A man appears to lose his mind (along with his hair) and goes on a mad killing spree. When Jerry Zipkin (Zalman King), a young man in his 30s, is wrongly accused of being the murderer, he sets out to do his own investigation while eluding police.
‘Blue Sunshine’ is an easy movie to watch. The plot is translucent, and the acting has the popcorn depth of a made-for-TV-movie. A man appears to lose his mind (along with his hair) and goes on a mad killing spree. When Jerry Zipkin (Zalman King), a young man in his 30s, is wrongly accused of being the murderer, he sets out to do his own investigation while eluding police. He discovers that even more people have wigged out in the same manner as his friend (losing mind & hair) and with the help of his girlfriend, he starts to connect the dots. All of the recently deceased were given a bad batch of acid called ‘Blue Sunshine’ by a man named Ed Flemmings (Mark Goddard) while they all attended Stanford University exactly a decade ago. And of course, Zipkin and girlfriend later find out that Ed Flemmings is a powerful man currently running for Congress.
The supporting cast might as well have been recruited from a Hallmark Sunday night movie from the 70s, but the main actor Zalman King is… a diamond in the rough. There is something innately uncomfortable and oversexed about his performance. Perhaps it’s his long, lingering stares or the way he seems to intrude on the personal bubble of every person with which he has a scene. Or maybe it’s the movies that Zalman has since been involved with, directing soft core like ‘Wild Orchid’ (1990), ‘Two Moon Junction’ (1988) and several eppies of ‘Red Shoe Diaries’ (1992-1999). There’s just something about Zalman. I’ve never felt more uneasy about a guy who mostly keeps his hands in his pockets. Knowing the movies he later became involved with, his hand-in-pocket takes on a whole new meaning. I love every minute of it.
My one complaint is the giant logic failure at the beginning of the film when Frannie (Richard Crystal, the Night of the Dead-looking bald maniac who likes to bite) is assumed by the truck drivers to be the victim, while the geeky, reticent Zipkin who is wearing a freakin holiday reindeer sweater is assumed to be the bad guy. Uh, ‘kay. But, logic fails like this are easy to dismiss when one is distracted by awesome death scenes like a woman getting stuffed into a fireplace. I also enjoy the uneasy flashback of my own when Zipkin (or “Zippie”, as his friends call him) visits O’Malley’s (Adriana Shaw) neighborhood – which I later discovered to be the same neighborhood used for ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984). My favorite scene is watching the heartbreaking expression on a random junkie’s face when he realizes that Zippie is running off with his money. With the plot on auto-pilot, it was also easy to daydream about how David Blume (Robert Walden, Zippie’s doctor friend) sounds just like poet Jim Carroll… who had a well-documented drug problem of his own. Or when Susan wildly wields a knife as the neighbor’s children shout “We want Dr. Pepper! We want Dr. Pepper!”. Incidentally, Dr. Pepper was created by pharmacist in Waco, TX and is highly addictive (well, to me anyway). It’s all connected, man.
The movie gets a thumbs-up since quirky Lieberman directs. You know you are entering Lieberman’s world when the very movie title is spoken by his parrot. I imagine that Lieberman had a checklist for his 70s style movie, things that were popular at the time. For example, random car chase? Check. Discothèque? Check. Conspiracy theory? Check. Obligatory ‘This movie is based on true events’ disclaimer at the end of the film? Check. Years of specialized coaching from a dedicated guide, à la ‘Karate Kid’? (Or, in the case of this movie, an awkward yet comical 5 minute pointer from the gun shop seller to Zippie, culminating into a later scene of precise and life-saving use?) Check.
