31 Days of Hell: Blue Sunshine (1977) - Reviewed

Horror or at least mid-70s horror often depicted the so-called hippie movement of the late 1960s much like the slasher horror tropes saw the fates of characters who engaged in premarital sex: ending in death.  Often the moral of the horror story involved the consequence free lifestyles circling back to bite those practicing it on the ass whether it involves sex or substance abuses.  
The greatest fear purported by horror films such as William Friedkin’s The Exorcist or in David Cronenberg’s first two features was the notion of an outside force taking control over one’s own mind and body either through somnambulant possession or zombification transmitted spiritually, sexually or by way of substance abuse.  In writer-director Jeff Lieberman’s Blue Sunshine, one of the most peculiar yet subtly disturbing horror films to emerge from the mid-70s, the possessor comes in the latter form. 

After a party erupts in madness and murder after one of the patron’s hair falls out before being killed by Jerry Zipkin (future Red Shoe Diaries helmer Zalman King) in self-defense, the wrongfully accused man finds himself fighting an uphill battle to clear his name while trying to track down the source of the random bald-headed mad attacks happening in the immediate area.  His journey to uncover the truth leads him in the direction of a form of LSD taken by Stanford college students which may or may not be the cause of the strange attacks.  Worse still, an up and coming politician may know more about the connection between the drug and the violent outbreaks than he’s telling.
Sharing equal space with such strange bedfellows as Shivers, The Crazies and Dawn of the Dead, Blue Sunshine doesn’t go for traditional jump scares or gory deaths so much as it creates a creeping malaise by not knowing where and when the next potential killer will strike.  Anybody and everybody could be a potential culprit without warning with all traces of one’s humanity and personality vanishing instantly, highlighting through science-fiction horror the transformative nature of drug abuse.  Tapping into the unknown fears of what you can’t see being the most elusive of killers
Much of this unease is created through the film’s string filled atonal score by Charles Gross which evokes the dread filled avant-garde compositions of Krzysztof Penderecki.  Visually the film has that same homegrown yet handsomely composed aesthetic of early Cronenberg but mostly the film’s mood is driven by the soundtrack and makeup department.  The bald-headed actors will remind some viewers of the dystopian Hell of George Lucas’ THX-1138 no doubt though the performers’ eyes, shown in extreme close up to sell the transformation from madness to murder.

Speaking of actors, there’s much to be said about Zalman King’s completely over-the-top acting which in another film would be campy but here feels right at home with the possibility that he too might turn into one of the bald headed maniacs.  The supporting cast members also turn over appropriately hysterical performances in order to illustrate the transformation from ordinary upstanding citizen to scalp shorn psycho.  Mostly though, Blue Sunshine is a showcase for writer-director Jeff Lieberman who, like George A. Romero with Dawn of the Dead, is able to evoke dread and a sense of vastness out of familiar everyday settings.
Released in the US in 1978, Blue Sunshine was mostly forgotten over the decades before amassing a minor cult following in the years since.  Seen now, the film was oddly prescient in critiquing the potential for danger through substance abuse and connecting isolated incidents of violence to a larger, implacable bureaucratic enemy.  If nothing else, the film is an effective little thriller still able to plant some nebulous measure of fear in the viewer about how the drugs we take can and likely will cause our bodies to rebel against us. 

--Andrew Kotwicki