Home
Movies
Webseries
Short Films
Interviews Contact Links Cheez Blog


Blue Sunshine
Tonight's Feature Presentation

BLUE SUNSHINE (1978)

Starring: Zalman King, Deborah Winters, Mark Goddard

Written and Directed By: Jeff Lieberman

The Short Version

Psycho bald people should be way more fun than this.

The “drugs are bad” PSA overtone doesn’t work, especially since no one should be forced to watch this movie while sober.

The hero is such a complete ass that you want to root for the bad guys, if only out of pity for the hero’s girlfriend.

If your choices are “watch this movie” or “go to the dentist,” go ahead and take that second option.

Despite many reports to the contrary, this is not based on a true story.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

AMERICAN.

Also known to the rest of the world as “wax.”  It aspires to be real cheese and is mass marketed as real cheese, but in reality, it has no flavor, no substance, and leaves a filmy aftertaste when you’re finished with it.


Pairs Well With...

GIN & TONIC.*

A run-of-the-mill, boring drink with prentensions of sophistication that leaves a filmy aftertaste when you're finished with it. Can also get you roaring drunk pretty fast, which is your only hope for making this movie fun.

*bottom shelf gin

“There’s a bald maniac in there, and he’s going batshit!”


A line like that being screamed during a movie’s climax ought to be a signal for good times afoot.  It ought to be a warning that Jason Voorhees is about to crash through the wall, machete in hand, looking for a towel-clad virgin to chase.

Alas, in the case of Blue Sunshine, it means that a newly bald ex-jock-turned-bodyguard who wasn’t even smooth enough to reach the level of Biff Tannen earlier on in the film is about to lumber through a shopping mall, having decided that disco music hurts his ears.

Even that might have worked if anyone had the presence of mind to not take things seriously.  Disco as a weapon should be a pretty easy concept to run with for even the most amateur of comedians, after all.  But therein lies the core of everything that’s wrong with Blue Sunshine.  It begs to be cheese, it needs to be cheese, but it absolutely refuses to admit that it is cheese.  And so, all we end up with is spoiled milk. 

Blue Sunshine starts off as so many horror flicks do, with a group of friends laughing it up at a cozy cabin in the woods.  It’s the late 1970s, so we agree to give the horrendous Christmas sweaters a pass.  The standard introductory moments pass when suddenly, we are shocked to discover that one of our revelers is actually bald!  Oh, no!  His toupee revealed for the polyester phony that it is, our partygoer (played by Richard Crystal, whose brother happens to be one of the most beloved Oscar hosts of the modern era) runs off into the woods, his party officially pooped.  Feeling bad for embarrassing him, some of the friends go outside to look for him.  A few others remain behind.  No, they do not remain behind for the purpose of fornication.  You’re thinking of a movie made by just about anyone else other than Jeff Lieberman.  They do, however, remain behind for the purpose of being killed and tossed into the fireplace when Mr. Baldy returns, so par for the course.  Once Mr. Baldy is finished, one of the other friends comes back to the cabin, and the chase, as they say, is on, with the end result being Mr. Baldy getting shoved in front of a truck by said other friend.

Said other friend is Jerry Zipkin, and, unfortunately, he is destined to be Our Hero.  Our Hero’s first move is to act guilty as hell and take off, naturally leading the truck driver to believe that he’s just witnessed Jerry committing a murder and soon leading police to further believe that Jerry’s the one who turned everyone back at the cabin into skewered kindling.  Way to go, Jerry!

But let’s pause for a moment to introduce the man who plays Jerry, Zalman King.  If that name sounds familiar to you, you either remember that he had a hand in 9 ½ Weeks, or you’re probably a veteran viewer of the… um… “artsy erotic thrillers” of the Showtime cable network back in the 1990s, particularly the “Red Shoe Diaries” series.  King was Showtime’s resident erotic auteur, and by then had figured out that his best seat was somewhere behind the camera.  Watching his work in Blue Sunshine, it’s pretty easy to see why.  He appears to own a total of one and a half facial expressions, and displays the emotional range of the average kitchen sink.  His physical portrayal of Jerry Zipkin is that of a man who wouldn’t be capable of giving a shit even if you fed him an entire bottle of Ex-Lax, and his vocal delivery lies somewhere between “reading the phone book” and “who asked you.” 

It’s just too hard to root for Zalman King’s Jerry.  Every time he talks, he sneers (that being his extra half a facial expression).  To even accept the fact that Jerry cares enough about the world around him to try to clear his name stretches the concept of “suspension of disbelief” to its breaking point and beyond.  The same holds true of trying to accept the idea that Jerry wants to help anyone else – King plays him as too much of a disinterested sociopath for that.  The unquestioned devotion afforded to Jerry by his girlfriend – who, by the way Jerry treats her, may only think that she’s his girlfriend, with the reality being that she just happens to be conveniently present – is equally vexing.    Indeed, perhaps the only emotional response that Jerry was ever able to elicit from me as a member of the audience was the sincere hope that the bad guys would finally kill him, if only for the sake of saving the girlfriend from having to put up with him.  (Let’s face it: Jason Voorhees would have obliged me the request!)

