Blue Sunshine (1977)

USA, 1976
89m
35mm film, colour, 1.85:1
mono, English

An American horror film directed by Jeff Lieberman.

Plot Summary

While studying at Stanford University, a group of students experiment with a new derivative of , known as Blue Sunshine. Ten years later, with their sixties ideals largely abandoned, the students are starting to pay the price for their curiosity as the side effects of Blue Sunshine start to kick in. After suffering splitting headaches and acute hair loss, the students turn into homicidal, sound-sensitive maniacs.

Credits

Crew
Directed by: Jeff Lieberman
© MCMLXXVII [] The Blue Sunshine Company
Ellanby Films presents a film by Jeff Lieberman
Executive Producers: Edgar Lansbury and Joseph Beruh
Produced by: George Manasse
Associate Producer: Nan Pearlman
Written by: Jeff Lieberman
Director of Photography: Don Knight
Film Editor: Brian Smedley-Aston
Music Composed & Conducted by: Charles Gross
Location Sound: William Kaplan
Wardrobe: Pamela Sellman
Makeup: Norman Page
Art Director: Ray Storey

Cast
Zalman King (Jerry Zipkin)
Deborah Winters (Alicia Sweeney)
Mark Goddard (Edward Flemming)
Robert Walden (David Blume)
Charles Siebert (Detective Clay)
Ann Cooper (Wendy Flemming)
Ray Young (Wayne Mulligan)
Alice Ghostley (O'Malley's neighbour)
Stefan Gierasch (Lt Jennings)
Richard Crystal (Frannie Scott)
Bill Adler (Ralphie)
Barbara Quinn (Stephanie)
Adriana Shaw (Barbara O'Malley)
Bill Sorrells (Ritchie Grazzo)
Jeffrey Druce (junkie)
Meegan King (gun salesman)
Argentina Brunetti (Mrs Rosella)
Laura Booker (Samantha)
David Schwartz (Jason)
Steve Tannes (Joe)

Alternative Titles

Helvetestrippen – Swedish title
Helvetinmatka – Finnish title
Le Rayon bleu – French title
Sindrome del terrore – Italian title

Press

1977
The Guardian 23 November 1977
Blue Sunshine […] is not a bad effort though it dissipates an excellent idea with some increasingly sloppy writing and plotting that's augmented by direction which advertises itself to no real purpose. […] The first hour is much the best, with Lieberman's hero desperately trying to find the source of the mystery during a political campaign in his city. And here the film exploits not only the tension but its satirical content too. – from a review by Derek Malcolm

The Evening News 24 November 1977
Gratuitously unpleasant […] Before giving a final shudder of farewell to the week's horrors, I can't help reflecting that all this seems a strange way to lure people into cinemas. I find it desperately sad when films seem determined to appeal to the lowest emotions in human nature. – from a review by Felix Barker

The Evening Standard 24 November 1977
Yet again, it's the society that man made turning on him. All that drug-taking that went on in the Swinging Sixties is at the root of the trouble (and the hair). To see a succession of baldies suddenly grasping at their pate then reaching for the nearest weapon may be an exploitative way of reading us a moral lesson – “You'll go bald if you don't stop it” – but it has some moments of near-surreal comedy. It certainly catches the essential wierdness [sic] of California life, the paranoid belief in conspiracy and the erruption [sic] of everyday violence in communities that look seductively comfortable. – from a review by Alexander Walker

Daily Mail 25 November 1977
Fans of the film see in it a wry sense of wit which escapes me. Although I suppose any film set in the razzamatazz society of Southern California, where electioneering is just another brand of showbusiness, is fair game for humour. Lieberman has an undoubted flair for the setpiece horror sequence – such as the scene in the disco where the blaring music drives one Blue Sunshine addict mad, (mind you, you don't have to be a drug addict to be driven mad by loud disco music!) But basically it is a rip-off shocker which only marginally examines the most interesting aspect of its subject: What happened to the drug generation of the 1960s in the 1970s ? A nasty film. – from a review by Margaret Hinxman

The Daily Telegraph 25 November 1977
Blue Sunshine […] is another film from the current London Film Festival. There, rather marginally, I would think, though it does just fall, after a most uncertain start, into a category I often enjoy – the highly individual, small scale American film, made outside the field of big production. […] [O]nce the narrative is properly established, a neat, gruesome little thriller, with a spectacular conclusion, very well handled, in a big department store. Zalman King gives just the right suggestion of obsession. – from a review by Patrick Gibbs

