Cultish Club: Slipstream (1989)

Greetings Geekly Chums! Welcome to our new feature “Cultish Club”, a look at some of the more quirky, under-the-radar, low budget, unusual, shlocky, underappreciated and sometimes just downright peculiar movies out there. And please join us in a resounding “Welcome!” to the newest member of the WGN Family, James Anthony Tucker, who opens Cultish Cub with a look at 1989’s Slipstream (otherwise known as What Mark Hamill Did After Star Wars or Mad Max With Planes). Over to you James…

The Post-Apocalyptic Butler, the Bounty Hunter, the Babe and the Bozo

There are some weird films that age well, sometimes because they are timeless, sometimes because they are timelessly bizarre.

The voice-over explains that we are in an after-disaster future. The continents were scrambled by earthquakes, and the planet was scoured by a great wind – the Slipstream. We then cut to a desolate landscape where an aeroplane (the distinctive Edgley Optica) is pursuing a fugitive across the blasted moorland… with the running man wearing a pin-stripe suit. When the hunters catch up to him, he quotes poetry at them. This isn’t your usual apocalypse.

This is where you start to spot faces. Some (Mark Hamill) you are likely to recognise instantly. Others are familiar but you might not be able to put a name to them until you look them up (yes, that’s Corporal Hudson from Aliens playing the hero!) Some are “is that really a young… Robbie Coltrane?” At the end, you might be “Ben Kingsley was in it? Where?” The ace in the hole is probably a cameo from revolutionary poet Heathcote Williams. In terms of “good grief look at all these unexpected famous people!” it is probably outscored only by Excalibur (or, more recently, The Mandalorian).

Hamill plays a tough-as-nails, bring-law-to-the-wasteland cop called Tasker, supported by his wiser companion Belitsky (Kitty Aldridge… how I struggled not to have “beautiful” as her primary description!) They are taking the besuited Byron (Bob Peck, Edge of Darkness) in for murder until the hapless chancer Matt (Bill Paxton) decides to snatch the prisoner and claim the bounty himself. There follows a chase across (or rather, over) the devastated world, riding the slipstream from one set of eccentrics to the next in a phantasmagorical Odyssey.

It’s episodic, but in a good way – like the tales we enjoyed as children, with everyone from the crew of the Dawn Treader to Mr Benn having a different adventure in a new place each week/chapter. But arcs are developing towards the denouement: Tasker is bent on bloody-minded enforcement in a world where the letter of the law doesn’t matter any more. Belitsky and Matt dream of building something better, and Matt is changing his mind about his captive. As for Byron… he is an odd murderer. He certainly doesn’t have normal emotions, his calmness and poetry are scary but when he breaks free, his first act is to cure a child using his medical knowledge. Without giving too much away, Byron is the standout character. The truth about the murder is only given once in a throw-away line that nobody but the audience (hopefully) spots. Let’s just say it would be interesting if he met the Terminator.

The film is apparently less violent than was planned, and to me it’s the better for it, making it more a piece of whimsy than aiming for a gritty, down-to-Earth tone that wouldn’t have fit. There are a few moments of sexual politics that have dated badly, but nothing so awful as to make me want to disown it. With the general charm and interest, I can forgive it the implausibilities and occasional plot hole. The film is a gorgeous, entertaining, misfit curiosity.

Join us again for more offbeat fun with Cultish Club! We’re not going to run this feature as regularly as our weekly 80s Movie Challenge pieces because, well, you can’t enforce a deadline on a Cult hit – the magic happens when it happens! But be assured we’ll be back to look at more of those films that make us say “Well that was odd… But I liked it!”

In the meantime, it just remains for us to say a massive “Thank You” to James. Please do pay a visit to his blog, Paladin of Idleness, where he talks about many things including autism, books, movies and all other kinds of interesting bits and bobs in between.

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