But no, Our Hero is not allowed to die, and the news just gets worse from there.  As it turns out, Jerry-As-Sleepwalking-Ass is not entirely the fault of Zalman King.  Equal blame needs to be given to writer/director Jerry Lieberman, whose maddeningly mechanical approach to filmmaking begs the question of whether he’d pass a Turing Test.  (Or, for nerds of a different shade, a Voigt-Kampf Test.)  The technical details are fine, but the emotional resonance is absolutely, completely, and utterly not there.  The “killer” and chase sequences carry exactly the same level of excitement as scenes centered on a conversation across a desk.  All of Lieberman’s characters as written are just as wooden as Zalman King’s acting skills, from the sleazy politician who used to sell LSD back in school to said politician’s sleazy ex-jock bodyguard who considers himself to be beer’s gift to women.  (Only Deborah Winters as the lamented girlfriend Alicia is able to bring any life at all to her lines.)  Indeed, everything about Blue Sunshine feels a lot more like a standard formula put-you-to-sleep made-for-network-TV movie than anything that ever got shown at a theatre…

And what do you know.  It turns out that Mr. Lieberman actually did try to sell Blue Sunshine as a network TV movie, which explains the lack of sex, lack of innuendo, lack of blood, lack of gore, lack of language, and utter lack of personality.  Some censors decided that it was too violent, though (censors in the 1970s were not today’s censors; to modern eyes, this is debatable to carry anything higher than a PG-13, and even then more for the drug references than for violence), and so off to theatres it went, thus narrowly escaping the “made for TV” stigma that it rightly deserves to carry.

Speaking of stigma, let’s get back to those drug references.

As it turns out, the “Blue Sunshine” that gives the movie its title is a one-off run of experimental LSD that our villain, the sleazy politician (Mark Goddard, aka Major West from “Lost in Space!”), sold ten years ago while a student at Stanford.  Jerry’s game of connect-the-dots leads him to realize that “Blue Sunshine” seems to have a built-in flashback time bomb: exactly ten years after taking the drug, its users develop a sudden case of baldness and become homicidal maniacs.  It’s an interesting enough premise that utterly fails in its execution, but it also carries with it a literal postscript.  As the movie freeze frames out of its final scene, an ominous paragraph of text appears on the screen, warning that hundreds of doses of the Blue Sunshine drug remain unaccounted for.  One newspaper took this as a sign that Blue Sunshine was based on a true story, and the rumors took off from there, continuing to be repeated by some even three-plus decades later.  However, as should go without saying, Blue Sunshine is a complete, whole cloth work of fiction.  It is not a true story.  (Unless, of course, the Men in Black took some time off from covering up UFO landings to sweep some killer bald guys under the rug, but somehow, I don’t think so.) 

This still, however, leaves the question of how to interpret that closing placard.  One can choose to decide that it’s just a dramatic coda and nothing more.  It was a common enough play during that time, after all.  Or, one can choose to interpret it as a Public Service Announcement that Drugs Are Bad, and that if you learned anything from Blue Sunshine, it had better be that Drugs Are Bad.  Intellectually, I know that the first is more likely, but with how seriously the rest of the movie takes itself, I must admit that every time I’ve watched Blue Sunshine (yes, I’ve seen it more than once; I sometimes suffer for my art), I’ve come away feeling that I’ve just been preached to.

It’s the root of that feeling – the relentless seriousness with which every element of Blue Sunshine takes itself – that utterly damns this movie for me.  I can’t enjoy it, because it can’t enjoy itself.  Blue Sunshine absolutely begs to be Blue Cheez, but Jeff Lieberman and company won’t allow it to be.  Give almost anyone else this script – the folks at Full Moon, let’s say – and don’t allow them to change a single word, and I’d bet the house that they could turn this into a fun, cheesy classic.  In Jeff Lieberman’s hands, though?  Blue Sunshine is a boring, constipated chore that simply should not be endured while sober.

Bottom line: this movie just isn’t any fun.

Doom Cheez Cinema is now Cinema on the Rocks. Thank you for your support!

Tweet this page!






- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, September, 2011


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


hermajestyspod.com

- copyright 2000-2016, Ziggy Berkeley and Cinema on the Rocks, all rights reserved.

Promotional/still images copyright their original authors. If you're going to drink, please do so legally and responsibly. Thanks.