• Blue Sunshine

    Released by: Filmcentrix
    Released on: July 13th, 2016.
    Director: Jeff Lieberman
    Cast: Zalman King, Richard Crystal, Mark Goddard, Deborah Winters, Robert Walden
    Year: 1977
    Purchase From Filmcentrix

    The Movie:

    Blue Sunshine, directed by Jeff Lieberman (the man behind Squirm and Just Before Dawn) is one of those odd films that just can’t seem to figure out where it really belongs – and that’s a big part of what makes it so entertaining. You could classify it as a sort of pseudo-political horror film making an attempt at something socially relevant to the time it was made. The movie makes jabs at the political elite, it has an anti-drug message to it (though the director says otherwise – it all depends on how you look at it!), and some have read the film as an attack on the disco movement of the day. But really, overthinking things like this, it can take some of the fun out of it. Blue Sunshine is what it is – an odd cinematic beast that works in elements of violent exploitation and strange anti-hippy undertones presented through Lieberman’s unique take on the era.

    The story revolves around Jerry Zipkin, played with no small amount of sweaty overacting by Zalman King. Yes, the same Zalman King who was the creator of such cheesy sex films as 9 ½ Weeks and a whole whack of Red Shoe Diaries episodes. Jerry, while at a party, witnesses an old friend named Frannie Scott (played by Billy Crystal's brother Richard) murder three of the party guests by" pushing them into a roaring fireplace when his toupee is ripped of his head. Jerry ends up in a brawl with Frannie and the two of them end up duking it out in the middle of a road. In a fight to save his own skin, Jerry kills him by pushing him into the path of a tractor-trailer. One of the men in said truck figures Jerry is the real maniac here. He gives chase and finds him back at the cabin where the bodies are. Figuring Jerry did it, the guy puts a bullet into him.

    Jerry makes his escape and gets some needed medical treatment from an old friend, David Blume (Robert Walden). Of course, it comes to pass that Jerry is on the line for not only the death of his friend, but also those killed at the party as well. With the help of a few Hitchcockian plot devices, Jerry ends up on the run and having to clear his name for the crime he didn't commit. But of course, he’s not on his own – a girl named Alicia Sweeney (Deborah Winters) was at the party too and she saw what happened.

    After doing some detective work, Jerry and Alicia find out that his friend was one of the unlucky few who dosed on ‘Blue Sunshine’ ten years prior. This was a batch of bad LSD sold by a pusher named Edward Flemming (Mark Goddard). He has since cleaned up his act and is now a politician running for Congress. It turns out that ‘Blue Sunshine’ was far from a harmless little narcotic. In fact, those who took it are starting to lose their hair and turn into raving homicidal maniacs exactly ten years later from the date they ingested the drug. Ten years is now coming up for most of the former hippie types… and there seem to be quite a few bald headed killers is now starting to go insane all over the city. And hey, that former line-backer named Wayne Mulligan (Ray Young), now a bodyguard for the aforementioned congressman, seems to be acting a little odd lately…

    Things only get more complicated from here on in, and any more information would be spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it.

    There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it – Blue Sunshine is a weird movie, but for some, that will (and should!) be seen as high praise. Lieberman's direction is quite solid and there’s just enough plot coherence mixed in with ample amounts of delirious insanity to make the movie work. This is quick in its pace and never dull and the story unfolds at a good clip. As such, this film will keep your attention and entertain you from start to finish. It’s also quite creepy in a few spots, particularly the opening half hour or so where we, like Jerry, are trying to figure out just what exactly is going on here. These freaky scenes are only enhanced by the genuinely bizarre musical score from Charles Gross (which thankfully has been released on CD, as an extra in this package) and by the ‘bald head’ effects used in the movie. We don’t just see clean cue-balls here, no, those that are affected by the drug tend to leave grungy strings of hair stuck to their scalps that just gives the whole thing a beautifully seedy vibe.

    As to the performances, they’re pretty much all over the top. King is at his peak here – he plays his character to the hilt, really putting his whole body into it and contorting that instantly recognizable face of his into some seriously insane expressions. He may not have been the world’s greatest actor but the guy did bug eyed and crazy really well – which makes him perfect for the part. Deborah Winters is just plain likeable as Alicia. She’s pretty and well intentioned and she is convincing in her concern for Jerry. Her character could have been fleshed out a little more but the actress does a very fine job in the part. Robert Walden, the instantly recognizable character actor who has popped up in everything from All The President’s Men to a few episodes of Melrose Place is a fine choice for Jerry’s doctor pal. He makes us questions his character early on, which is important to the building of suspense in the film, and a lot of the reason that aspect of the story works as well as it does is because of his turn in front of the camera. Mark Goddard plays the slimy politician perfectly. We know from the start that this guy is up to something, that aspect of the story comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with the more paranoid side of seventies cinema. But he’s good. The real star of the show, however, is Ray Young as ‘Big Wayne Mulligan.’ The film builds to a completely over the top finale that the actor, who also popped up in Coffy and a few Al Adamson films like Five Bloody Graves and Blood Of Dracula’s Castle, really does not hold back. Look for a few other recognizable faces to pop up here too - Alice Ghostley and the late, great Brion James both appear here in small but noteworthy supporting roles.


