project was a movie genre all its own, and the behind-the-scenes marketing that transpired was, simply put, perfect for its time and place.

It was at least a full year before The Blair Witch Project hit theaters that I first heard of the legend. In fact, the legend is all I was aware of; The Blair Witch Project movie was not a thing or a glimmer in the eyes of an unsuspecting public. There were just some blurbs on the SyFy Channel and The Discovery Channel about the mystery of these three people who got lost in the woods somewhere in Maryland, USA. The internet was still in its infancy, but there were soon rumors about haunted woods and missing persons and student projects gone awry. In a world before anyone ever (misleadingly) used the term “fake news,” my friends and I became obsessed with this mystery and these rumors. There were even missing persons reports and “missing” posters circulating. It was unbelievable.


Never, for nearly a year of these intermittent blurbs in news and on the internet, was there even a discussion about a movie.

Until the internet blew up again with rumors that, although the students had not been found, their camera and all of their footage had been. Authorities were piecing it together, trying to unlock the mysteries of what went on out there in the woods a few years before 1999.

Our thirst for knowledge knew no bounds, and we scoured the edges of the internet and back to figure out what the deal was. It was fascinating to our inquiring minds, and spooky to our macabre tastes.

Then it all came to a head in 1999 with the announcement that they had pieced together the found footage and were going to release it for a limited time in theaters.

I saw it opening night, and my love for horror movies grew three sizes that day (that’s a Grinch reference, in case you were wondering). I’d seen hundreds of slasher movies, ghost stories, demon movies, monster mashes. . .The Blair Witch Project was NONE of that. It was something all its own. Something that had never, and I mean never, been done before.

I truly did not know if this was real or fake until the very, very end, and even then I was still skeptical. I swear I saw Heather in a Steak ‘n’ Shake commercial (a chain of nostalgic burger joints peppering the sides of freeways all through Illinois and western Indiana). I swear it was her. . .”but she’s still missing,” I recall thinking. “Just looks like her,” I thought.

It literally wasn’t until the MTV Movie Awards that year when Mike, Josh, and Heather herself all walked onto the stage, months after the movie debuted in theaters, that I knew I had been duped. And I loved it.

The Blair Witch Project was, for me, the Andy Kaufman of horror films. The filmmakers were the ringleaders of this big joke, and we were the butts of it. I have never felt so happy to feel so stupid.

But then there came an onslaught of found-footage horror movies. For better or for worse, love them or hate them, there were tons. Still are! But none of them match the originality of The Blair Witch Project, and until the next James Wan comes along and reinvents THIS genre, I’m sure they never will.

By the way, in terms of popularity, The Blair Witch Project is one of the most profitable movies of all time. Made for a scant $60,000, it made well over $250 million worldwide. The jitterbug camera may have made some puke, but it made some others very rich, indeed, and it captured the imaginations of a whole new generation of horror fans for years to come.

“This is Jack Burton in the Pork Chop Express, and I’m talkin’ to whoever’s listenin’ out there.”

I’ll be honest: I had a difficult time deciding what movie I wanted to write about this month.

I came very close to just opting for the easy way out, picking another horror film, and waxing nostalgic about Poltergeist, which stands the test of time of being my personal favorite horror film. But I know Greg is taking genre as his cross reference, so I wanted to be a little more creative than that.

A look at the cast list of Halloween gave me a few options to consider. Donald Pleasance is, after all, not only a featured character in The Great Escape, but he recurs often in James Bond films as Blofeld, the arch nemesis of the titular hero. I could honestly write ten or fifteen pages on each of the separate Bond films alone, I love those movies so much. I could do at least eight or nine pages even on the crappy ones.

But as I looked through the filmography of John Carpenter, one movie in particular kept calling out to me. It’s not a great movie, but it’s one of my favorites. And like Stardust, which I always automatically equate with my wife, I have a love for this movie because of who I saw it with and the circumstances under which we saw it.

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In the summer of 1986, my father took me to a movie theater to see an adventure fantasy entitled Big Trouble In Little China. The more I thought about it, the more the movie called to me. I knew I needed the catharsis of writing about this film.

The trouble is that it’s always difficult to write about my father.

My relationship with him was always tumultuous at best. I can divide my relationship with him into four distinct eras. There’s youth, before my parent’s divorce, where I knew him as my father and loved him because you’re supposed to love your father. There’s youth after the divorce, up through adolescence, where I knew him as my father, but had very little contact with him. Essentially, he had abandoned us, had little time for us, and resentment began to foster and grow. The third era is adulthood, from 18 to almost 30, where resentment turned into legitimate hatred. I had no illusions about the sort of person my father was and was given plenty of reason, in almost every interaction with him, to decide for myself that I didn’t need that sort of negativity in my life. The tables had turned: I was actively choosing to not see him, rather than him making that decision for me. In the last ten years or so of his life, the fourth era, my father and I actually became very close. I was learning forgiveness as I got older, and coming to terms with the importance of it. My father was ill, I was maturing, and I didn’t want to harbor any ill will any longer. We became friends, if not friendly, learned that we actually had a lot in common, and his death in August of 2012, two days before what would have been his 64th birthday, was a crushing blow.

