Man, Dennis Weaver can’t catch a break when he’s in a Paul Wendkos movie. In The Ordeal of Dr. Mudd, he’s imprisoned for treated John Wilkes Booth. And in Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction, McCloud is blasting nose candy right past his trademark mustache. But here, it’s Last House on the Left or Straw Dogs as a TV movie, with Weaver and his family — argumentative son who doesn’t want to go to college, wife who feels frumpy and nascent women’s libber daughter (Susan Dey!) — going up against an ersatz Manson Family on a beach vacation.
The leader of this group, Jerry, is played by Scott Hylands, who would much later play Dr. Mercurio Arboria, the kindly creator of The Arboria Institute in Beyond the Black Rainbow. He uses psychological warfare, bugs in the family’s RV and a PA system to drive the nuclear unit to madness and eventual revenge.
The cast also includes Michael Christian (Eddie from Poor Pretty Eddie), Roberta Collins (Matilda the Hun from Death Race 2000), Jacqueline Giroux (Snow White in Cinderella 2000 and Linda from Gary Graver’s Trick or Treats) and Carol White (Spider from Chained Heat). If you ever wondered why I love TV movies so much, it’s because there’s such a crossover between them and the exploitation trash I love with an equally impure devotion.
This never gets as crazy as it should, but the scene where the hippies sing back the nursery rhymes that the family had been singing in the privacy of their RV is really unsettling. This could have been even stranger, but hey — it was a movie you got to watch for free.
Back before John Landis became a big deal and killed Vic Morrow, he was making movies like this, inspired by 1950s monster movies. Landis wrote, directed and starred as the ape in this, wearing one of the first special effect makeup jobs by Rick Baker.
Landis couldn’t find anyone willing to release this movie, but then Johnny Carson saw the film, loved it and booked Landis as a guest on The Tonight Show. Clips got shown, Carson laughed and the film was released*.
Schlock is a prehistoric apeman — you know, just like Eegah — who has come out of a cave into Southern California to terrorize some teens. He falls for a blind girl named Mandy who really likes him — well, she thinks he’s a dog — until she regains her sight and realizes that he’s a beast. That means that the military has to put him down, with Mindy quoting Love Story and a cop says the immortal final line from King Kong. As for Professor Shlibovitz, who studies the hairy creature, he comes out of the cave with the subject for a sequel, the Son of Schlock.
Landis originally wanted to make an adult movie, but then found out that he’d have to work with the underworld. So instead, he got his family and friends to donate money and made this.
*Jack H. Harris agreed to distribute the film if John Landis added ten minutes to the running time. He gave Landis $10,000 and allowed him to use footage from The Blob and Dinosaurus! Landis almost advertised that Steve McQueen was in his film, but didn’t. Still, McQueen told him years later that he was owed money for Schlock.
Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen were gods to us kids in the ’70. We bought the racing magazines and ripped out the glossy spreads of their cars and persons and Scotch Taped ’em to our bedroom doors and walls — right next to our Runaways (duBeat-e-o) and Suzi Quatro (Suzi Q) posters, and Roger Decoster’s mag-rips of his daring motocross jumps.
When the ABC Wild World of Sports held one of Prudhomme and McEwen’s drag or funny car races on a Saturday afternoon, the neighborhood streets cleared and everyone sat in front of the TV. The Snake and Mongoose were only matched by Richard Petty and Evel Knievel. They were the “Muhammad Ali” of racing. Everyone loved them.
So, to commemorate those “Funny Car Summers” of those youthful days of yore, let’s fire up that silver screen under the stars!
Movie 1: Funny Car Summer (1973)
Man, when this commercial came on TV . . . EVERYBODY went to see this documentary that chronicles a summer in the life of “Funny Car” racer Jim Dunn and his family.
The most popular, best known, and best-distributed film of the night — it is also the most disappointing (to those wee eyes of long ago) of the films of the night. You know how great Pawn Stars and American Chopper were when they first went on the air — then they turned into a Kardashians-styled sit(shite)com that’s all about Chum Lee and Corey Harrison bumblin’ about the shop and Junior and Senior fighting? Where’s the neat junk? Where’s the bikes? Where’s Frank and Mike? Who in the hell let Danielle, this Memphis blond chick, and Mike’s bumblin’ brother on the set? Where did the pickin’ go? This is American Pickers, right?
