Blue Sunshine is a horror movie with a very specialized target: it seems to have been made to give former hippies the willies. Indeed, the American ads counted on it: “WARNING! If you are one of the millions who took hallucinogens in the late ’60s…you may be a human time bomb about to explode into a bloody nightmare of uncontrollable killing.” Well, take that, you damn ex-hippies; we told you to just say no.
Yeah. Well, as a horror movie that could only have been made in the ’70s, Blue Sunshine has a fair amount of charm — kitschy charm, to be sure, but charm just the same. An exploitation flick that appeals to both stoners and tight-assed straights (like Midnight Express and Joe), this must surely be the first whodunit wherein the culprit is lysergic acid diethylamide. Yes, back there in 1967 at Stanford University, a group of otherwise unconnected people dropped a form of acid called Blue Sunshine. Ten years later, like some calendar-minded psycho in a slasher flick, the acid gets its revenge. Comfortably nestled in the user’s chromosomes all these years, it kick-starts the mother of all delayed reactions, causing the user to go bald and go violently insane (in that order).
The hero, a presentable straight with neat shoulder-length hair (a tolerable length by 1976), is one Jerry Zipkin, whose friends call him Zippy, though as played by the morose-looking Zalman King (later the director of softcore “erotica” like Red Shoe Diaries) he looks less zippy than anyone in screen history. Jerry, a Cornell man back in the day, had Stanford acquaintances who now seem to be in the throes of Blue Sunshine sunburn. He moves from place to place, picking up clues, and also avoiding the cops, who think he’s responsible for the movie’s opening mass murder. Despite Blue Sunshine‘s cult rep as a wild horror item, the movie (made by Jeff Lieberman, whose killer-worm epic Squirm worked far harder for its notoriety) often plays like the sort of conventional TV mystery you could almost fall asleep cozily in front of, if not for the occasional melodramatic screeching on the soundtrack when one of the Stanford alumni freaks out.
A considerable amount of stuff goes on in just an hour and a half (including a red herring and a fantastic scene in which loud disco music is used as a defensive weapon). Notably, each of the human time bombs — including a nice babysitter, a cop, and a college jock turned political bodyguard — is respectable. You just can’t tell which of the thirtyish (well, fiftyish now), settled-down professionals among you could’ve taken Blue Sunshine. Lieberman puts all the elements in place. I had fun noticing the parallels to Taxi Driver — the smarmy man-of-the-people political candidate with the slogan “Here Is the Future”; the protagonist going to a gun shop and hearing a spiel on the superiority of his chosen firearm (in Jerry’s case, a pump-action air gun to shoot a trank dart at unruly Blue Sunshiners).
The money scenes — the delayed victims literally wigging out and looking around for someone to kill — are well-handled, especially the sequence in which circumstances look unpromising for a couple of little kids at the business end of a knife. But this isn’t a film by John Carpenter (who thought nothing of wasting a little girl in Assault on Precinct 13; incidentally, his wife Sandy King was the script supervisor on Blue Sunshine), so more sensitive souls can relax. Order is restored, though the movie does end with one of those wonderful text bits that try to get you to believe this all really happened, including the admonition that about 200 doses of Blue Sunshine remain unaccounted for. Eek! Just like the unkillable psycho at the end of a slasher flick, that bad acid is still out there somewhere. One is reminded of the loudspeaker warnings in Woodstock: “Do not take the blue acid. It will make you go bald, drive you insane, and drastically reduce your appreciation of loud disco music.”