The Times 25 November 1977
Written and directed by Jeff Lieberman, who made the Jaws of the worm-world, Squirm, it is an entertaining little thriller which makes the most of the irony that the college junkies of the sixties are pillars of today's society.” – from a review by David Robinson

The Daily Express 26 November 1977
[A] horror film so badly directed by Jeff Lieberman that I would willingly send him on a holiday to an island over-ran by mad dogs at my own expense. Apart from the improbability of the story and the sluggardly pace at which it unfolds, the entertainment suffers from the performance of one Zalman King who investigates the killings with the pained expression of a man whose shoes are two sizes too small for him. – from a review by Ian Christie

The Observer 27 November 1977
Blue Sunshine is nearer the current Canadian style of horror, which is much preoccupied with genetics and disease. Here a batch of duff LSD circulated among a group of university students in the sixties starts wreaking its belated revenge. Which professional go-getter or quiet family in an will be the next to find his hair sliding off his head in great turves, and his thoughts turning uncontrollably to homicide (or, as American actors aptly call it, hamicide)? As a matter of fact, the question is made much too easy to answer; only one heavy-handed attempt is made to fool us, so what the plot gains in crisis-points it loses in lack of mystery. Watergatism, by the way, still lives on. It was the politician of the class, naturally, who originally dealt out the terrible depilatory acid. – from a review by Russell Davies

The Sunday Express 27 November 1977
Directed by Jeff Liebermann [sic], the film avoids getting too technical. Instead it is lavish with teasing tension, like the moment at the start of an operation when a surgeon who has been suffering loss of hair extends his scalpel for the first cut. And thick with horror too, like the moment when a glamorous baby-sitter removes her wig to reveal a bald pate, then advances with mad eyes on her young charges. As for the pedlar of the drug at Stanford, he is seen to be running for Congress. And in perfect health. – from a review by Richard Barkley

Sunday Telegraph 27 November 1977
[T]he kind of terror tale guaranteed to put you into a state of shock for ages afterwards, besides acquainting us with a director, Jeff Lieberman, who has undeniable, if wilful, talent. […] The story tends to get out of hand, but it is Mr. Lieberman's strength that his technique is so grippingly fluent and persuasive that he can make monstrous mockery of the narrative he has set up, besides establishing set-pieces – the feeling of a house after a massacre, a lunatic amok in a super-cool shopping precinct – which rubs raw all nerve ending. His Blue Sunshine casts a baleful look but it illumines the arbitrary nature of violence with horrifying clarity. – from a review by Tom Hutchinson

The Sunday Times 27 November 1977 (UK)
“Blue Sunshine […] is a horror movie you can take your mind to. Lieberman gives the slaughter by the blazing-eyed baldies the full wham-bang, blood-boltered treatment, and the transformations are effectively eerie and shocking. But in doing so, he tends to distract attention from the off-hand ironies of his own script, the deft social satire, the witty asides, the unexpected quirks and oddities of characterisation, as well as his assured and intelligent handling of an interesting, largely unknown, cast.” – from a review by Alan Brien

Monthly Film Bulletin vol.44 no.526 (November 1977) p.228
The witty paranoia of the script for Blue Sunshine would probably have been better served (even if the resulting film would have been less satisfying) by more sober direction; as it is, Lieberman's apocalyptic and manic treatment rides roughshod over the plotting and characterisation and pushes towards more cosmic connections (the constant reiteration, for example. that “Edward Flemming is the future”). The film's insistence on an emotional continuity between the chromosome-damaged killers and everyone else, vide the doctor's constant malaise and Zipkins own unpredictability, works well enough as a dramatic device but hardly makes sense at the narrative level. In his vision of an explosive urban paranoia, Lieberman has much in common with David Cronenberg, although in the inspired Rabid the latter is much more able to marshal his shock ingredients to satisfyingly all-embracing ends. These criticisms seem rather churlish, however, in the light of the substantial achievements of Blue Sunshine. Lieberman is a master of the succinct reversal, whether for dramatic or comic ends. […] Given also the obvious intelligence with which he has digested lessons from Hitchcock and Fuller (The Naked Kiss provides one of the film's central motifs), the skilful handling of his performers and the delightful mobilisation of innumerable incidental ironies, Blue Sunshine suggests that Lieberman is a director whose career will bear close attention. – from a review by Verina Glaessner