    Blue Sunshine was previously released on DVD by Synapse Films in what was, at the time, the best possible condition. Since that release, the film’s original negative has been found and that was the source for the new 4k scan that this transfer is based off of. Presented on a 50GB disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.78.1 widescreen, this is a revelation. Colors look excellent (Lieberman has approved the color correction that was done here) and aside from a few minor specks here and there, the image is virtually pristine. The picture is grainy in a natural and film like way, but that’s the way it should be and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Detail is outstanding in a lot of shots, especially those shot with good lighting, though detail can and will vary a bit from scene to scene depending on the particular shooting conditions. Skin tones look great, texture is impressive and black levels look really good. Contrast also looks spot on. There isn't any obvious edge enhancement, aliasing or noise reduction.

    Filmcentrix gives you the option to watch the film in the original 2.0 Mono mix or a newly created 5.1 mix, both in DTS-HD format with optional subtitles provided in English. The 5.1 mix sounds good, it has decent channel separation and good range. The original mix sounded better to this reviewer’s ears, but your opinion may vary of course. Either way, both tracks feature very clear dialogue and properly balanced levels. There isn’t a trace of hiss or distortion to note and the soundtrack sounds great. Purists will definitely opt for the old school mix, while remix fans get their fix too – it’s the best of both worlds.

    Supplements start off with an audio commentary from Jeff Lieberman that is moderated by Elijah Drenner – and it’s a great talk. This is a reasonably scene specific dissection of the movie, with Lieberman starting things off by talking about where and when that iconic opening shot featuring the full moon was captured. From there, he covers pretty much all the bases – casting the film, working with King and the rest of the cast on the movie, bringing this in on a modest budget, how some of the effects set pieces were done, having to work with children in a key scene and some of the difficulties involved in that and more. He also covers the famous discotheque scene, shares some of his thoughts on different readings of the film, covers what it was like working with Brion James on the film after being warned about his heroin problems – and loads more!

    Actor Mark Goddard provides roughly nine minutes of commentary over the scenes that he’s involved with. This is available as separate featurette and not an alternate audio track over the main feature and it’s pretty interesting. He talks about working on the film, his role in the picture and his thoughts on the film itself. He also talks about his early days as an actor, his attempts to prove his worth in the industry, the quality of the supporting cast in the film, his thoughts on the character of Ed Flemming and how he never really did any drugs in his private life.

    From there, we get a few more traditional featurettes, starting with an interview with Jeff Lieberman that runs six and a half minutes. He talks about his own experiences using LSD, what the trip was like and what coming down was like – if he actually came down at all. He also talks about how he had an anti-authoritarian streak in him at a young age thanks to his dad, before then talking about more of his experiences dropping acid and some of his experiences in the second half of the sixties and into the early seventies before talking about Blue Sunshine for a bit. Up next is an interview with Script Supervisor Sandy King that clocks in at just under ten minutes. She talks about what a script supervisor does on the set (it’s a lot more than you might think!) and why the position is important. From there she talks about some of her experiences working on Blue Sunshine itself, how you had to ‘negotiate your overtime in Heinekin’s and blow’ and the dedication shown by Lieberman during this shoot. She also talks about the director’s vision, certain scenes that were a specific challenge for her and what it was like working with a ridiculously intense Zalman King! From there, check out the interview with actor Robert Walden. He speaks for ten minutes about working on this film after All The President’s Men and how he had had a rough year before Blue Sunshine, which led to him taking the part in this fairly low budget picture. He then discusses his part, how he had played doctor’s plenty of times before, and his thoughts on working with Lieberman, noting that he was impressed with the size of his ego! There are a few other fun stories here too – and also his thoughts on the film as a whole. The last of the new interviews on the disc is with actor Richard Crystal and it runs seven minutes. Here he talks about how his musical background landed him the part as the guy who sings and then turns into the now famous killer in the opening scene. He discusses the audition process, his impressions of Lieberman, what it was like having to wear contacts for some close-up shots, the tedious amount of night shooting needed, and of course, his experiences working with King as well.