Even writing about the myriad conversations we had about baseball– or the frequent trips to go fishing or play pool– that we enjoyed at the end of his life, there’s still some bitterness that tends to rear its ugly head if I think too deeply or too hard about what this man has meant to me over my life. I don’t want to remember him this way, and so I try not to because, in the end, I loved him very much.

One of my favorite memories of my father is a trip to see Big Trouble Little in China in July of 1986. This memory being positive is ironic because it falls staunchly two or three years into the aforementioned second era. At the time, Daddy was a truck driver, making long hauls in a semi from state to state. This occupation was used, quite often, as an excuse to not come visit. But once or twice, he took my brother and I on a trip with him. A vacation of sorts with his children. As a child who desperately wanted to relate to his absent father, the trips in the semi were about as good as it can get. What child doesn’t want to ride in a semi? See the country from the comfort of a big rig? This quality time with my father was so much cooler than the quality time other peers were getting, right? It was easy to naively forgive his absence when his presence meant a trip in the truck.

What’s interesting about the trips in the semi is that they were actually, in retrospect, quite boring. Its not like we actually stopped and saw the touristy sites in any of the states we traveled to. We drove through cities that we never actually stopped in. Quite often, my brother and I had to hide in the sleeping berth, so that Daddy wouldn’t get in trouble when he stopped for weight stations or inspection depots. I read a lot of books and sang along to Daddy’s vast collection of country music cassette tapes.

On this particular trip, we actually got stuck at a truck stop near St. Louis. Daddy had made good time with his haul and the recipients were not ready for him when we arrived. So we had to wait while they found time and people to unload the trailer. I remember playing arcade games in the truck stop’s small “game room”. We took the time to shower and eat a meal. One hour turned into two hours turned into three turned into “We might not get to this tonight.” Daddy had to find something to entertain us.

All of the truckers we encountered at the time had been talking about Big Trouble In Little China. The main character (played by Kurt Russell) is a truck driver, so it was popular among this set. I had seen commercials for the movie and really, really, really wanted to see it, but it was rated PG-13, and so I had not yet been allowed to go. Daddy was torn: he needed to entertain his sons, but he didn’t need our mother killing him for taking us to see a movie that might potentially turn us into sociopaths. He asked another truck driver how appropriate it was for children (I vividly remember the answer: “Well, there’s a bare ass in it and some nipples through a wet shirt”). He bought a newspaper and read a review. Ultimately, he decided to take us, quipping “I’ll tell you later if you can tell your mother or not.” We bought snacks at the truck stop to smuggle in order to keep costs down.

We loved the movie. We all three did. It was a bit more violent than my mother usually allowed my brother to see (he was two years younger), but I seem to recall him falling asleep halfway through, anyway. After the movie, walking back to the truck stop, I commented to my father that it’s too bad that real-life trucking isn’t full of adventures like what we had just seen Jack Burton overcome. Without batting an eye, Daddy said, “Wait until winter time. I don’t take you on trips in the winter because I’m afraid I can’t protect you from the ninjas.” My brother and I had a long discussion later about whether our father ever really encountered any ninjas. How did he handle them? Did he fight them? Or just put the rig in gear and run them over?

It’s funny as I think about it that I don’t really remember my father watching too many movies. Most of the pop culture phenomena that I connect to him are television shows he liked (The Dukes of Hazzard, Mike Hammer, Three’s Company) or music that he listened to (Merle Haggard, Ronnie Milsap, and more Merle Haggard). He wasn’t really one to watch movies. I recall him loving The Bridge on the River Kwai, Smokey and the Bandit, and Convoy. I believe I may have watched Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein with him, but I would have been much older when that occurred. I don’t connect him to movies the way I do other people in my life. Except for Big Trouble In Little China. . . man, that movie makes me think of him.

While cleaning out his apartment after he died, I discovered that he had a VHS tape of this movie tucked in with other VHS tapes, a small collection that was mostly home videos and Grand Ole Opry reruns. It made me wonder if the movie evoked the same sort of nostalgia for him as it does for me. Somehow, I doubt it. For me, it’s an incredibly pleasant memory often overshadowed by how horrible a father he was back then. I’m sure he remembered the trip to see it, but I doubt he was prescient enough to see that his fatherly behavior at the time was shockingly out of the ordinary.

When my father died, I mentioned to my wife that I felt it unfair that he was taken from me just as he and I were becoming so close. You know what my wife said? She said, “At least when he died, you weren’t mad at him anymore.”

And she’s right.

I’m not mad at him anymore. And I believe that no ninjas ever killed me because my father got to them first.

Pampaw Polk and babies                                 Richard Gale Polk (August 5, 1948-August 3, 2012)

“He came home!”