The New Statesman 2 December 1977
I don't know about ‘subversive substructure' (the ironies seem pretty laboured), but the ghoulish piece has idiosyncratic side-virtues: good use of locations (a department store) and snide and snappy dialogue. ‘I'll talk to my lawyer before I talk to you,' barks a pretty lady. ‘Darn television shows,' says the cop moodily as she stalks off. – from a review by John Coleman

The Spectator 3 December 1977
Don't see Blue Sunshine […] if you're bald or nervous about medical matters or ever took LSD. […] It's a furiously good idea, including the slightly comic horror sight of the respectable murderers losing all their hair just before they freak out. Which of us has not worried about the latent after-effects of all that dope – in the form of miracle , pills and pain-killers – our doctors casually prescribe to us? Blue Sunshine plays cleverly on these anxieties of ‘a time bomb in the chromosomes', but is tripped up by the lousiest lead actor of all time (Zalman King) and Jeff Lieberman's shallow script which settles for a few chills when, with just a bit more care, it could have been corking good. – from a review by Clancy Sigal

2002
Fangoria no.218 (November 2002) pp.38-39
To its credit, Blue Sunshine climbs no soapbox – thus avoiding preaching of the sort that renders, for example, the evangelical antidrug movie Blood Freak (1971) so leaden and ridiculous – and allows its pageant of unpleasantries to unfold without any finger-wagging at viewers who might be toting some psychedelic baggage of their own. Lieberman's conspiracy angle is more a plot device than a manifesto, and he chooses easy however appropriate, targets (upstanding citizens leading secretive underworld lives) of the same breed that figures more obviously in Alan J. Pakula's big-league production of 1976, All the Presidents Men. Lieberman's follow-through assignments, meanwhile, included the woodsy slasher Just Before Dawn, the '50s-style genre homage Remote Control and the script for the kid-oriented franchise entry The NeverEnding Story III. – from the illustrated article Forgotten Horrors by John Wolley & Michael H. Price

References

Periodicals

  • Cinefantastique vol.9 no.2 (Winter 1979) p.13 – review (by Paul M. Sammon)
  • L'Ècran Fantastique no.5 (1978) p.11 – review
  • Fangoria no.218 (November 2002) pp.38-39 – illustrated article (Forgotten Horrors by John Wolley & Michael H. Price)
  • Fangoria no.223 (June 2003) p.54 – illustrated DVD review (by Matthew Kiernan)
  • Films Illustrated vol.7 no.76 (December 1977) p.125 – review
  • The Hollywood Reporter vol.245 no.13 (10 February 1977) p.11 – review
  • Monthly Film Bulletin vol.44 no.526 (November 1977) p.228 – credits, synopsis, review
  • Screen International no.111 (29 October 1977) p.20 – review (by Geoff Brown)
  • Sight & Sound vol.13 no.6 (June 2003) p.63 – review
  • Time Out no.525 (9 May 1980) p.45 – illustrated review (by David Pirie)

Newspapers

  • The Daily Express 26 November 1977 – review (by Ian Christie)
  • The Daily Mail 25 November 1977 – review (by Margaret Hinxman)
  • The Daily Telegraph 25 November 1977 – review (by Patrick Gibbs)
  • The Evening News 24 November 1977 – review (by Felix Barker)
  • The Evening Standard 24 November 1977 – review (by Alexander Walker)
  • The Guardian 23 November 1977 – review (by Derek Malcolm)
  • The New Statesman 2 December 1977 – review (by John Coleman)
  • The Observer 27 November 1977 – review (by Russell Davies)
  • The Spectator 3 December 1977 – review (by Clancy Sigal)
  • The Sunday Express 27 November 1977 – review (by Richard Barkley)
  • Sunday Telegraph 27 November 1977 – review (by Tom Hutchinson)
  • The Sunday Times 27 November 1977 – review (by Alan Brien)
  • The Times 25 November 1977 – review (by David Robinson)

Books

  • Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction by Phil Hardy (ed) p.331
  • Film Review 1978-1979 by F. Maurice Speed p.140
  • Horror and Science Fiction Films II by Donald C. Willis p.40

Other sources

  • BFI Southbank Guide August 2015 p.16 – illustrated listing