Blue Sunshine (1976)

Blue Sunshine was a film I've been wanting to see for years, after seeing mention of it in Fangoria magazine when I was a kid. I loved the title and had pictures in my mind of a plague of bald, raving lunatics tearing victims limb from limb in a welter of terrifying gore and savagery. Did the film after finally seeing it, live up to all expectations and frighten the beejesus out of me? Let's a take a look at our maniacal, follically-challenged friends and see.

Jeff Lieberman, writer and director, has crafted a nice little suspense film and it certainly starts well. We get to meet a group of people going through some problems. Dr. David Blume is conferring with a sick patient and experiencing debilitating headaches, as well as some hair loss. Wendy Flemming is looking after her two children, missing her ex-husband Edward Flemming (Mark Goddard) who is running for congress, and also losing great tufts of hair. Finally we meet John O'Malley (Bill Cameron), a man who keeps a parrot and enters his house just as his friend is talking to his wife, Barbara (Adriana Shaw). It's not a warm welcome and we see the same slightly crazed look in his eye that the other two give. Each time we meet one of these folks, we cut away to a very blue-looking full moon. It's effective and a stylish beginning over Charles Gross's atmospheric music.

We're then introduced to Jerry Zipkin (Zalman King) at a party. No sooner does one of the party-goers start acting strangely lascivious towards a woman, singing in a sort of demented Frank Sinatra style to her, than his wig is pulled off and the man is revealed as completely bald other than a few long tufts. His eyes look strangely around and he runs away. Jerry and his girlfriend Alicia Sweeney (Deborah Winters) and a few others, leave for a while to gain their bearings after the strange turn of events. Meanwhile the man returns, and attacks the remaining women. With the strength of the insane, he kills one by stuffing her into an open fire, quite a startling scene. He then begins to attack the others. Jerry, concerned, returns and see the carnage caused in his absence. He tries to put the fire out, but can do nothing. Running out, he's attacked by the cueball maniac and barely escapes alive after pushing him in front of a truck. Trouble is, the truckers see him as the assailant and try to do a citizen's arrest on him, shooting him in the arm in the process. Zipkin runs from the scene of the murders.

Detective Clay (Charles Siebert) wants to talk to the fugitive Zipkin, and interviews Alicia in the process. Zipkin's being treated by Dr. David Blume, an old college friend who is the same troubled Doctor we met at the film's beginning. Blume agrees to not report the shooting and let Zipkin go. Zipkin then investigates the murders of John O'Malley's entire family - even their dog - by a bald and maniacal John O'Malley himself. Breaking into the crime-scene later, Zipkin goes off the deep end, reliving the crime. We see blood stains and outlines of victims, but hear in the background the entire slaughter of the family. It's pretty intense and we have to wonder about Zipkin's sanity at this point. He already came across as an eccentric sort before this, but after this explosive interlude ...

Regaining some sort of composure, Zipkin notices a distorted-hippy like picture of Edward Flemming, the congressmen in the running. He approaches Flemming and is rebuffed by the smarmy politician. Jerry returns to his stressed-out doctor friend Blume, who makes a link between the people concerned - and that they all took Blue Sunshine, an experimental form of LSD sold by Flemming ten years ago in college. Blume never took Blue Sunshine himself, or so he says, but he sold it too. So we can, in theory, count him out of the potential chrome-dome killer brigade. Still, Blume directs Zipkin to some of the users of Blue Sunshine, including Wendy Flemming. Zipkins then goes and visits the harried women, who's looking after her neighbour's kids. After mentioning the drug she kicks him out, but in minutes, is driven to murderous impulses by the shrill voices of her charges, who are misbehaving like mad. It's a grandly horrific scene as she begins to stuff tranquilizers in her mouth, her eyes roll up into her head and finally the wig is disgarded as the madness takes hold. Wendy grabs a knife and lurches towards the children ...

Jerry, hearing noises, returns and fights with Wendy before she can kill anyone. Wendy ends up plummeting out of the multi-story building where they live, and that's it for her. Zipkin hooks up with Alicia and gets her to do some legwork for him. She in turn hooks up with the burly bodyguard of Flemming, Wayne Mulligan (Ray Young) who comes on to her, while at the same time showing a sensitivity to noise and a bad temper! In the interests of getting information for Jerry, Alicia agrees to go to a disco with the over-confident giant. Meanwhile, Jerry begs for tranquilizers from Blume to protect himself against these bald maniacs so that he can complete his quest to exonerate himself - remember, he's fought with two of the monsters now, and has some scientific theory from Blume about what's going. That being, taking Blue Sunshine has caused genetic damage that is only beginning to surface ten years later, with bald and murderous results. Finally Blume agrees and gives him some, and Jerry then goes off and buys a gun to shoot it with.

Alicia meets Mulligan at the disco, but the giant is already beginning to lose it. He staggers off in a sweat, complaining about the loud music, loses his wig and begins attacking umpteen funky disco-goers! As Alicia hides, Jerry turns up with makeshift tranquilizer-gun and begins a titanic clash with the addled madman. Will baldness or a full head of hair win the day?

Given the era this film was created in, I must confess I expected a bit more gore and exploitation elements. What we have ended up with here is quite an odd little suspense thriller - which is fine - I guess I was anticipating something more like the rabid, blood-drenched killers of I Drink Your Blood. The blood is minimal or off-screen, it's really only the first murders that pack any punch. The crazies look great, though - sort of like a bunch of male and female Jason Vorhees, pre-drowning, going on the rampage. Zalman King is an odd, angular-looking actor for a leading role but it kind of works as he's described - and certainly behaves - as though he's on the edge anyway. Deborah Winters as Alicia plays a harried, temperamental foil for Zipkin, so at least we have some unusual characters to explore. The photography is crisp, expecially in the early scenes, and the piano-plunking score is effective most of the time, but occasionally veers into the bombastic zone. It's the ending I found most of a let-down, it just sort of fizzles out, but I'd better not give too much away. On the whole it's an interesting concept for a movie, if you're not expecting too much violence and blood.

All in all, not a bad little semi-horror suspense film from the seventies, unless you happen to be a very sensitive and easy-to-offend bald person!

© Boris "Chrome-Dome" Lugosi, 2006.

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Review written: 08/26/2006 21:58:44