Well, that’s what watching this movie is like: all family drama and little vroom-vroom. Way to go marketing department and Mr. Distributor. You broke our little-tyke hearts — and pissed off our parents, who paid the drive-in fare, because we bitched from the backseat that we were bored — and watched 99 and 44/100% Dead (or was it The Exorcist) through the rear window, instead.
You can watch Funny Car Summer on You Tube HERE and HERE.
Movie 2: Wheels on Fire (1973)
Wheels On Fire is a classic motor sports documentary — and also one of the most obscure and hard-to-find (as you can see, it’s even impossible to find a decent image of the theatrical one-sheet). But not in the land of Oz, since this was filmed in Liverpool, Sydney. This one kicks ass because of — before there were web-cam and fiber optics — has the first ever “race cam” strapped onto the drag car, which takes you behind the wheel at speeds above 300 kilometers (miles in the States) per hour.
Again, this one is near impossible to track down on VHS and DVD — and the DVDs are grey market VHS-rips. And there’s no trailer or clips . . . so in lieu of a trailer, check out these classic drag racing commercials.
Intermission! The Snack Bar is Open! Check out our classic drag racing poster art gallery while you wait in line!
Movie 3: Wheels of Fire (1972)
Not to be confused (and it is) with the “on” movie above, Wheels of Fire focuses on the lives of five major drag racers of the era: Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, Shirley Muldowney, Richard Tharp and Billy Meyer, as they are each followed through a complete drag racing season. Yep. This is reality TV before Robert Kardashian had his first kid (I think; too lazy to check K-Dash B-Days), the very same kids who unleashed the ubiquitously-hated broadcasting format.
As with the oft-confused Wheels on Fire, there’s no online streams of this lost, classic drag racing film. It was on You Tube in several parts, but was removed. Only this 10:00 minute clip is available, which we’re posting in lieu of an official trailer (and don’t be surprised if it also vanishes to grey screen). The now out-of-print DVDs are available in the online marketplace from time to time (and, as you can see, it’s impossible to find a decent theatrical one-sheet). The NHRA web platform and their upper-tier cable channel rerun it from time to time.
Movie 4: Seven-Second Love Affair (1965)
Documentarian Les Blank of Burden of Dreams fame, which chronicled the making of Werner Herzog’s and Klaus Kinski’s Fitzcarraldo, made his docu-debut with this drag chronicle — its seeds (A Rubber Tree plant, ha-ha! ugh.) planted courtesy of his first behind-the-camera gig shooting drag racers in Long Beach, California.
This one has it all: Souped-up “Blower” Mercurys and Chevys (like in Two-Lane Blacktop), rails, and funny cars. While it chronicles other racers, this one is a showcase for Rick “The Iceman” Stewart as he attempts to grab the world’s record — as Los Angeles’ Canned Heat Blues Band provides the musical backing.
And so goes our “Fast and Furious Week: Part Deux.” Can you smell the rubber Big Daddy is cookin’, Dwayne? And, do you have a hankering for even MORE drag racing films? Then check out our first “Fast and Furious Week” reviews of Burnout and Fast Company.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
Prohibition bootlegging of the 1930s gave birth to NASCAR: that’s a fact. And one of those bootleggers — and the sport’s biggest success stories — was Junior Jackson, who got his start behind the wheel hauling illegal liquor through the North Carolina foothills.
The script by Williams Roberts (The Magnificent Seven, The Devil’s Brigade, one of Charles Bronson’s better post-Death Wish movies, 10 to Midnight) was based on Tom Wolfe’s (Bonfire of the Vanities) award-winning article, “The Last American Hero,” published in a 1965 issue of Esquire (which is how William Harrison’s “Roller Ball Murder,” aka Rollerball, got its start). It’s all directed by Lamont Johnson, who gave us the war drama (The McKenzie Break, the military-paranoia drama The GroundstarConspiracy, and, wait for it . . . one of the better Star Wars clones: Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone).
Jeff Bridges (on his way to an Academy Award “Best Supporting Actor” nod for next year’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot with Clint Eastwood) stars as Junior Jackson, a moonshiner and amateur stock-car driver that stays one step ahead of the law — until he experiences an epiphany when his father is sent to prison for moonshining.
His new commitment to racing faces obstacles from Ned Beatty as a cheapskate promoter and Ed Lauter as a race-team owner who refuses to let Junior field his own pit crew led by his brother, played by Gary Busey. Romantic entanglements come in the form of Valarie Perrine who plays her affections against Junior and his main competitor on the track, played by William Smith (who jumps behind the wheel again in David Cronenberg’s Fast Company). In case you haven’t noticed: that’s all of the actors we care about at B&S About Movies.
