New Video // 1978 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // September 20th, 2011
Alopecia Totalis...and Insanity!
Blue Sunshine is a Cult-with-a-Capital-K film that I've somehow avoided up until now. For years, it sat on store shelves, challenging me to rent or purchase it, usually from the bargain bin, and for years, I resisted.
So now I've seen Blue Sunshine, and I've got to say...What the Hell?! It's weird, has an interesting premise, and some scenes that are truly memorable, though too much of Blue Sunshine is memorable because of its ridiculousness.
We open with scenes of seemingly random people experiencing a strange malady: they are extremely irritable, and their hair is falling out, though unlike most of us, they're not irritable because their hair is falling out.
We then meet our hero, hang-dog good guy Jerry Zipkin (Zalman King, who chucked acting to write and direct silly and safe mainstream erotica like 9 1/2 Weeks and Red Shoe Diaries). Jerry's chilling with friends at a sedate party, when the clownish but affable Frannie (Richard Crystal, brother of Billy) starts to sing a song, and then gets a little too frisky with a girl. The girl's boyfriend grabs Frannie by the hair -- and it comes off in his hand! It's a wig! Frannie's bald, save for some stringy stands that look glued to his pate.
Frannie runs off and the others go looking for him, leaving three girls behind. The deranged chrome dome then returns to the house and massacres his remaining female friends. Zipkin comes back, fights with Frannie, and the otherwise peaceful Jerry ends up shoving his friend in front of a big GMC truck.
Naturally, Jerry is pegged as the killer, and he's now a wanted man. So he does what anyone wrongly accused of a sensational slaughgter and on the run would do: strolls around in plain sight and gives his own name to anyone who asks for it. Somehow, this clever non-ruse keeps him safe from the police. Armed with only his wits and a borrowed suit, aided by an annoying girlfriend (Deborah Winters, Kotch) and stressed-out doctor friend (Robert Walden, Lou Grant), Jerry sets out to discover...
Well, what, exactly? His friend went bald and crazy, and Jerry accidentally killed him. What else is there to know? Jerry gets a clue, thanks to the Fourth Estate and the Biggest and Most Detailed Headline Ever Committed to Press:
Strangely, Jerry's own rampage didn't engender such headlines. It doesn't seem to have inspired a manhunt either, as there's only one detective on the case and Jerry freely interacts with all sorts of people, including a congressional candidate (Mark Goddard, Lost in Space) who, you'd think, might have heard of someone wanted for multiple murder.
Apparently, homicide wasn't the forte of '70s era LAPD. When Jerry decides to investigate the other killing -- the one that made the headlines -- he goes over to the death house and rings the doorbell; when that fails, he just breaks in the back door. Fortuitously, there's no sign of police tape around the scene, much less an officer. He also casually drops by Frannie's apartment looking for clues, and again, no one has thought to secure the home of (what they believe to be) a murder victim.
Lax police procedure notwithstanding, Jerry has to get into these homes, because if he didn't, he would never know the words "Blue Sunshine," and there'd be no cool title.
Just what is Blue Sunshine? Pretty much every other review site will tell you, IMDb will tell you...even the DVD case will tell you. I'm not going to tell you. Even though it's "fair game" information by now, just like the punchline to Soylent Green, I'm still not going to "spoil" it. I wish I hadn't known going in. Not that it's particularly shocking -- it's actually surprisingly silly, more '50s cautionary tale than '70s sci-fi -- but not knowing the "secret" of Blue Sunshine adds an element of suspense that is otherwise sorely lacking here.
Writer/Director Jeff Lieberman (Squirm) has a lot of cool ideas, but they don't translate in a way that's dramatically interesting or as challenging as they should be. Even beyond the (unmentioned here) premise, there are too many calls for suspension of disbelief. Jerry's journey to discover "the truth" isn't at all twisty or inspired; clues are served up with such ease they might as well come with a side of fries. He blithely moves from point A to B to C, and the fact that he's considered a mass-murdering fugitive is hardly a blip on the screen.
So, what's to see here? Well, depending on how you like your B-movies, maybe a lot, starting with the mayhem. When characters start sweating or complaining about noise, you know it's only a matter of time before they peel off a wig, roll up their eyes, and go bonkers. The over-the-top killing-spree set pieces are really entertaining and satirical -- the noises that trigger the insanity include disco music and overly chatty, cutesy children.
Lieberman shows a solid sense of humor here, including a bizarre scene at a political rally featuring puppet versions of Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand, and there are some reasonably tense moments.
But Lieberman ultimately lets us down. Blue Sunshine's ending looks like it was cribbed from an episode of Dragnet, and a number of promising plot developments -- as well as the fate of the characters -- are just left dangling.
Performance-wise, this one's all over the map. As the bedeviled Jerry, King makes a good case for his change from in front of the camera to behind it. Jittery and weird, he never finds his footing. When he discovers his friends decimated at the hands of the fallow-follicled Frannie, Jerry reacts the way people generally do when they arrive home to find their pet has befouled a carpet; at other times, he's so intensely animated, he's like John Belushi in a Landshark skit.
But King is an appealing model of subtlety compared to the shrill and dreadful Deborah Winters. I can't even begin to describe how grating the actress is here; granted, the "helpful girlfriend" is generally a thankless role, but did Winters have to go out of her way to be insufferable? We also get toothy Mark Goddard as a dumb and duplicitous politician who's a linchpin to all the madness, a cameo by character actress Alice Ghostley (Bewitched), a fun turn by Ray Young (Blood of Dracula's Castle) as Goddard's henchman, and a peppy Robert Walden as a chain-smoking doctor.
Actually, everyone's a little too peppy here, which adds to the film's odd allure -- or makes it torturous, your call.
Blue Sunshine's last release (that I know of) was from Synapse, and was apparently a very good disc with a nice assortment of fun extras. This release, from New Video, is just okay. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image quality is decent, as is the Dolby 2.0 stereo track. Besides a photo gallery, the only supplement is an interview with Lieberman: "Blue Sunshine: 35 Years Later," touted on the case as "Never-before-seen," so I guess if you're a Lieberman completist, this will be a selling point, though there was also plenty of Lieberman to go around on the still-in-print Synapse disc.
Murderous, rampaging baldies, a soft mystery, and a skewed sense of humor -- if this is you, then Blue Sunshine is just a-waitin'.
The guilt or innocence of this whole affair is entirely debatable.
Review content copyright © 2011 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Photo Gallery