I am a fan of Lieberman - adore ‘Squirm’ (1976) and the unsettling, unique feel of ‘Satan’s Little Helper’ (2004) – but I feel that he should have taken advantage of showing the effects of LSD flashbacks that the characters were experiencing. Doing so would have made the film much more visually interesting, i.e. walls breathing, objects tracing through the air, intense and vibrant colors). Of course, the most visceral part of the story is probably much cheaper to film. It comes from the symptoms that the mass murderers exhibit before breaking into a killing spree. First of all, they instantly lose all of their hair, and their pupils dilate. This alopecia totalis is effectively creepy, but at other times it’s completely laughable. For example, in the scene when Frannie loses his hair, his buddy gently lifts up his head by his hair and whisk!, the whole hair comes off in one piece. A close up of Frannie’s shark eyes also reveal that his eyebrows have disappeared as well. And then, you just see a blur of baldness, which is reminiscent of the first shot of the film – that of the full moon. The smooth shape of the natural satellite is ingeniously echoed throughout the film; for example, in the mall with the bald head mannequins. Losing hair is also used as a clever device. As I imagine most movie watchers experience, hair loss is a natural part of life. In fact, people on average lose from 50 to 100 hairs a day (reasons, as Lieberman’s characters point out, are mainly because of washing too much, lack of sex, and stress from divorce). Lieberman’s ‘Blue Sunshine’ connects the day-to-day hair loss with the fantastic explanation that losing hair is a symptom of an inevitable acid-induced family killing spree. Lieberman has expertly planted a seed of fear in the audience, especially in the husbands who are recruited to unclog the drain after their wives wash their hair.
When this film was released in 1978, no one really knew the long term effects of LSD, so hair loss was a viable choice. Nearly 10 years after the drug revolution in the late 60s, I can just imagine this film having been more powerful in evoking a response from those that dabbled in psychedelic drugs than by horror film audience. What Lieberman was saying in essence was, “for those of us who used drugs to turn on, tune in and drop out, who knows what will happen… are we ticking human time bombs?”. ‘Blue Sunshine’ is a little more than a simple, schlocky horror film. The movie is a comment on trusting what we put into our bodies, the gamble and harm we are doing to ourselves in the long run, and the trust we put into the government to think they are failsafe in protecting us.
This message could still resonate in our present age, but the film itself teters less into a PSA and more into the realm of science fiction. In every way, though, ‘Blue Sunshine’ is comparable to ‘Reefer Madness’ (1936), and might have had the potential in the 70s to be used as propaganda by the War on Drug advocates pushing fear on parents and teachers. Now, years and years later, ‘Blue Sunshine’ has gone the way of ‘Reefer Madness’ to become curious background fodder that the kids put on while doing the very drug it warns against. In the 30s, ‘Reefer Madness’ proposed that marijuana was going to destroy the children and corrupt the youth by making them laughing bat shit crazies. LSD, as it turns out, does not have long-term effects either and is said to be completely harmless, other than intense yet temporary hallucinations an hour after ingesting it. Hell, in 1970, Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter while tripping balls. Francis Crick discovered the double helix of DNA while riding Lucy. Unlike ‘Reefer Madness’, though, I’m guessing that watching ‘Blue Sunshine’ might not be the most positive experience for people while dropping acid. The bald rage, crazy shark eyes, sharp nails against the chalkboard film score, and creepy, awkward stylings of the great Zalman King are conducive for a bad trip. Man.
Running time: 90 mins
Audio: English, Dolby 5.1 & Dolby Stereo
Aspect ratio: 4/3 letterboxed (1.78)
Audio commentary by Jeff Lieberman
Short film ‘The Ringer’ (19 mins), optional audio commentary
Interview ‘Lieberman on Lieberman’ (30 mins)
Original theatrical trailer & alternative trailer
Trailers Mr. Horror Presents (The unknown, Possessed & Frostbite)
Booklet (4 pages) with liner notes, pictures & terror trivia
‘The Ringer’ short film is an interesting piece of work. As a writer/director it’s Lieberman‘s first professional effort. It was meant to be an educational work of fiction for a drug prevention program. Lieberman approached the material quite differently than what was the norm for such films back in those days. Parallels from the criminal world of drugs are being drawn towards the music & gadget industry, all having one aspect in common: proper marketing. At the end of the film, Lieberman makes all three storylines come together with a shocking moral to them. A worthwhile short, to be watched with or without Lieberman‘s interesting audio commentary.
‘Lieberman on Lieberman’ is a solid 30-minutes interview. Lieberman talks about how he got into filmmaking. Films like ‘Squirm’, ‘Blue Sunshine’, ‘Just Before Dawn’ and ‘Remote Control’ are being discussed, along with various other projects Lieberman was involved with over the years. Lots of facts, trivia & funny anecdotes are being included. (GV)
Trailer on YouTube.