In a genre known for its storytelling lethargy, credit must to be paid to writer/director Jeff Lieberman, who isn’t the most polished filmmaker around, but he certainly has an affinity for oddball distractions. His movies (Squirm, Just Before Dawn) are clunky but crammed with low budget promise, and 1978’s Blue Sunshine is no exception. A semi-coherent journey in the rainbow heart of acid ingestion and fugitive blues, the picture is a delightfully baffling concoction, lost on its own groovy trip of horror and paranoia, a place where exposition is light but death by baldness is certain.
A mild-mannered guy, Jerry Zipkin (Zalman King) finds his life turned upside down after witnessing his friend murder a group of innocent women, only to find himself accused of the crimes. Now on the run, Jerry is searching for an explanation for his pal’s raging behavior, stumbling upon clues of hair loss, Stanford diplomas, and steady psychosis, connected to a demonic dose of acid called Blue Sunshine. Gradually comprehending the widespread effect of the drug, Jerry enlists girlfriend Alicia (Deborah Winters) to help investigate, tracing the pattern of murders and freak-outs back to a popular politician (Mark Flemming) on the campaign trail.
The fantastic thing about Blue Sunshine is that it’s not some grungy, low-wattage chiller hanging on numbing shock value to entertain the masses. Instead, Lieberman scripts up something displaying a little restraint, turning the wrath of bald madmen into a tasteful thriller of sorts, highlighting Jerry’s clumsy attempts at detecting and evading. The majority of the movie is devoted to the wanted man gathering critical clues, trying desperately to understand what’s behind the sudden rash of murderous behavior. The investigative aspects of Blue Sunshine are actually semi-compelling, resembling a crisp television production from the 1970s (even including a cameo by Alice Ghostley), keeping tensions brightly lit and emphatically performed. Not that the central mystery behind the drug makes a whole heap of sense, but the director sells the rising anxiety with confidence, pulling the viewer into this odd world of emotional outbursts and heated interrogation.
Moving over to the scary stuff, Blue Sunshine loses most of its impact, despite an intriguing set-up that surveys several characters dealing with traumatic hair loss and suspicious full moon behavior. The LSD-soaked suspense doesn’t quite carry the punch Lieberman is aiming for, focusing on zombified, receding ghouls with blue faces stomping around, pounding on anything in their field of vision. It’s here where Blue Sunshine dives into camp mode, losing tension the more Lieberman stays tight on questionable make-up work and dated locations. Maybe a disco located inside a shopping mall represented the pinnacle of terror arenas in 1978, but it comes across a little silly today. Incredibly awesome as a time capsule of suburban adult recreation, but not exactly an arresting backdrop to a climatic showdown featuring Jerry and a hulked-out acid eater. King’s stiff performance in the lead role also dilutes the suspense, spastic in all the wrong ways (he’s always yelling too). He would go on to launch an impressive directorial career in the world of erotic entertainment, but here in Blue Sunshine, he’s uncharacteristically flaccid.
The anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation is adequate for a movie of this nature, resembling something pulled from a variety of film and video sources, creating an expectedly erratic viewing event. The print looks a little faded, leaving most colors without any punch, while also showing signs of flicker and damage. Despite many faults, what’s here is satisfactory, looking crisp and communicative, permitting a reasonable observation of the macabre details.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is surprisingly strong for such a cult item, creating a pronounced frontal force that gives the film a rich sonic life. Dialogue is always clean and available, forcefully assuming command when it comes time for character interactions. Scoring is also robust, generating a smooth mood of suspense, never clouding the aural elements. It’s a blunt track, but highly effective.
There are no subtitles included.
Interview with Jeff Lieberman (40:42) sits down with the filmmaker, questioning him about the genesis of the project, how the feature affected his career, creative challenges, and his feelings about the entire experience. Numerous anecdotes are shared with enthusiasm, permitting Lieberman an opportunity to talk extensively about his creation. The conversation doesn’t probe too deeply, but it’s informative, helping to comprehend what exactly Blue Sunshine is about.
A Photo Gallery (1:10) is also offered.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
Even when it’s clear Blue Sunshine isn’t hitting its storytelling goals, it remains an appealing distraction. The picture is an unsolvable puzzle, but one that sustains a weirdo energy, rubbing ‘70’s leisure pursuits and political paranoia with the remnants of the counterculture movement, hoping to sound some type of warning siren on the evils of drug abuse and perhaps baldness. Who knows. Blue Sunshine doesn’t have to make a whole lot of sense to remain an agreeable freak show.