This is the second feature film from director Jeff Lieberman, whose first was SQUIRM (1976), one of the better "nature strikes back" thrillers of the 1970s. Here he takes a turn for the weirder and delivers BLUE SUNSHINE, a unique and memorable horror flick with an unusual concept: very bad acid having an effect on trippers a decade after the fact, causing them to lose control in the most extreme manner. Feeling something like the better vintage work of David Cronenberg at times (without the overdone gross-outs), it's easy to see why BLUE SUNSHINE has garnished a considerable cult following despite a limited theatrical release quickly followed by buried late-night TV airings. BLUE SUNSHINE now arrives on Blu-ray as the first effort from FilmCentrix, and it’s an absolute winner.
A handful of suburbanites are acting very strange, losing all their hair and going bonkers and worse yet, killing family and friends in rages of superhuman strength. At a party in a secluded house, obnoxious crooner Frannie (Billy’s brother Richard Crystal, THE BIG BUS) goes nuts when his toupee is yanked, causing him to scram. After various partygoers go searching for him, he comes back and slaughters three women that stayed behind, shoving one of them in the fireplace! Jerry Zipkin (future director Zalman King of "Red Shoe Diaries" fame) witnesses his old pal's psychotic nature, and after fighting him off in the middle of the road, Frannie gets propelled in the way of an oncoming truck and dies. Now suspected for murder of the chrome-domed maniac and the trio of young ladies, Jerry becomes a fugitive on the run.
Hiding out in the city, Jerry gets help from a girlfriend (Deborah Winters, THE OUTING) who was at the party early on and knows that he is innocent. In the meantime, Jerry puts together his own investigation and after putting two and two together, discovers that all the cases have ties to a form of acid called "Blue Sunshine" an experimental LSD which was distributed around Stanford University in 1967. Local politician Ed Flemming (Mark Goddard of "Lost In Space" fame) represents a common link, and his ex-wife becomes a crazed babysitter (Ann Cooper, SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES), and his campaign manager (Ray Young, BLOOD OF DRACULA’S CASTLE, COFFY) transforms into a hulking madman gone berserk in a shopping-mall discotheque!
Shot in the fall of 1976, BLUE SUNSHINE is a low budget effort that is extremely creepy and unnerving in its execution without having to be graphic, thanks to the true talent behind the cameras. It's definitely an indescribable, energetic genre piece with some disturbing images and scenarios (the thought of what ghastly site could be hiding under a hairpiece is indeed a frightening motif in itself). Zalman King is an unlikely yet effective lead in the Hitchcock "Wrong Man" vein, and the rest of the supporting cast is made up of some excellent TV actors who you usually don't see in low budget horror films: Robert Walden ("Lou Grant"), Charles Siebert ("Trapper John, M.D."), and in a cameo, Alice Ghostley(!) ("Bewitched"). You’ll also spot familiar character actor Brion James (BLADE RUNNER, 48 HRS., THE HORROR SHOW) in the opening house party scene, and Lieberman tells a great story about him on the disc’s commentary.
After its 1978 theatrical release from Cinema Shares, BLUE SUNSHINE was shown on The CBS Late Movie several times during the early 1980s, and then became a late night staple of local TV. In 2003, Synapse Films released a DVD special edition of the film utilizing 35mm film elements for the transfer (apparently no negative element could be found at that time). Now, new company FilmCentrix has gone back to the original 35mm camera negative and a 4K restoration for their very first Blu-ray release. With most of the dirt and debris on the negative being cleaned up, the results are quite spectacular, as the 1.78:1 1080p HD transfer looks fantastic and undeniably organic. Detail is excellent, especially in the daytime outdoor and better-lit scenes, with grain only being heavier in some of the low-lit bits. Colors are extremely bold, skintones are natural, contrasts are perfect and black levels are deep. Two audio options are included: the original 2.0 Mono mix and a newly-created 5.1 mix, and both are DTS-HD Master Audio. Dialogue, music and sound effects are all clear as a bell, with both tracks being nicely mixed. Optional English SDH subtitles are included. A standard DVD is included, and it uses the same HD transfer and carries the same extras.
