Wednesday, October 12, 2011

31 Flavors of Horror #12: Blue Sunshine

A deeply WTF, seventies time capsule reviewed for DVD Snapshot. This entry in the 31 Flavors of Horror is not the tastiest, but I definitely enjoyed it. You may find that a bald, 70's LSD-fueled maniac is YOUR Halloween costume of choice. I rewatched Jeff Lieberman's Squirm recently and, while it terrified me when I saw it on the USA Network as a kid, it didn't pack quite the same punch now. Still a lot of fun, though!

Blue Sunshine: For the "This is your hairline on drugs" campaign?

31 Flavors of Horror #12:
Blue Sunshine  

Official Synopsis:
The classic cult horror film, from acclaimed writer/director Jeff Lieberman, is a masterpiece of psychological suspense and terror.

At a party, someone goes insane and murders three women. Falsely accused of the brutal killings, Jerry (Red Shoe Diaries' Zalman King) is on the run. More bizarre killings continue with alarming frequency all over town. Trying to clear his name, Jerry discovers the shocking truth... people are losing their hair and turning into violent psychopaths and the connection may be a drug all the murderers took a decade before. Soon, if Jerry can't stop it, the horror will become uncontrollable... the horror caused by Blue Sunshine!

Our Take:
Jerry Zipkin has a problem. A nice guy, he sticks around at a party to try and find an upset friend and winds up the number one suspect in multiple murders after the real culprit winds up hit by a truck. It's a pretty stirring set up to Blue Sunshine, a story seemingly about LSD paranoia in a cocaine age.
Zipkin (played by Zalman King) investigates a string of random massacres committed by murderers suddenly driven bald and crazy. The trail leads him to Ed Flemming, the sort of clearly crooked politician whose denials prove he knows everything, and to experiments conducted ten years prior at Stanford. Meanwhile, Flemming's ex Wendy is a housewife slowing going mad, ready and willing to chase her babysitting charges around with a butcher knife. (Scenes that can't hide the children are being directed like it's a game.)

These unstoppable, balding crazies with bulging eyes don't like stress or loud noises, and they're an off-putting sight. From this set up, things get weird in an oddly compelling, low-budget thriller from Jeff Leiberman. Blue Sunshine is just as individual his other best known films, Just Before Dawn and Squirm.

Brion James, Alice Ghostley (Designing Women), Mark Goddard (Lost In Space), and Robert Walden (Lou Grant) show up in supporting roles, but leading man Zalman King is pretty over-the-top. Most are only familiar with King as the man who either established or ruined sexual aesthetics for the last twenty five years of pay cable subscribers with the Red Shoe Diaries, Two Moon Junction, and the Wild Orchid films, but he'd had a long career as a TV actor in the sixties and seventies. Deborah Winters, in the girlfriend role, isn't given much to do, but compared to King's blowups and breakdowns, she's a study in restraint. Meanwhile, Ann Cooper's Wendy is all rolling eyes and shameless mugging for the camera.

(Also, for a movie featuring so much baldness, King has a magnificent head of hair... which is as dated as everything else in Blue Sunshine. Setting a scene in a disco in a shopping mall practically made this a period piece from the day it came out. That's reinforced by the mall's enthralling puppet show and general aura of wood paneling and polyester.)

Blue Sunshine opens with on a few vignettes to establish a few people who just aren't doing that hot. They're headachy and tense. Are they freaking out because of a time-bomb of a drug in their system or simply because they're ten years out of college with looming mid-life and career crises coupled with the tenor of the times? Or, as we can all relate to: Is she going to stab those kids because of a flashback, or because the little brats won't stop jumping on the couch and shouting for ice cream?

Special Features:
This is a fairly no-frills presentation of Blue Sunshine. In Dolby 2.0 Stereo it's widescreen, but doesn't look remastered or in any way cleaned up. The only extras are a photo gallery and a 41 minute sprawling interview with Jeff Leiberman telling stories about his career.

Blue Sunshine is a confusing and tense (though very dated) piece of drug culture paranoia. It sets up a dread that runs through the whole film and makes up for it's deficiencies (and weak ending).

Best for Jeff Leiberman fans, genre cinema enthusiasts, casualties of the seventies, ex-babysitters with axes to grind, and those who thought the “This is your brain on drugs” campaign was too subtle.

Overall Picture:
Movie: C+
Extras: C-

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