Friday, 8 April 2011

AFED #98: Blue Sunshine (US, 1978); Dir. Jeff Lieberman

Every now and again I'll hear of a hitherto unknown film that sounds so fascinating that I feel compelled to see it as soon as possible. Although Blue Sunshine only received a cursory reference in a passage about drug-related exploitation movies in Jonathan Ross's The Incredibly Strange Film Book I wasted no time in ordering a copy.

And it's a great idea: years after they've graduated a number of college kids begin experiencing some unusual side effects from a type of LSD called Blue Sunshine. It opens with a series of cryptic vignettes of various characters who have been either behaving strangely or experiencing hair loss. The story then begins in earnest with a party in which one of the guest's, apparently perfectly normal, suddenly loses all his hair (it pulls away like a wig) and runs off into the night like a maniac. A short while later he returns on a mindless rampage, killing anybody who crosses his path.

In classic thriller style one of the other guests, the twitchy Jerry Zipkin (Zalman King), is suspected of the crimes and finds himself on the run. When Jerry learns of another very similar incident in which a cop has killed his family, he embarks on a search for answers. His investigation leads him in the direction of rising politician Edward Flemming (Mark Goddard), who as a Stamford undergraduate a decade earlier had been dealing the aforesaid Blue Sunshine.


Blue Sunshine is very much a product of that particular epoch; it explores the phenomena of sixties kids getting older, putting aside youthful indiscretions, settling into professional lives and confronting the anxieties we all have about aging. But it also resonates strongly with the general tone of paranoia that featured so prominently in seventies cinema. No explanation is attempted as to why Blue Sunshine causes such dramatic acid flashbacks, but I was half expecting for it to be revealed as a clandestine government experiment or the like.

Zalman King gives an unusual but very effective performance in the lead role; oddly distracted and nervous. Although never indicated as such, his peculiar manner almost appears to suggest he may have partaken of Blue Sunshine himself, giving the story an almost D.O.A.-style urgency. Indeed, one of the clever aspects of the story is how, like Romero's The Crazies, we're never quite sure whether the behaviour of certain characters is normal or a consequence of encroaching psychosis.

For all that I was a little disappointed with the film. Writer/director Jeff Lieberman only sporadically achieves the necessary degree of tension and certain key scenes, including the conclusion, fall a little flat. Perhaps my expectations were too high, as others have expressed their liking for it, but it felt like a missed opportunity. It's surprising this one hasn't been picked up for a remake yet.

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