This movie has it all: a great cast backed by a great script courtesy of Tom Wolfe and Williams Roberts, along with solid direction by Lamont Johnson. And . . . while the film didn’t exactly light up the box office for 20th Century Fox, it helped catapult Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name,” which served as the film’s theme song, up the charts (a process that was repeated when it was used in that same capacity in the Mark Walhberg’s 2006 football drama, Invincible).
Not everyone remembers this early entry in Jeff Bridges’s career, but it slides into the DVD racks nicely, right alongside fellow A-List race epics Red Line 7000 with James Caan, Grand Prix with James Garner, Le Mans with Steve McQueen, and Winning with Paul Newman. For me, it’s as good, even better, than Days of Thunder with Tom Cruise (no offense, Tom; it’s due to drive-in nostalgia with pops).
You can learn more about Junior Johnson with this eulogy published upon his December 2019 death at NASCAR.com. You can read a digitized version of Tom Wolfe’s article as part of the University of Virginia’s archives.
Rarely airing on ’70s UHF-TV and ’80s pay-cable, and poorly distributed as a hard-to-find Fox Home Video VHS, The Last American Hero finally made it into the digital marketplace as high-quality DVD in 2006 and is readily streamable on all the usual platforms — but we found a copy on You Tube. Watch the trailer, HERE.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
Who is missing from this list: Robert Blake. And, for additional credibility: he brought along pro-drivers Bobbie and Donnie Allison, Buddy Baker, Richard Petty, and Cale Yarbourgh. Way to go MGM Studios! Ticket sold! Uh-oh. The producer wants his name removed?
The man behind the lens is TV director Leonard J. Horn: name a ’60s or ’70s TV series and chances are Horn directed at least one episode. And outside of a couple of TV Movies (1970’s Lost Flight with Lloyd Bridges is the one I remember), this was Horn’s lone theatrical film — that was regulated to the drive-in circuit. Screenwriter Eugene Price also primarily worked in television, but occasionally ventured into theatricals (I remember him for the 1975 TV “disaster movie” Smash-Up on Interstate 5). The producer behind this — his first foray into film — was Bruce Geller, who you remember as the creator behind Mission: Impossible. In the TV movie realm, he gave us the 1978 “when animals attack” classic, The Savage Bees.
Unlike the biographical The Last American Hero starring Jeff Bridges, this race epic is a faux-epic: a celluloid fugazi, so much so that Geller and MGM butt heads to the point Geller wanted his name removed, which was refused.
Blake is Corky Curtiss, a Texas race-car mechanic and sometimes dirt track racer (how Tom Cruise’s Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder got started) from a small Texas town who shares his dreams with Billy (Christopher Connelly of Atlantis Interceptors) of getting out of the grease pits and into the cockpit of Patrick O’Neal’s (Silent Night, Bloody Night) race team.
Oh, and Corky’s a skosh of a sociopath with a soupçon of a drinking and gambling problem. To win: he runs his competitors off the track. When he wins: he drinks and pisses away the winnings on the green felt, much to the chagrin of his wife (a miscast Shakespearean-proper Charlotte Rampling of Zardoz goin’ “suthern”) and two kids. Corky eventually makes it to the bigs in Atlanta, but his self-destructive ways finally catch up to him.
If you thought Blake’s anti-hero in the biking epic Elektra Glide in Blue was dark, well, Kolwaski from Vanishing Point and “Driver” and “Mechanic” from Two Lane Blacktop have nothing on Corky: this is one of the darkest race flicks, no, the darkest, race flicks we’ve reviewed across our two “Fast & Furious” tribute weeks. Regardless of Geller’s displeasure with the finished product, which MGM wrestled from him, and the fact that it bombed during its brief run, Blake is excellent — as is the rest of the cast — throughout. And a plus: in addition to the NASCAR stars in the film, the cars, including Blake’s Plymouth Barracuda SXB Formula S Fastback, were built by George Barris Customs, the shop behind many of the iconic cars in ’60s and ’70s TV and film.
