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January 27, 2017

Movie Review: Blue Sunshine (1977, FilmCentrix)

Directed by Jeff Lieberman

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

In elementary school, us kids passed around a story about how one man took LSD and didn’t have a trip until exactly one year later – wreaking havoc as he was driving a school bus. While by all accounts, if the story was true, the man in question probably just scored some bunk acid. This bit of apocryphal information seemingly informed writer-director Jeff (Squirm) Lieberman’s Blue Sunshine, wherein some former hippie Stanford University students feel the effects of the titular drug and turn into raving, bald maniacs ten years afterwards.

Blue Sunshine begins with a Big Chill-like reunion in a mountain cabin when someone pulls the wig off a largely untalented comedian and singer, revealing him to be a balding, wide-eyed lunatic. Stuffing three screaming ladies into the cabin’s fireplace, the film’s erstwhile hero Jerry (future soft-core porn director Zalman King) is fingered for the killings. Hitting the road, Jerry eventually traces the murderous outbreaks to a strain of LSD downed by college students during the hippie era. Jerry traces the distribution of the drug to former hippie guru to aspiring conservative politician Mark Godard (from TV’s “Lost in Space”). Blue Sunshine’s climactic scene, wherein Jerry confronts a raging bald lunatic is set in a shopping mall disco, adds yet another layer of social commentary. The fact that Jerry saves the day due to the advice given to him by a gun shop owner – a longtime symbol of institutionalized evil as seen by the Left, leaves the audience much to ponder.

Blue Sunshine makes lots of pointed comments about the counterculture and how many anti-establishment types would go on to become part of the society they had previously disdained. This results in a lot of scenes being too far “on the nose.” While his friends went on to bigger and better things, hero Jerry has retained many of his leftist ideals. As one character says, “I heard the last job he quit was because they weren’t hiring enough women!” In yet another scene, ill-fated babysitter Wendy (Ann Cooper) refuses to have shampoo containing animal byproducts applied to her hair. This idealism is undercut in the film’s most famous scene, where the end-of-her-tether Wendy, watching her neighbor’s two screaming brats pulls away her obvious wig to reveal her shiny, bald pate – evoking memories of the Manson girls, and reaches not for a valium but a butcher knife to end her suffering …

While it played theatrically, Blue Sunshine has the atmosphere of a better-than-average TV movie. This is helped along by the appearance of many TV actors such as Godard, Alice Ghostley (hilarious as the gossipy next-door neighbor of a recent drug-fueled slaying) and Robert Waldon. The photography and technical details are razor-sharp and en pointe, although its low, low budget – necessitated when the director rushed it into production, is apparent with a very sparsely attended political rally.

This Blu-Ray DVD combo is stuffed with extras. The singular disc I was given to review didn’t have everything on it, so I will defer to another source that says that is comes with a 26-page booklet with essays by Steven Morowitz, Nicholas McCarthy, and Mark J. Banville, an original press book replica, CD Soundtrack is included, a commentary track with writer/director Jeff Lieberman, a selected scene conversation with actor Mark Goddard, a brief interview with Lieberman on his own LSD experiences, an interview with actor Robert Waldon explores the actor's state of career desperation at the time of his casting in "Blue Sunshine," the featurette “The Locations of 'Blue Sunshine'” and Vintage Classroom LSD Scare Films.

Blue Sunshine remains fondly remembered today as it touches upon the rapidly shifting moods of a nation in transition, delivering frisson along with some healthy laughter. This massive three-disc set is an essential purchase for everyone enamored with 1970s horror cinema.

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