“If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dreams.”
— Van Morrison, “Astral Weeks” (1968)
My attendance of the recent Saturday Night Drive-In Asylum Double Feature Watch Party on September 5 — which featured The Redeemer (1978) — brings us to this review. And I have to admit that, until this most recent viewing of The Redeemer and digging deeper into the film’s history, I had no idea of that occult-slasher’s connection to this Canadian radio drama by way of actor Michael Hollingsworth. If we are to believe the digital content managers at the IMDb, Hollingsworth, in the role of the hippy Billy, made his acting debut in Slipstream—and vanished from the business after his portrayal of the gay actor, Roger, who met his fate at the hands of The Redeemer.
The writer of Slipstream, William Fruet, aka the “Roger Corman of Canada,” is a name oft mentioned around these ‘ere parts of Steel Town, U.S.A., if not in a direct review, such as for his works Funeral Home, Baker County, U.S.A., Killer Party, and Blue Monkey, we’ve mentioned his work in passing within the context of other canuxploitation flicks.
One day, we’ll get to three of my personal favorites of Fruet’s oft-run, ’80s HBO and Showtime oeuvre with the Perry King and Don Stroud Vietnam-slanted serial killer drama, Search and Destroy (1979), the Peter Fonda and Oliver Reed-starring giant serpent romp, Spasms (1983), and, what I consider Fruet’s crowned jewel: the home-invasion classic, House by the Lake, aka Death Weekend (1976), which also stars Don Stroud, along with Brenda Vaccaro as the damsel-in-distress. Of Fruet’s seven writing credits, among his thirty-nine directing credits, he directed House by the Lake and Spasms. He already proved his skills as a director on his first feature film: Wedding in White (1972), a film starring Donald Pleasence and Carol Kane which he also wrote. Why the reins of Slipstream were turned over to first-time director David Acomba, who never expanded his recognition beyond the Great White North’s borders, sans his work on The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), is a reason lost to the ages.
Now, looking at the theatrical one-sheet, we’re sure your eyes perked up at the sight of Macon, Georgia-born actor Luke Askew, who first came to widespread acclaim with his role as Boss Paul in his third feature film, Cool Hand Luke (1967) starring Paul Newman, and the Charlton Heston western follow-up, Will Penny (1967). In addition to appearing in the war flicks The Devil’s Brigade (1968) alongside William Holden and The Green Berets (1968) with John Wayne (Hey, Pops!), Askew delved into Italian spaghetti westerns as a first-time leading man with Night of the Serpent (1969), and the annals of bikerdom with the likes of Easy Rider (1969), and Angel Unchained (1970) with Don Stroud. By the time of his role as troubled DJ Mike Mallard in Slipstream, Askew began his long-fruitful transition as a well-respected U.S. television actor, appearing in both series and TV movies. But Askew took the time to work with David Carradine in The Warrior and the Sorcerer (1984) and Ciro H. Santiago’s Mad Max rip, Dune Warriors (1991). Oh, and there’s Paul Schrader’s Rolling Thunder (1977) with William Devane.
Yeah, we could go on and on with all of the great movies we’ve watched with the late Luke Askew. . . . Oh, almost forget: he was a recording artist that Bob Dylan likened to blues great Bobby Blue Bland.
And that brings us to this Canadian film that’s mismarketed as “featuring” the music of Van Morrison and Eric Clapton”; in reality, it features only a snippet of one Morrison song — the title cut from his breakthrough album Astral Weeks (1968) that bookends the film — and one Clapton song in its entirety — “Layla” from Derek & the Dominos.
Askew is Mike Millard, a popular but brooding-reclusive Albertan DJ who runs his popular pirate radio station from a remote wilderness farmhouse. As with Clint Eastwood’s Dave Garver on KRML in Play Misty for Me (1971), Millard is all about mood; he spins off-beat tunes interjected by poetic passages that connect with the youth counterculture. Millard’s soul rolls with the independent spirit of Wyatt Williams from Easy Rider; in lieu of a motorcycle, Mike uses the airwaves; his on-air style is one where he sticks the studio’s microphone outside the window to capture the sounds of a thunderstorm as he begins the refrains of “Layla” by the then “hot” Derek & and the Dominos.
The mysticism and mystery of his secluded broadcasts — a gimmick devised by his producer to develop an audience — has led his listeners painstakingly searching the wilds of Alberta to find him — one listener, Kathy, does, which Mallard begins to romance. Adding to Millard’s aggravation: as the show’s popularity grows, his producer wants him to play “more commercial music,” so as to expand the audience even more — even if it alienates the listeners who made his career.
Unlike the genre’s most popular film, the Michael Brandon-starring FM (1978), William Fruet dispatches with that radio chronicle’s slapstick moments for an introspective examination on the psychology; the need of a DJ being on the air and the responsibility of connecting with one’s audience through integrity and not gimmicks; about the creative, audio war where the commercial needs of the bean counters clashes with the artistic needs of a radio station’s airstaff. Fruet’s anti-hero soon comes to realize the allure of the “glass booth” that once gave him freedom is now a psychological prison.
The walls of that prison become more evident as the now emotionally-crumbling Mallard shatters the illusions of his beloved on-air persona with a half-baked interview that crushes the fandom of a young journalist-fan who successfully tracked down his broadcast.
As with most Canadian-made films, the recently reviewed Terminal City Ricochet in particular, Slipstream had a virtually non-existent VHS release south of the border and no (possibly limited; I never seen it) UHF-TV or ’80s HBO or Showtime replays. This is one of those films that — being a radio DJ and big Luke Askew fan, with a desire to see this lost Canada radio drama — I had no choice but to purchase it as a grey market taped-from TV VHS. And as with most of those back-of-magazine grey market distributors utilizing low-grade VHS tapes in multi-packed, shrink-wrapped bricks and churning out copies via high-speed dubbing machines, I lost that cherished copy of Slipstream to the blue screen of death. Chatting with one of my Detroit-based radio contemporaries who’s lived in Canada for a number of years, tells me Slipstream has never been issued on DVD and rarely airs on Canadian TV; not only has it been years since he’s seen it on TV, he hasn’t seen a VHS for as long.
My hats off to Bill Van Ryn of Groovy Doom and Sam Panico of you-know-who for their joint Drive-In Asylum Double Feature Watch Party nights and screening The Redeemer, affording me the opportunity to revisit a radio film — and one of my favorite films overall — that is truly lost for the ages.