Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Blue Sunshine (1976)

Blue Sunshine was for me one of those movies that turns out to be something quite different from what I’d expected. And a lot better than I’d anticipated as well.

For some reason I was expecting a fairly amateurish offering packed with exploitation elements. In fact this is a rather well-crafted horror thriller with no sex and no gore but a good deal of suspense. And some real chills.

A party goes wrong when one of the guests goes completely mad, and in a decidedly murderous way. Three people are left dead and the murderer is himself killed on the highway by a truck. Jerry Zipkin finds himself accused of murdering his friend by throwing him in front of the truck. The most curious thing is that the guy who went crazy (whose name was Frannie Scott) had lost all his hair, and apparently quite suddenly. Rather unusual for a guy aged around 30.

Shortly thereafter Jerry hears of a case of a cop who has butchered his whole family. The cop was about the same age, and had also suffered from unexplained and dramatic hair loss. So far we have an odd coincidence, until one of the women who’d been at the party points out to Jerry that both Frannie and the cop had graduated from Stanford in the same year. When Jerry encounters a couple of other people who had also been at Stanford at the exact same time, and are also experiencing mysterious hair loss problems, he sees a disturbing pattern. A pattern that could potentially cost many more lives.

The stage is now set for a classic double chase movie, with Jerry racing against time to track down the cause of these murderous outbursts while trying to evade the pursuit of the cops. His investigations lead him to suspect that the words Blue Sunshine are crucial, and he’s right. Blue Sunshine was a variety of LSD which apparently had enjoyed a brief vogue at Stanford back in 1967. It seems that Blue Sunshine has some very nasty long-delayed side effects. His investigations also lead him to one-time drug dealer and now aspiring Congressman Ed Flemming.

Writer-director Jeff Lieberman has come up with a nifty little tale of the hangover that followed the Summer of Love, a tale that combines black comedy, suspense, horror and just a dash of political comment. There’s no actual political agenda being pushed here though, it’s more a case of taking a sardonic look at both the hippie culture that produced the Blue Sunshine nightmare and the slick political operators like Flemming that so many former hippies metamorphosed into.

The movie is also quite well acted. Zalman King is quietly intense and obsessive as Jerry Zipkin, his underplaying of the role making the character’s intensity more convincing. Mark Goddard is best-known for his role as Major Don West in the Lost in Space. As Ed Flemming he does the smooth political operator thing surprisingly well, and also wisely underplays his role. Flemming’s blandness is the creepiest thing about him. He’s very much a TV politician. It’s a great performance that makes me wonder why Goddard’s career never really went anywhere.

The acting in general is very strong for a low-budget film.

There are some classic horror moments. The scene here Flemming’s ex-wife, another victim of Blue Sunshine, slowly loses it as the children she’s minding start screaming more and more loudly is particularly effective. One of the effects that Blue Sunshine has is extreme noise sensitivity. Along with the shopping mall scene and the climactic department store scene it shows that Lieberman has a sound grasp of the essentials of suspense.

Technically the movie is quite impressive as well, more so than you expect from a low-budget movie such as this. There are some quite nifty camera moves.

The DVD release comes packed with extras including a director’s commentary track and an interview with Jeff Lieberman (who is a very amusing guy). The movie got rave reviews when it came out and created something of a sensation at the Cannes Film Festival but sadly distribution problems meant that it failed to get a proper theatrical release. Lieberman seems to have had similar problems with all his early horror films.

Definitely a DVD worth getting hold of.


Shaun Anderson said...

I think BLUE SUNSHINE is an exceptionally good film - and as you note is virtually devoid of bloodshed, but is no less disturbing as a result...great to see this reviewed!

iain said...

And also worth checking out are Jeff Leiberman's Squirm and his hugely underrated Just Before Dawn.