Blu-ray Review: BLUE SUNSHINE 4K Restoration

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SHOCK reviews the 4K Blu-ray restoration of BLUE SUNSHINE.

Writer/director Jeff Lieberman has only made a handful of genre movies but man, what a handful they are.

Many cite his 1976 breakthrough eco-horror picture SQUIRM as his greatest achievement. It’s certainly the one with the biggest profile anyway, released as it was via American International Pictures and then later, via MGM on home video. It was a staple of late night cable TV and indeed, if you came of age in the 1980s, it was virtually impossible to avoid encountering the movie at some point.

His 1981 hillbilly slasher opus JUST BEFORE DAWN also commands a solid cult of admirers and his direct to video gem SATAN’S LITTLE HELPER is another fan fave.

But all of those oddball films put together cannot match the majesty of his 1977 LSD chrome-domed zombie thriller BLUE SUNSHINE.

Simply stated, you’ll never see another movie like BLUE SUNSHINE. While not overtly graphic or bloody or shocking, the movie is perhaps the weirdest of its era. Of any era, really.

And it doesn’t ease into its mania, it’s bizarre from its opening moments, with opening credits that start with a full moon (foreshadowing the smooth scalps to come?) situated left of frame, accompanied by Charles Gross’ eerie, experimental music, followed by the camera panning to down to introduced a troubled character, before panning up again to the moon, then panning back down again for more action. The rhythm is off. Atonal. And so is the movie, but wonderfully so.

BLUE SUNSHINE is Lieberman’s “what if” waxing about the era in which he came of age, when every kid was throwing things in their mouths willy nilly, in the hopes of having some sort of vision. The fact that no one knew where these chemicals were coming from wasn’t even really an issue. But what if a batch of those psychotropic drugs were tainted? What would the long term effects be?

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In this film, the title refers to the drug in question, a wild strain of LSD that years later, is now having some serious consequences for the poor devils who indulged (in actuality, there was a strain of acid dubbed “Orange Sunshine”). In the opening moments, we meet a group of friends in a cottage, one of them acting oddly and crooning some sort of inane tune. The dude has a pretty obvious wig on and when one of his curious buddies makes a grab for it, it’s revealed that shabby Sinatra is almost totally bald. The guy goes wild-eyed and frantically pushes around his pals and makes a run for the woods. Minutes later her returns and murders everyone in the home, including burning one screaming woman alive in the fireplace! When the cops arrive, the surviving friend, Jerry Zipkin (played by future soft-porn producer Zalman King) is blamed and he goes on the lam, trying to clear his name while attempting to figure out why one of his friends went gaga.

But then, suddenly, newspapers scream of bald murderers wiping out civilians, families. It seems to be an epidemic. Instead of this encouraging our hero to re-enter society, Jerry opts to stay underground where he gets embroiled in a conspiracy and cover-up that involves a rising politician and that strain of lethal acid that is causing a national wave of mayhem.

Throw in some berserk set-pieces (the robe-wearing divorcee who loses her hair and tries to murder her kids sequence is gold), larger-than-life characters, demented plot twists, an outrageous disco finale (a disco situated in a shopping mall, no less), and an operatically and senselessly unhinged performance from King and you have a horror movie like no other.

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This new, deluxe Blu-ray/DVD release of BLUE SUNSHINE is a marvel. The presumed lost negative was found in 2014 and Lieberman took the 10 reels and supervised a 4K scan using Kodak’s Digital ICE system. The results are stunning, with the normally muted looking film bursting with color and detail. And to celebrate the grandeur of this “new” version, FilmCentrix has jammed this package tight. You get the DVD, the Blu-ray, a separate CD of the Gross’ stunning soundtrack, a wealth of special features (including new interviews with Lieberman, script supervisor Sandy King and stars Robert Walden and Richard Crystal) as well as a new Lieberman commentary. Archival stuff, like an excerpt from Mick Garris’ ancient “Fantasy Film Festival” series as well as a pack of amazing vintage anti-drug classroom “scare” films are also included and add texture and ample amusement. And inside the actual case there’s a deluxe illustrated booklet and an absolutely amazing mini-repro of the original press book, complete with tabs of “Blue Sunshine” LSD!

Endlessly re-watchable and strikingly original, BLUE SUNSHINE is one of the most interesting genre movies ever made and this release is the last word on its awesomeness. An essential purchase.