Blue Sunshine (1978)
By: Michael Helms on August 15, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Siren Visual Entertainment (Australia). Region 1, NTSC. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English 1.0. 96 Minutes
The Movie
Director: Jeff Lieberman
Starring: Zalman King, Deborah Winters, Mark Goddard, Robert Walden, Charles Siebert, Ann Cooper, Brion James,Alice Ghostley
Screenplay: Jeff Lieberman
Country: USA
A full moon sits in the sky as an eerie and hypnotic xylophone-like rhythm with synthesizers kicks in. The camera pans down to a busy hospital scenario where a weary doctor attends to a sickly patient who tells him he doesn't look well. Back up to the moon for more riff and credits. Cut to an apartment where a woman is reading a story to two young children. When the young girl pulls at the woman's hair a large chunk falls out, visibly distressing the storyteller. Up to the moon again before coming back down to another apartment situation where a man and woman are chatting as the woman takes time out to yell at a child. Another man enters and just stands in the doorway staring listlessly as a Macaw jumps on his shoulder. Back up to the moon again for the main title.

So begins Blue Sunshine, cleverly introducing unease and tension between its characters before going for the jugular which it's entirely capable of doing and indeed does in the opening scene proper.

At a party Brion James sits in a corner preparing to unleash an impersonation of flying Japanese monster Rodan that seriously pisses off at least one guest. All attention is soon directed towards Billy Crystal's brother Richard as he launches his own imitation of a pop culture icon, Frank Sinatra. Going too far himself by holding another guy's gal a little too closely, he's soon sent packing when the offended partner accidentally lifts his wig revealing an almost bald pate covered in just a few wispy locks. A car load of guys goes out looking for him taking Jerry (Zalman King) Zipkin's slightly pissed girlfriend (Deborah Winters) with them as the enigmatic Zipkin decides to mount his own search on foot. Three gals are still in the house when the maniacal Crystal returns immediately throwing one in the fire, knocking down another with a pitch fork and simply punching out the third before also loading the latter two in the fireplace. Hearing screams Zipkin hurriedly returns to meet the maniac who chases him out onto the street. Zipkin pushes baldy under a truck but runs off earning the ire of one of the truckers who chases after him with a gun and wounds him. Zipkin jumps in a car and drives off.

Back at the house a crime scene has been declared and an investigating cop decides to go after Zipkin after talking to Deborah Winters. As the prime suspect Zippy wisely goes on the run but not before seeking medical care from his old buddy who's now a general surgeon with his own practice. Zippy notices his old pal's headaches. Back at the apartment building the babysitter complains to her friend from across the hall about her own headaches and sudden hair loss. Although divorced from him she's also still in love with her ex, political hopeful Ed Flemming, played by Mark Godard, who's campaign for Congress is all pervasive.

Blue Sunshine then becomes a detective story as Zippy breaks into a house whose murders we don't see but hear as he freaks out and notices links between several characters. At the same time he attempts to keep one step ahead of the cops and retain contact with his gal and MD pal. Discovering that all of the bald maniacs had scored doses of acid named Blue Sunshine ten years previously Zipkin attempts to round up all other participants. In an awkward scene at the apartment of Flemming's ex she kicks out Zippy but on an inkling he returns just as she's flipped her wig, downed a mouthful of aspirin (literally) and taken a knife to the kids. A date Deborah Winters sets up with Mulligan, Flemming's campaign manager, prompts a finale that echoes Dawn of the Dead as the former quarterback cuts loose in Big Daddy's Discotheque before chasing Zippy around the near deserted shopping centre. Two bogus slides discussing the retroactive effects of Blue Sunshine that were taken seriously by an American newspaper at the time, end the film on a downbeat note with no real winners.
With no negative to work from (either lost or destroyed) this is a digitally restored version of the best available print. The finished product still shows some minor wear and tear but presents it in a far superior manner to the early 80s K-Tel video tape release. The use of natural lighting on the various locations (no studio work for Blue Sunshine) ups the grain content but never makes it unwatchable.
You get the choice of hearing Blue Sunshine with it's original mono mix or a 5.1 surround remix that superbly re-presents the work of Charles Gross like you've never heard it. The way his synth sounds snake in and out scenes is as intruiging, hypnotic and scarifying as the haunting Blue Sunshine signature.
Extra Features
A director commentary where Jeff Lieberman is joined by a voice that often runs over the top of him and as identified in the credits may belong to either Scooter McCrae, Howard Berger or Edwin Samuelson. The actual commentary almost suffers too from Lieberman's cynicism and constant self criticism, continually pointing out faults otherwise hidden to the naked eye. Some laughs are too be gained from it though as are many general revelations about the production. Overall it's a highly instructive piece of work in itself. There's also a trailer which shows what a hard sell this film was in the first place, a stills gallery, and a 30 minute recent interview with the talkative Lieberman that takes you right through his career up until the present day, barely repeating anything from the commentary. There are no liner notes as mentioned on the slick though. Most interesting is the corporate sponsored short, The Ringer, made by Lieberman to gain a foothold in filmmaking. A tripped out and very groovy educational film from the early 70s, The Ringer has to be seen to be believed. What a strange artifact!
The Verdict
For me, Blue Sunshine is that rare film that I have no problem attaching the word classic to the title. Blue Sunshine represents the realisation of so many possibilities of the modern horror film in a way that only Cronenberg could manage to do at the time (and very few people have managed to do since). It might be superficially trapped in the 70s (in only a fashion sense) but it's got everything from sustained mood, intense acting, explosions of violence, deception on all levels, insanity, pop culture iconography, great sounds and music, and recreational drug use, even if it's only a retroactive sense. You're doing yourself a severe disservice by not renting/buying/eyeballing this superb packaging of this classic today.
Movie Score
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