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Blue Sunshine

Blue Sunshine(1979)

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"Did you ever hear the words "Blue Sunshine"? Try to remember....your life may depend on it." The tag line from the ad campaign for Blue Sunshine (1976) reads like a public service announcement. In fact, the film's theatrical poster looks like an official FDA warning label as rendered by Andy Warhol in bold shades of blue and white. Yet, beneath this cautionary facade is both a twisted thriller and a wicked black comedy that shows the belated damage caused by sixties hedonism and liberal experimentation. What would happen if a drug you took during your college days had severe side effects that didn't show up for a decade? We're talking about major hair fallout, head splitting migraines, and an uncontrollable impulse to kill, kill, kill. That's the fate that's in store for those who took the drug, "Blue Sunshine" (a fictitious form of acid - we hope!). Writer and director Jeff Lieberman's clever premise is presented as a detective thriller with Zalman King playing a suspect in a bizarre triple homicide (one of the more disturbing scenes in the film). In his attempts to clear himself, he sets out to find the possible cause for the killings and discovers that it links back to several former students from his university days, most of whom have been inconspicuously assimilated into corporate culture. One is now a doctor (Robert Walden), who suffers from severe headaches, another is an aspiring politician (Mark Goddard), who used to be the campus pusher. One suspect flips her wig - literally - and goes after the kids she's supposed to be babysitting with a carving knife. Without spoiling anything, I'll just say that the madness culminates in an antiseptic looking shopping mall among some department store mannequins.

Blue Sunshine - now available in a deluxe two-disk DVD edition from Synapse Films - was poorly distributed in the U.S. during its initial release and never reached the audience that would have appreciated it. But it was well received by critics in England and France and developed a large cult following there. Certainly the film is superior to most exploitation films of its era - from its cinematography to the eerie music score - but it also has a few problems, the main one being Zalman King's performance, which alternates between total passivity and complete hysteria. He's had a much more successful career as a director and producer (Red Shoe Diaries [1992], Two Moon Junction [1988]) but here he's a loose cannon, never responding to the situation at hand in any "normal" manner. Cases in point: his response when he views the burning remains of some murder victims in a fireplace. Or his behavior when he witnesses a man hit by a truck - he flees the scene of the accident! In some ways, though, his unsympathetic portrayal of the so-called hero in Blue Sunshine is almost refreshing for its unconventional approach.

The Synapse Films double DVD is a real treat for fans of this film. It includes a highly entertaining 30 minute interview with Jeff Lieberman (who also directed the cult horror films, Squirm [1976] and Just Before Dawn [1981]) plus his own running commentary on the film where he reveals that the movie originally was set in New York City, not Los Angeles, and was supposed to include flashbacks to the sixties. Other disk extras include the original trailer, a still gallery, and Lieberman's anti-drug film short, The Ringer, a wild parody of "classroom scare films" which features middle-aged businessmen posing as pushers while clearly blaming greedy corporations for America's drug problems. The second disk includes the never-before-released original soundtrack.

Synapse Films is to be commended for lavishing such care and attention on some of the more obscure exploitation films of the sixties (Beast From Haunted Cave, 1959), seventies (Flavia the Heretic, 1974) and eighties (Brain Damage, 1988). While it's wonderful to have a company like Criterion preserving cinematic treasures like Trouble in Paradise (1932) and Nights of Cabiria (1957) for future generations, it's just as inspirational to see a company like Synapse bringing back some of our favorite guilty and not-so-guilty pleasures in newly remastered and digitally remixed editions. For more information about Blue Sunshine, visit SYNAPSE FILMS. To purchase a copy of Blue Sunshine, visit TCM Shopping.

by Jeff Stafford