While the Synapse Films DVD had a commentary with director Lieberman moderated by Howard Berger, this FilmCentrix Blu-ray carries a new commentary with Lieberman moderated by Elijah Drenner. This commentary stays right on track from beginning to end, and a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits are revealed, including stuff about the locations, the budget ($550,000!), the casting, the crew etc. Lieberman is always a pleasure to listen to on commentaries, often sharing scene-specific anecdotes and such morsels as how difficult King was to work with and that actor Stefan Gierasch hurt his leg before filming and that they had to hide this in the movie and give most of his intended scenes to Charles Siebert. “Select Scene Commentary with Actor Mark Goddard” (8:45) is just that: selected scenes from the movie as Goddard explains how he was doing a lot of television at the time when he was cast in the film, and that he thought he had a good look to play a politician. He thinks of BLUE SUNSHINE as a highlight of his life because he admired the director, the cast and thought the script was wonderful.
“Director Jeff Lieberman: Tuning In On Tuning Out” (6:31) has the director discussing being nonconformist from an early age (just like his father), his early experiences with LSD, and that BLUE SUNSHINE is more of a comment (or rather satire) of what the government was claiming were the results of taking hallucinatory drugs, and not any kind of anti drug message film. “Script Supervisor Sandy King: Supervising Sunshine” (9:35) has King describing what her job was on the film (making the viewing experience “more seamless for the viewer”), stating that Lieberman definitely had a vision, and it was up to her and the rest of the crew to implement that vision. “Co-Star Robert Walden: Paging Dr. Blume” (9:57) has the actor talking about how he got a call from a respected casting director to do the film after being in ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, and taking the job even though there was no money it. He mentions being typecast as doctors (being in THE HOSPITAL and playing physicians on several TV series), and not wanting to play one again, but he took the role due to his respect for Lieberman (he shot his scenes at the same time that he was doing an episode of “Police Story”). He talks about his character and also describes the intensity of co-star King. “Actor Richard Crystal: The Lunar Crooner” (7:01) has Crystal remembering how he was cast for the film because of musical background, and that he was asked to sing like Sinatra on the audition for Lieberman, who he got on well with. Crystal also mentions the heavy make-up that was applied, and he describes shooting his scenes over several nights.
“Fantasy Film Festival with Mick Garris” (12:08) is an archival video piece (taped for the Los Angeles Z Channel circa 1979) that has Garris interviewing Lieberman, who talks about SQUIRM and how he got into filmmaking, and then he covers BLUE SUNSHINE and how he came up with the concept for it and hints at JUST BEFORE DAWN as his next feature (“it’s a cross between DELIVERANCE and LORD OF THE FLIES"). “Q&A at the Jumpcut Cafe” (15:20) has Lieberman fielding questions from a small crowd of filmgoers at a cinema-themed coffeehouse. Here, Lieberman recalls Jeff Goldblum auditioning for BLUE SUNSHINE and mentions other proposed casting choices, jokingly berating the audience (“You guys are film geeks, how do you not know this?”) at their bewildered silence after the names David Birney and David Selby are mentioned. “The Locations of BLUE SUNSHINE” (8:43) has Lieberman revisiting some of the film’s Los Angeles locations with Elijah Drenner and Jim Kunz (Lieberman says he actually wanted to shoot the film in New York). As Lieberman describes where he shot what, there’s side by side comparisons to show how it looks now compared to the original film. There’s a section of 1960s era vintage classroom LSD scare films (20:41) which are quite humorous and mastered in HD, and two different original theatrical trailers and an image gallery (2:14) are also included. Not only is a CD soundtrack with Charles Gross’ haunting score part of the deal, but the packaging (there's a slipcover for those obsessed with such things) contains a deluxe booklet with liner notes, a replica of Cinema Shares’ distribution pressbook, a business card with replica “Blue Sunshine” tabs in small baggies stapled to it, a reversible insert card (with a reproduction of Dr. Blume’s diploma on one side and an a replica of a Movielab color analysis lab report of the trailer on the other), a glossy sheet of custom blotter art and a bookmark featuring a campaign ad for Ed Flemming. The icing on the cake though is a postcard-sized magnet with a pic of Lieberman directing Ray Young, signed by Lieberman himself! (George R. Reis)
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