    There’s some archival pieces here too, starting with a clip from Fantasy Films Festival With Mick Garris, a twelve minute segment from Garris’ old television show in which he interviews Jeff Lieberman and the two discuss the director’s work in the horror film industry as well as Blue Sunshine specifically. Leiberman spends a good bit of time talking about the similarities between comedy and horror, how he got the worms to come out of the mud in Squirm, what the audience will and will not accept, and a fair bit more. This is taken from an old analogue source but it’s very cool to see it included here.

    The Q&A At The Jumpcut Café segment is a fifteen minute piece in which Lieberman fields some questions from a small audience at a screening of the film. He talks about following up Squirm with this very different film, where the ideas came from, the influence (or lack of thereof) of the hippie movement on the film, Manson-esque imagery in the film, auditioning different actors for the picture and more. The Locations Of Blue Sunshine is a nine minute piece where Lieberman, Elijah Drenner and Jim Kunz head into Los Angeles to check out some of the locations as they are today – but first they talk about Lieberman’s ties to New York City (“nowadays Brooklyn sucks!”) and his ties to L.A. – from there we see the highway walkway overpass, a garden that was used in the shoot, the escalator, the park where the ‘drug deal’ goes down.

    Also worth checking out are twenty minutes of Vintage Classroom LSD Scare Films (courtesy of Something Weird Video) – don’t do drugs kids! No matter what unique ways you may find to express yourselves, as these movies demonstrate, using drugs to do it (or highly feminized slacks) will only lead to your downfall! Short skirts on girls and long hair on guys are also signs of trouble. If you need to be ‘in’ you can always drop a tab of acid – it’s very, very groovy, and very, very dangerous! This material is pretty insane. The inevitable freak out scenes are completely overplayed – guys in suits who look very serious warn us about the dangers of drugs, we see that you might wind up getting all shaggy looking and reading comic books, while various scientist types hook up electrodes to your brain to figure out what’s wrong with you. This stuff is gold!

    Closing out the extras on the disc are two different theatrical trailers for the feature, animated menus and chapter selection. All off the extras on the disc are presented in high definition.

    But of course, the extras aren’t only on the Blu-ray disc – we also get a DVD version of the movie with the same additional supplemental material on it and the film’s complete soundtrack in CD format. These fit inside a Blu-ray sized ‘flipper’ case that also holds an insert booklet containing notes on the restoration and credits for the disc along with three essays on the picture (including an amusing piece from Filmcentrix’s Steve Morowitz about his own experiments with substances of an illicit nature), brief cast bios and some archival material. On top of that, you also get a reproduction of the film’s original pressbook, an ‘acid tab’ insert with specs and extras listed on the reverse side, a Stanford University diploma for David Blume with a Movie Lab inventory card reproduction on the reverse side and a bookmark that features an Ed Flemming For Congress poster reproduction on one side and a trippy image that morphs Flemming’s political persona with a picture that ties into the movie’s ending on the opposite side.

    All of this is housed inside a slick looking slipcover and with a reversible cover sleeve.

    Completists may want to note that the extras that were included on the Synapse release from years back were not able to be carried over to this Blu-ray release, so you might want to hold onto it for that reason.

    The Final Word:

    Blue Sunshine is a one of a kind cinematic oddity, the kind that could only have been made in the seventies. It’s paranoid, it’s over the top, it’s scary, it’s funny – and it is wickedly entertaining. Filmcentrix, have rolled out the red carpet for this one, presenting the film in a gorgeous transfer with rock solid audio, loads of extras and some great packaging and extra treats tucked away inside. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Fundi's Avatar
      Fundi -
      when is this going to be for sale on Amazon? It's not even up for preorder
    1. Lalala76's Avatar
      Lalala76 -
      Ordered this from the Filmcentrix site. I guess it will be a while before I receive this. This one is a 100% pure blind buy for me, but I love the effort that goes into his Blu-ray releases.
    1. Fundi's Avatar
      Fundi -
      yes it looks like a very well done release, I am curious what other films they have in their archive, I hope he gets a film scanner and can do his own transfers like he says he is hoping to do on the Filmcentrix website. Says they have hundreds of films, that could make for some interesting releases.
    1. Lalala76's Avatar
      Lalala76 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Fundi View Post
      yes it looks like a very well done release, I am curious what other films they have in their archive, I hope he gets a film scanner and can do his own transfers like he says he is hoping to do on the Filmcentrix website. Says they have hundreds of films, that could make for some interesting releases.
      Well seeing as its Steven Morowitz from Distribpix, It would be safe to assume that most films in the archive are adult features, but certainly this is an interesting offshoot and which sounds like it could take off (not to the detriment of his porn titles I hope). It seems like he has been here there and everywhere so I guess he has managed to find some interesting titles to release on the label for future.