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Blue Sunshine (1978)
DVD Released: 9/20/2011
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/20/2011
Due to my position, I get a constant barrage of all kinds of questions about movies. However, one question that I don't get enough (or ever) is, "What ever happened to that worm movie guy?" That is an excellent question. In 1976, Writer/Director Jeff Lieberman made his feature film debut with Squirm, a horror movie where thousands of worms attack a group of people in a small town. That plot alone garnered cult attention for the movie, however, the film remained obscure. That all changed on August 1, 1999, when Squirm was the featured film on episode 1012 of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Because of this events, many people like me finally got a chance to see this odd movie. (And to walk around the house singing, "Southern man!") So, did Lieberman ever make anything else. Yes, his follow-up to Squirm was a movie called Blue Sunshine which was a much different movie, but one which became just as obscure.
As Blue Sunshine opens, a group of friends are attending a party when Frannie (Richard Crystal, Billy's brother) decides to sing. He becomes a bit too frisky with one of the ladies and suddenly his wig comes off, revealing that he is going bald. Frannie flees the party, but soon returns, killing three people. A struggle ensues between Frannie and Jerry Zipkin (Zalman King) and Frannie is killed. Jerry seeks medical attention from is old friend, Dr. Blume (Robert Walden) and notices that the doctor is losing his hair. While avoiding the police, who want to question him for murder, Jerry begins to try and figure out what would have made Frannie go berserk. With the help of his friend Alicia (Deborah Winters), Jerry starts to see a pattern of people who are losing their hair and exhibiting violent behavior. The trail leads to a group who have similar backgrounds, and specifically to Edward Fleming (Mark Goddard), who is running for congress. Can Jerry piece together enough evidence and clear his name?
Much like Squirm, Blue Sunshine is one of those movies which I've read about for years, but had never seen. In the interview included on this DVD, Lieberman explains that the movie was well received at the Cannes Film Festival, but the company who bought it lost the print. Thus, it was in obscurity for years. That's quite a shame, as Blue Sunshine is a pretty good thriller.
Given Lieberman's previous film and the fact that the movie contains homicidal killers, it's easy to see what people would have lumped it into the horror genre in the past. Also, I've read pieces which imply that the movie is about cults, but that isn't true either. In actuality, the movie is a paranoid thriller which would have been right at home with other late 70s entries like the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Capricorn One. Like many films in the genre, Blue Sunshine begins with a small event (well, I guess multiple-murders isn't really a small event), which leads to the revelation of a much larger problem. The movie also throws in some Hitchcockian overtones as Jerry becomes the innocent man on the run who must prove his innocence.
The thing which most impressed me about Blue Sunshine was the writing and the structure. As Lieberman had people drowning in worms in his first film, we shouldn't be ashamed for not expecting subtlety here, but he does a nice job of letting the story grow at its own pace. This is one of those mysteries where we discover things just as the characters do, so we're right there with Jerry as he discovers the links between the killers. The movie opens with a shocking scene and then settles down for a while before becoming violent again. This could have easily been an exploitation movie, but Lieberman takes the high ground, creating a movie which builds slowly, letting the pieces fall into place. (I especially liked how the singing puppet in the finale echoed the opening scene.)
It's not often that one stumbles across a long-lost gem, but Blue Sunshine certainly fits that bill. (Yes, I know that the movie had a previous DVD release, but I never saw it, so it's a long-lost gem to me.) The movie does have a very dated look, especially the disco scene, but if one can ignore that, you'll find an intriguing thriller with a unique plot. In addition, Blue Sunshine has an amazing cast with familiar faces from TV shows like Lost in Space and Lou Grant, and of course, star Zalman King went on to write 9 1/2 Weeks and create The Red Shoe Diaries. How's that for shocking?
Blue Sunshine should win some sort of special award for the best scene involving chocolate pudding and a giant parrot on DVD courtesy of New Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. I mentioned that the movie's look is dated, and that's not done any favors by this transfer (which is apparently taken from a British theatrical print, as the British "X" rating card is scene at the beginning.) The image is notably dark and the nighttime scenes get very muddy. The picture is also quite grainy, and close inspection shows video noise blending with the grain, making things worse. There are some mild defects from the source material. Some of the daytime scenes look pretty good, as the colors look natural. Still, I would have liked to have seen a better video transfer. The DVD carries a Dolby stereo audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The dialogue is always clear and intelligible and the film's score never overpowers those speaking. The stereo effects are limited, but we never have difficultly hearing what is happening.
The Blue Sunshine DVD contains only two extras. The "Interview with Filmmaker Jeff Lieberman" (41 minutes) is very loose and casual. He spends most of the time talking about the making of Blue Sunshine, including the origin of the idea. He then goes on to talk about the reaction to the film and how the distribution plan went sour. The discussion then turns to horror movies in general and his views on remakes. Unlike some directors, he comes across as a regular guy and a real film fan. The other extra is a "Photo Gallery" which show all of the press kit stills which Lieberman was musing over in his interview.
Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long