Corky is truly forgotten and lost — as it never made it to UHF-TV syndication or pay-cable replays or VHS. Luckily, I watched it twice in the late ’70s as part of a drive-in double feature. DVDs were once available via the Warners Video Archives in the online marketplace — if you search for them. If there’s ever a film that needs to be made available as a VOD, it’s this entry in the Robert Blake cannons.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
Gordon Hessler is one of those directors that no one talks about, but he made a lot of movies worth watching. The Oblong Box; Scream and Scream Again; Scream, Pretty Peggy and Prey for Death are all pretty great. He also made the George Hamilton kind of, sort of giallo Medusa and Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, but not every movie can be a winner, right?
That said, here he has a script by Brian Clemens (Captain Kronos, And Soon the Darkness and Highlander II: The Quickening, proving that yes, not every movie can be a winner all over again), effects by Ray Harryhausen and a cast that inclues a pre-Dr. Who Tom Baker, John Phillip Law and Caroline Munro, somehow making a G-rated film sexy.
Seconds into this movie, I was already writing a review to tell all of you how much I loved it. Get this opening scene: Sinbad (Law) Sinbad finds a golden tablet that was lot by a mysterious flying creature before he falls asleep and dreams of Margiana, as she reveals an eye tattooed on her hand before a man dressed all in black calls his name and makes her disappear between the folds of his cape.
That man is Prince Koura, who battles Sinbad throughout the film for the three pieces of a medallion which will point the way to the Fountain of Destiny of the lost continent of Lemuria. Whoever gets there first will discover youth, a shield of darkness and a crown of untold riches.
With each use of his magic, Koura ages more and more. Yet he still sends all manner of beasts after our hero, who has assembled a crew to discover this uncharted island which includes a deposed Vizier (Douglas Wilmer, who played Sherlock Holmes on British TV) who hides his scarred features behind a mask.
A homunculus, an animated statued of Kali*, a one-eyed centaur, a griffith, an invisible shield — this movie really does have it all in full Technicolor. This even had a tie-in Marvel comic (Worlds Unknown #7–8)!
Even cooler, the Oracle of All Knowledge was Robert Shaw! He was a friend of producer Charles H. Schneer, who got him to play the part — which took 20 minutes — covered in make-up and with his voice altered. He’s uncredited, but yes, that’s really him. Orson Welles was originally supposed to do this part, but he had asked for too much money. Shaw was on vacation in Spain and ended up taking the role as a favor to Schneer.
This is the kind of movie that helps you escape from the world into the better than real life world of monsters, magic and, well, Caroline Munro. This is a movie I foresee returning back to over and over again.
*This entire section of the movie is based on one of Harryhausen’s favorite movies, 1940’s The Thief of Bagdad.
Editor’s Note: This review previously ran on May 8, 2018.
When horror movies have socially maladjusted kids getting abused by popular football players while showing how attractive girls can still fall for them, they’re playing directly to their demographic. How many fright fans felt the same way or endured the same stings and arrows as the hero of this film?
Everybody beats the shit of Vernon. His fellow students hate him. His teachers despise him. Even the janitor. His only friend is Robin (Rosie Holotik, Nurse Charlotte from Don’t Look in the Basement), who is dating the main football player who abuses him. And his other friend, the mouse known as Mr. Mumps? Well, he’s taking a mind-altering potion that Vernon’s developed that makes the little fella super violent. In fact, it makes him so brutal that it kills the janitor’s cat, who flips out and smashes the little fellow and forces Vernon to drink his own potion.
Pat Cardi, the actor who played Vernon, was a busy child star, playing in over 100 TV shows and appearing as a young chimp in Battle for the Planet of the Apes. He grew up to create and found MovieFone, which in the pre-internet days was how people discovered what films were playing in theaters.
Austin Stoker (Assault on Precinct 13, Abby) plays the detective who comes into the school once Vernon starts killing. The murder scenes form a proto-slasher vibe while the music is crazy, with primal power chords accentuating big moments (think the guitar sound from the Torso trailer). It also features Pittsburgh Steelers star “Mean” Joe Greene in a small role. If you live here in the Steel City, you need no introduction to Mean Joe. If you live elsewhere, he’s the player who threw a jersey to the kid in the Coca-Cola commercial. He’s also in The Black Six, one of the first all-black biker films, along with other NFL names like Gene Washington, Mercury Morris, Lem Barney, Willie Lanier and Carl Eller. Of course, we’ll be getting to this movie very soon. But until then, savor Joe in that Coke commercial:
At heart, this is a Jekyll & Hyde story (it’s Carrie before Carrie, too) but told as if it were a 1950’s teen monster movie refilmed through a 1970’s doom-laden lens. Its script comes from Jack Fowler, who is really J.D. Feigelson, writer of Wes Craven’s Chiller and Dark Night of the Scarecrow.
