Movie: Blue Sunshine (1977)

In general, I find low-budget pictures from before digital age more interesting than contemporary low-budget films, as well as major studio fare from any era.  These films tend to take more risks (albeit, not necessarily good ones).  Also, because films cameras and stock require some significant funds, the minds behind such pictures were usually deeply invested (often literally) in the crazy they were throwing up on the screen.

1977’s Blue Sunshine is such a film.  Although competently made, it doesn’t seem to follow its own bizarre logic very well and its star delivers one of the worst performances I can recall seeing in a movie with a moderate budget.  But, if there’s one thing I can say about it, I wasn’t bored for a single minute.

The plot is of your standard “some people consumed a variant of LSD a decade prior that now makes all their hair fall out and turns them into homicidal maniacs” variety.  That acid was distributed back in the day by a reformed hippie now running for congress.  You know, that boilerplate storyline which so many Best Picture winners have used.  *cough*

Zalman King takes the lead here in what is the typical Hitchcock role of a man falsely accused of murder who goes on the run in an attempt to clear his name.  Something I found deeply hilarious throughout the film is he seems to be pursued by one police detective even though, by the end, he will be wanted for four murders by my count.

King is deliriously, howlingly bad.  I’m sure economy mandated only one take be used for most of the shots, but I kinda hope there were multiple takes of some of his line readings and that footage of even worse takes still exists somewhere.  He seems to over- or under-act every second he’s on screen.  Often, he shifts tone abruptly and radically within the same shot and without any apparent character motivation.  He may not be as bad as Tommy Wiseau, but I couldn’t help but think I was seeing a predecessor here.  A proto-Wiseau, if you will.

The other actors fare better, but it is difficult to imagine an actor of any regard knowing how to properly work such batshit material.  One character who almost inexplicably develops into the main antagonist is the congressional candidate’s bodyguard, who I can only describe as “Discount Joe Don Baker”. You know, in case premium, authentic Joe Don Baker is too high-brow for you.  Also, Brion James has little more than a cameo at the beginning, but he goes gloriously crazy in a way similar to what Nicholas Cage is famous for now.

I’m not sure what the deal is with the psychopaths losing all their hair suddenly, but the effect is not well-done.  Repeatedly, somebody will grab that person’s hair and what is clearly a wig just slides off, revealing what is obviously a bald cap.  It’s weird how many people in this grab another’s hair—something I have never done or had done to me in real life.  And, if the tell-tale sign that somebody is about to become a homicidal maniac is their hair falling out, then it seems I should have been on some kind of watch list for a long time now.

I went into the movie thinking it would be horror with tinges of sci-fi, but it is closer to a conspiracy thriller.  It even flirts with the possibility of becoming a political thriller, what with a potentially nefarious figure running for office, but it casually abandons that thread before it really develops into anything.

The movie is a strange combination of moments that are effective and others that are hilariously daft.  There are a couple of solid, intentional laughs.  But there’s many unintentional laughs, such as a maniac who somehow manages to consecutively stuff three fully-functioning, conscious women into a fire in a typical home fireplace.  Yes, three fully competent adults capable of kicking, flailing or at least RUNNING THE FUCK AWAY WHEN THEY SEE THE FIRST WOMAN DIE.

There are some other aspects of the movie that appeal to me personally, and which I understand may not be of interest to anybody else.  Chief among these is the shopping mall where the climatic scene takes place.  I’m not sure which mall was used, but this is a quintessential 70’s indoor mall, complete with lots of wood.  The icing on the cake is there’s a full disco in the mall and, yes, there will eventually be a maniac—MANIAC—on the flor-or.  And he’s attacking like he’s never done before.

Possibly the weirdest aspect of this picture is the ending.  My best guess is they were filming sequentially and ran out of money.  That’s the best explanation I have for the strangely arbitrary ending concluding with a couple of text overlays which attempt to provide closure.

There wasn’t enough of interest for me in Blue Sunshine to warrant another viewing, though I did find much to enjoy here.  It is solidly of a particular age and it does some things a movie with more money behind it wouldn’t try. 

Puppets, for example.  I almost forgot the movie has a puppet show performed in the mall as opening act for a political rally.  The puppets aren’t in the movie for long, I suspect for fear they would start out-acting Zalman King.  But don’t feel too bad about Zalman—he went on to become the producer of highly lucrative, softcore dreck like Wild Orchid and Two Moon Junction.

Dir: Jeff Lieberman

Starring Zalman King, puppets

Watched on Shudder