To kick off this year’s Fantasia Midnights program Synapse Films premiered their restoration of writer/director Jeff Lieberman’s (Just Before Dawn, Satan’s Little Helper) cult favorite Blue Sunshine. The 1977 film about former hippies suffering from homicidal acid flashbacks will be getting a 4K release at an undisclosed future date, and the image quality is noticeably better than on my DVD. But, what about the actual film? Glad you asked…
The film begins at a party where one of the guests (Brion James, Blade Runner, The Fifth Element) is doing an impersonation of Rodan. “The artist?” asks one of the guests. “No, the monster” But a real monster is about to show up as Frannie (Richard Crystal, Amityville Horror: The Evil Escapes, Fun with Dick and Jane) loses his wig and his mind and begins shoving guests into the fireplace.
Jerry (Zalman King, Trip with the Teacher, Galaxy of Terror) narrowly avoids becoming his next victim and ends up throwing him in front of a truck in self-defense. For his trouble, he ends up with a couple of bullets in him as well as the blame for all the killings.
Eventually, we find out the connection between the crimes Jerry is wanted for and several similar ones is that ten years ago the killers, many of them now respectable members of society, all took an extremely potent form of LSD called Blue Sunshine sold by David. Blume (Robert Walden, All the President’s Men, Lou Grant) the doctor who patched Jerry up. One who hasn’t flipped yet is Edward Flemming (Mark Goddard, Lost in Space, Strange Invaders) a politician running for office.
Lieberman sets Blue Sunshine with the structure not of a horror film as much as a Hitchcockian thriller where an innocent man on the run has to prove his innocence while evading the police in the form of Detective Clay (Charles Siebert, Trapper John M.D., Coma) and Lt. Jennings (Stefan Gierasch, Carrie, High Plains Drifter). But that’s far from the only source Blue Sunshine draws from. What could have been a fairly straightforward proto-slasher instead mixes elements from anti-drug films, urban legends, political conspiracy films, and the end of the hippy era.
The result is a film that, like everything Lieberman directed and most of what he wrote, is certainly worth a watch but is lacking the focus of his other films. While it most resembles a crime thriller, it does have several effectively horrific set pieces such as the opening murders. And the panic at the disco leads to a climactic scene at a political rally that feels like an inspiration for the ending of King’s The Dead Zone. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of either to give the film a proper identity, just enough to dilute the effect of each other.
Blue Sunshine’s cast is full of familiar faces, apart from those mentioned it also includes veteran character actress Alice Ghostley (To Kill A Mockingbird, Designing Women) as the neighbor of one of the victims, Ray Young (Coffy, Hunter’s Blood) as a hulking security agent and Bill Adler who was in Jack Hill’s Switchblade Sisters as well as several Crown International films such as The Van and The Pom Pom Girls. Ironically the worst performance comes from the film’s lead, Zalman King. It’s easy to see why he switched from acting to producing where he had success with The Red Shoe Diaries and Wild Orchids among others.
While not on the same level as Squirm or Just Before Dawn, Blue Sunshine should appeal to fans of Lieberman’s other films as well as anyone who enjoys somewhat offbeat 70s films. Others may be disappointed by its lack of outright horror and gore but it’s worth taking a chance on if you get the opportunity.
As noted, the release date for the UHD disc is as yet undetermined, but you can check Synapse’s Facebook page for announcements of its release or future festival screenings.