The film — also known as The Twisted Brain — was shot in Texas and released by Crown International in March of 1974 to the drive-in circuit. It really picked up its cult cache thanks to frequent TV airings. Code Red put out an uncut version on blu-ray in 2009, following a Rhino release of the TV version of the film. They’re both rather hard to get now, but worth seeking out. I found myself really liking this film, despite its budget and relative silliness at times.
Want to learn more? The new issue of Drive-In Asylum has an interview with director Larry Stouffer and some artwork from me that you can see here!
DAY. 20: HINDSIGHT IS 20/20: This one’s gotta have flashbacks in it (since looking ahead doesn’t seem to be working amirite?).
Don’t Look Now is the kind of movie that people should talk about in the same hushed tone that they reserve for The Exorcist and The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and they don’t. That makes no sense to me, so perhaps these words will do something to change that.
Compared to Performance, director Nicolas Roeg’s directorial debut (he co-directed with Donald Cammell), this is a simple film. Compare it to anything else and it’s as complex as it gets. Roeg had already contributed to the horror genre with his director of photography work on The Masque of the Red Death, but this rumination on loss stands apart, using the genre itself to try and make sense out of the senseless.
In the same way that the giallo plays with themes of misinterpretation and mistaken identity often when it comes to sexual identity, this movie does the same when it comes to trying to get through the grief of losing a child and perhaps a marriage.
It’s also a deconstruction of how we perceive time through the lens of film. Instead of just flashbacks, this movie is filled with a fluid sense of time, in that we experience the past, present and the future almost simultaneously, as if we were Jon Osterman becoming the ubermensch Dr. Manhattan.
Real-life couple Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner (ironic, as this movie concerns a drowning death) were suggested for the leads of Laura and John Baxter, but Roeg only saw Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in his film. Sutherland was worried that the film gave a bad name to ESP, but Roeg told him this was the story they were telling.
John and Laura have come to Venice after the death of their daughter Christine in a drowning accident. While working to restore an ancient church, he meets two sisters. One of them, Heather (Hilary Mason, I Don’t Want to Be Born), is a psychic and she reveals that a great danger is coming for John. This danger — in all ways that we see time in the film — hangs as heavy as the death of his daughter, who the psychic reveals that she can see around the couple.
That night, before dinner, John and Laura finally make love after a long period of coolness, as she is relieved that her daughter seems to be at peace. This moment — the love scene is intercut with them getting ready for dinner afterward — plays with our notions of time, making this entire scene feel like a dream. It could also very well be an actual sex scene, as it was rumored for years that the acting couple was really having sex, to the consternation of Christie’s boyfriend Warren Beatty, who was usually the one doing the cucking.
At dinner, the couple is briefly separated and John sees what he believes to be his daughter. This image of her in the red coat she died in dominates the movie, luring him into more foreign places and deeper dangers. As their son is injured at boarding school, Laura must return home. Despite this, John sees her as part of a canal funeral procession. And oh yes — there’s also a serial killer on the loose.
I know that I often discuss the spoilers of films that are half a century old here, but in the hopes that you haven’t seen this film, I want you to enjoy the mystery that it presents for yourself. Roeg emerges as a consummate filmmaker here and this English giallo shot in Venice deserves so many more words than it has received.
If you don’t already own this — and you should — it’s on Amazon Prime.
If there’s one thing I love — this site is really about the many things I love, but indulge me — it’s movies with girl gangs up against horrible odds. The Japanese sukeban genre — delinquent girl — isn’t just up my alley. It’s the entire city block.
The Akabane 100 Club and the Ikebukuro Cavalry are at war. Yukiko (Emiko Yamauchi, School of the Holy Beast) is fresh out of reform school and decides to live up to her role as the chief bodyguard of the Akabane, deciding it’s time to finish her war with the entire Calvary gang. Yukiko is so far gone that her father urges the police to put her to death.
Imagine, if you will, a female gang movie with music by Japanese Group Sounds band Carol (their lead vocalist and bassist Eikichi Yazawa went solo and recorded the albums Yazawa, It’s Just Rock ‘n Roll and Flash In Japan with members of the Doobie Brothers and Little Feat) and slow motion violence that looks like it was influenced by Peckinpah.
While many use the title Farewell to Rock’n Roll, the actual translation is Ranking Bos Rock.
“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.