Blue Sunshine (1978, dir. Jeff Lieberman) follows a man named Jerry Zipkin, or Zippy, (played by Zalman King) after he’s been accused of murdering three women at a party. While the real murderer Frannie (played by Richard Crystal) has died, his outburst of insanity leads Jerry down a rabbit hole of discovering why Frannie suddenly went berserk. As more killings continue around the area, Jerry connects these random outbursts of insanity to a type of acid which circulated a decade before – Blue Sunshine. This story works as a message around the dangers of frivolous LSD tripping as much of the conflict is focused on not knowing exactly what one is consuming and the fear of possible long term effects of street acid from the ‘60s.
The narrative’s execution hardly makes sense as the film continues and it seems as though things happen “because movie” – or, out of convenience for the narrative whether it makes sense or not. Blue Sunshine is set up as a mystery-thriller but lacks any clever leading of clues that even children’s media such as Nancy Drew and Scooby-Doo can manage. Many of the connections Jerry makes hardly have a rhyme or reason to them; there’s nothing evident that would cause Jerry to connect one dot with another. For example, let’s discuss how Jerry figures out the drug Blue Sunshine is involved at all. After seeing a newspaper report on an incident of a police officer going mad and killing his family along with himself, Jerry breaks into the crime scene to search for clues. From here, Jerry has a minor episode while looking at corn starch blood and runs into a room where hangs on the wall Officer O’Malley’s degree from Stanford University. Some silliness happens with a parrot first, but shortly after Jerry stares at this degree and whispers, “Blue Sunshine.” Not only is this how Jerry makes some connection, but it’s the first time the drug is ever mentioned in the film. It’s also unclear how Jerry would know what this drug is anyway since he didn’t attend Stanford nor took Blue Sunshine. He was seen interacting with Frannie at the beginning of the film, but it’s also unclear how close the friendship is and if Frannie would have discussed his LSD past much. The audience knows nothing about these characters and so many, if not all, conclusions Jerry draws on the mystery seems to come from out of his ass. Likewise, many of these connections are far stretched with the only “strong” connection between the affected parties and the drug being Stanford University. As one of the top schools in the world, I feel like it’s safe to say there are thousands of students who attend. It seems far-fetched to assume just because someone went to Stanford it means they dropped a tab of this very niche form of LSD. Connections are made purely because the film tells us so, not because of any real connections within the narrative that are taking place.
While the narrative was incredibly frustrating, I do really love the premise of Blue Sunshine. I enjoy it when a movie dives into psychedelic horror or plays around with a drug that alters people's minds in a horrific way, or in a way that no one could have imagined. However I don’t believe Blue Sunshine executed this idea very well and definitely not as interesting as it could have been. One of my peeves during the film was that the side effects of Blue Sunshine didn’t show up until 10 years after the person had taken it. On one hand I understand the argument one might make that this delayed reaction is 1. more realistic and 2. more horrific. However, in a film about people who drop acid then go insane and lose their hair I believe it may have been more enjoyable to see the side effects happen instantaneously, or at least within a day or two of consumption. For example, there is a scene which I pictured the entire film would have contained more of which is when one of the affected individuals Wayne (played by Ray Young) goes crazy at a dance club. This was probably the only scene I enjoyed because it was a perfect glittery ‘70s set up for someone to go on an acid-crazed murder spree. Blue Sunshine didn’t take advantage of psychedelic horror the ways which it could have, but the foundation of the story is interesting. I also did end up liking the way the affected were portrayed and found the addition of black contacts a nice touch to the costume design.
It’s unfortunately not as scary or horrifying as it could have been either. I think horror surrounding taking a drug or psychedelic is not only clever, but can be even more horrifying because there are very surreal and cosmic states of fear a person can experience while on LSD. To me, psychedelic horror can be one of the most terrifying aspects of the horror genre because it simulates pure animalistic fear and terror. Blue Sunshine does not do this. In fact, there were several moments where I thought I might have stumbled upon an anti-drug film similar to Reefer Madness. Though the problem is that Reefer Madness leans into the insanity of marijuana to a point that it makes it really fun to watch, ironically especially when one is stoned. Blue Sunshine takes itself too seriously to lean as far as it could into the insanity of psychedelics. All of my complaints combined makes Blue Sunshine nothing more than a frustrating narrative mess that refuses to be playful with the insanity of LSD despite the focal point being insanity from LSD.
Blue Sunshine – D Tier
I can say with certainty I will never watch this movie again nor do I recommend it to anyone. Surprisingly, Blue Sunshine has a cult following and is labeled as a cult classic – so there must be something people like about this film unless we’re just labeling anything that’s old a “cult classic” now. But if you ask me it was a film that had a lot of potential but an execution that was both frustrating and boring. Much of what propels the story forward happens “because movie” with no real structure to the mystery. Overall, I was incredibly annoyed.
Blue Sunshine is available for streaming on Shudder, Amazon Prime Video, and AMC+