Horror/Drug Movie/Political Satire... You name it.
Trivia Zalmon King went on to direct a shit load of soft-core porn.
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Blue Sunshine (1976)
19th Mar 04
Our tale begins with Jerry Zipkin (Zalmon King) attending a gentle get together of old friends at a house out of town. Whether these people are in lucrative careers, or are in successful relationships, is unimportant. What is relevant is that they all seem very happy to see each other and have obviously been friends for quite a long time. The mood of the party is, however, soon to change drastically.
In the middle of an impromptu Frank Sinatra number, Frannie (Richard Crystal, Billy Crystalís brother no less) accidentally has his hairpiece whisked off revealing his unappealing baldness. Incensed, Frannie goes ballistic, launching into a wild and violent outburst that ends with three party members dead; one killed by being stuffed alive into a fireplace. Horrified by what heís just witnessed, Jerry attempts to subdue Frannie but the subsequent scuffle spills out into the street where Frannie eventually ends up being cleared up by a passing truck.
This leaves Jerry in a tight spot since heís now the only survivor of a rather unusual massacre. In perhaps a nod to one of Hitchcockís favoured plot devices, Jerry is immediately blamed for the murders. Choosing not to face the authorities, he goes on the run intent on discovering the cause behind his old friendís sudden slide into madness. Frannie is not alone it seems as a handful of similar hair loss homicides have been reported around town. With a bit of inspired detective work, Jerry soon discovers a trail that leads him to the truth and a chilling conclusion right at the feet of a senatorial candidate running for congress.
Blue Sunshine is a rarity amongst low budget features in the sense that it stubbornly refuses to accept any kind of simple categorisation. After delighting drive-in moviegoers everywhere with the worm-infested monster flick Squirm, Jeff Lieberman chose to follow that success with a movie which is assembled from ideas borrowed from many unlikely sources. Straight horror, satirical drug movies, the 60s counterculture movement, paranoid urban legends and even post-Watergate conspiracy theories; Blue Sunshine touches upon them all. But despite all that, Blue Sunshine is more fondly remembered for itís bald, thirty-something, ex-hippie murderers who are easily the most bizarre descendants of the living dead yet to reach the silver screen.
The title of this movie is taken from the name of a bad batch of 60s acid that seems to have some rather unfortunate long-term side effects. These kick in a decade later, manifesting themselves gradually at first with only a slight sensitivity to loud noise and a bit of hair loss. However, the effects soon magnify out of control. With their biological make-up terminally unbalanced the unfortunate victims soon turn from respectable members of society into raging homicidal maniacs. The uncontrollable and irreversible nature of this transformation is horrifying to say the least; it appears no one who took the accursed drug is safe from the repercussions.
And letís be frank here; the implications of such a disturbing yet wild premise are bound to set even the most unimaginative of minds racing.
But in many ways, the movie Blue Sunshine is simply a product of its time. In America, the 60s saw an explosion of youthful idealism, but the advent of events such as the Vietnam War and Watergate soon saw an end to that. As the 60s counterculture dissolved back into the capitalist reality of the 70s there must have been a sense of failure amongst the flower power generation. That concept is strongly implied here. Ultimately, Blue Sunshine feels like an analogy for the problems a society encounters when it faces the consequences of itís own actions.
With that in mind, it should come as no surprise for you to find out that itís only respectable representatives of authority who are going insane from the effects of the aforementioned drug. In the end a policeman, a babysitter and even a politician have to individually accept their horrible fates. This touch of satirical irony was a wise move on Liebermanís part as it allowed him to stretch the traditional boundaries of taste one would expect from a movie of this time. A policeman killing his wife is sad but nothing to write home about, but to see a babysitter loose it and attempt to kill two children in her care is quite disturbing. Even more so, Iíve never before seen anyone stuffed alive into a fireplace and I doubt I will ever again.
Blue Sunshineís well-developed sense of irony is also apparent again later on in one of its most memorable scenes. Lieberman chose a discotheque to be the unlikely setting for one bald maniacís rampage (they donít like loud noise, you see) followed shortly after by a jaunt through a shopping mall. Itís worth noting as well that Blue Sunshine predates Dawn of the Dead by over two years, suggesting Romero wasnít the only one who thought consumerism was a subject ripe for satirising.
But like most low-budget efforts, Blue Sunshine does have its shortcomings.
For a start, I struggled to sympathise with Zalmon Kingís overly twitchy hero and itís no surprise that he only starred in a couple of movies before moving behind the camera. There he was much more successful, going on to direct a string of soft porn Ďclassicsí such as the Red Shoe Diaries, Two Moon Junction and Wild Orchid.
Also, and as I stated before, Blue Sunshine is clearly a product of itís time. Shooting badly lit, bland scenes with overly wide lenses was popular in the 70s, as was using experimental music to provide the score and Lieberman was suckered into both. The result instantly dates the movie more than it deserves. It is however not too much of a burden since thankfully Lieberman is a much better screenwriter than he is a director and the strength of his script tends to make up for his failings as a filmmaker.
Iím sure that with more time and money this movie could have been much more polished and the intricacies of the screenplay explored more thoroughly, but what we do have is well worth a look all the same. The conspicuous lack of gore and nudity may deter some viewers, especially those of you who prefer the tits and ass Slasher flicks of the early 80s. But given some time and a little thought, you might just find that Blue Sunshine rewards your patience by delivering a movie that is both satisfying and thought provoking. Either way itís certainly a movie thatís hard to forget in a hurry and I urge you to give it the same chance I did.
8th Jun 04 The film opens with a very similar voiceover narration to the original (see Trivia) but with different footage as we tour the furnace room, all fingernail scratches and blood-clotted hair, of the Hewitt residence.