Our movie of the month for October 2018 is obvious enough to almost be embarrassing. But it’s October, and we agreed that it should be a horror movie. We agreed that our selection is one of the best horror films of all time. And we also all agreed that we’re all three pretty excited about the new version of this film coming out later this month.

Often cited as “the first slasher film”, it actually appears on many Internet lists as being the greatest horror film of all time. It put Jamie Lee Curtis on the map. It put John Carpenter on the map (and Greg doesn’t love anybody if he doesn’t love John Carpenter). It has scared the bejeesus out of people since 1978.

Without further ado…


Three Nerds’ selection, October 2018: Halloween (1978)
Who Directed It: John Carpenter
Who Wrote It: John Carpenter and Debra Hill
Who’s In It: Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Tony Moran
What does everyone else say about it: Rotten Tomatoes score: 93% (critics), 89% (audience), IMDB user rating: 7.8 (out of 10)
Where you can see it: DVD/Blu-Ray

The Nerds Weigh In
Karen: I’ll admit that horror isn’t really my favorite genre, which depends entirely on the theme. Sci-fi horror? Yep. Psychological horror? Sometimes. Religious horror? Nah, doesn’t appeal to me. Halloween makes my cut, for reasons that are probably the same for everyone; it’s scary as hell but it’s also fun to take that ride. Growing up in small town Illinois, Haddonfield felt a little like home, and that just added an extra layer to the terror. Laurie Strode became a small town warrior of sorts in my eyes through that proximity. I can’t wait to see what she’s got in store for Michael Myers 40 years later. Give him hell, Laurie.

Aaron: I was five years old. Asleep on the living room floor at the babysitter’s house. The babysitter was watching HBO as I slept.  I woke up for an unknown reason. The first thing I saw was Mike Myers pushing a woman’s face into a hot tub. He turned the heat up. Eventually, the water was so hot that it burned her face off. I was completely and utterly traumatized by witnessing this. I have since learned that this sequence is actually in Halloween II, but the very thought of Mike Myers (regardless of which installment he appeared in) kept me from ever watching the first one until I was well into my twenties. With the possible exception of that clown doll in Poltergeist, Mike Myers is, for me, the scariest horror film villain of all time. He might have fucked me up for life.

Greg: Carpenter had some not-very-nice words to say about Rob Zombie’s Halloween reboot and its one and only sequel. Carpenter, and others, didn’t care for there being so much backstory to The Shape, which, in a way, weakens the evil behind the mask and lends a sympathy of sorts to it. Carpenter was also not a huge fan of the way-over-the-top violence in the Zombie films. I’m stuck in the middle, between two directors I love and between an original that can’t be beat and a remake that I thought did the original at least a modicum of justice. 

Lil Bit O Trivia – Halloween
1. Even though the movie takes place on Halloween night in Illinois, it was actually shot in early spring in southern California. This meant that the filmmaker had to make the area they were filming in look like the Midwest in autumn. To do this, the crew had to buy paper leaves from a decorator, paint them in the desired autumn colors, and then scatter them in the filming locations. To save money, though, after a scene was filmed, the leaves were collected and reused. Over and over and over. Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter note on a DVD audio commentary that the trees in the movie are quite full and green. There are even some shots where you can see palm trees. Have you ever seen a palm tree in Illinois? Neither have we. 

texas chainsaw2. The 1978 version of Halloween is widely regarded (with some dispute) as the very first slasher movie. The events that unfolded in Haddonfield, Illinois (aka Southern California – see fun fact #1) occurred well before that fateful night at Camp Crystal Lake, and long before anyone fell asleep on Elm Street. 1978 was more than a decade before Ghost Face terrorized a high school and one of those kids from Party of Five. Halloween‘s claim to the title is only disputed by some because Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was made and released four years earlier. The question remains: Is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre really a slasher movie? Or is it solely a dark retelling of somewhat true events? You be the judge, but it sounds way cooler if we say that Halloween is the first slasher movie.

thing from another world3. John Carpenter the horror director is also John Carpenter the horror fan, and if you watch closely, he pays tribute to one of his favorite horror/science-fiction movies, one which he would later, in fact, remake as his own a few years after Halloween (remade as The Thing in 1982). The original black and white The Thing From Another World (1951) plays on the TV in the background while little Lindsey is alone in the dark before The Shape unleashes real terror.

4. Speaking of Lindsey, the little brunette-haired girl whom Lori Strode is forced to babysit, is somewhat famous today (if you count reality TV stars as famous). Lindsey was played by Kyle Richards, who today is one of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Greg told the other nerds this fact,  but he won’t tell them how he knows. . .

5. John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill wrote the movie in only ten days. They filmed it in only twenty. John Carpenter also wrote and recorded the score for the entire movie in. . . wait for it. . . three days. Those three simple notes, when put together as he did, resulted in something almost as terrifying as The Shape itself. Most horror films spend way more time in production (and are not nearly as effective).

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What are your thoughts on this film? What would be your pick for the scariest movie of all time? Sound off in the comments!