A year ago this Sunday we lost genre favorite, Zalman King. His later legacy consisted of directing erotica such as the famous Red Shoe Diaries series. He's probably most famously remember for playing the role of Baelon in Galaxy of Terror. My instant name association with him is for the role of Al, the psycho biker-rapist-murderer from 1975's sleazy pleasure, Trip with the Teacher. Today, we scratch the surface of his peculiar legacy with the trippy Blue Sunshine; a film that can't be defended in the court of classics, but nevertheless has attained cult status and is very much worth your time.
1978's Blue Sunshine is a cautionary tale; espousing the dangers of indulging in unregulated narcotics. A group of Stanford students dive head first down the rabbit hole in the 1960's with a new form of LSD; the titular blue sunshine. They died that day, though they wouldn't know it for ten years. Once a decade passes, members of this group see all their hair fallout as they transform into drooling, zombie-like psycho slaughterers. Our hero is Jerry Zipkin (King) and he's been falsely accused of the murders perpetrated by one of the 'shiners. Now he's on the run, trying to puzzle out the truth while evading the law. It feels similar to a cross breeding of The Fugitive and Rabid, but it's much more intimate. Zipkin isn't subjected to a hard target man hunt, and the outbreak of madness isn't communicable or widespread.
Truth be told it is a lesser film than those two, with sufficient enough cinematography and pacing that never really goes out of it's way to visually impress. It really deserves your attention for things you won't get from many other films (at least in this bizarre combination). King plays Zipkin with an unhinged quirkiness that can best be summed up as two measures Monk, on measure Bruce Campbell cracking in Evil Dead II, and a dash of Jack Nicholson's Joker. His unique method performance comes across as even stranger when you consider what he looked like. He had a striking facial structure, with a somehow pointed yet bulbous tipped nose, and the most intense pair of eyes. Blue Sunshine is the kind of film that uses an actor like that as it's energon cube; powering it up to greater actions than it would have otherwise achieved.
You could accused it of being a bit goofy, even goonish, but it was clear the Blue Sunshine's crafters had heart; they endeavored to make the best film they could. That's more than can be said for the epidemic of purposefully bad, winking at the camera, bad movies hitting the market faster than hit them with a baseball bat. Real earnest filmmaking has an inherent sincerity about it. It might fail, but you're with it all the way. As a bonus; a byproduct of forty years' in cultural shift, there's a good bit of unintended comedy here too. Would you believe me if I told you that Zipkin defeats one maniac with the power of disco? It's just that kind of film.
As with so many of these lesser know, commonly overlooked 70's titles, it begs to be given proper loving attention by one of the the specialty releasing companies. Synapse Entertainment took the ball in 2003, but didn't include any special features. While that's an incredibly disappointing choice, it does mean that the eventual Blu-Ray should have a fresh set of them, illuminating the stories behind this surreal mystery shocker. At least the cover art is striking, though I'm uncertain the "limited edition" labeling is deserved. Shout! Factory also released it as part of the Elvira series of double features. It's billed with Monstroid. And it also appears you can rent it from Amazon Instant, which may be the better way to go until you too are hooked on the zaniness that is Zalman King.
Sometimes you've got to let go of control, giving it over to someone else for the evening. All domination/submission allusions aside, let me program your Saturday night. This week's Screaming Saturday Night Double Feature is for all you YouTubers out there. I've cooked up a scorching double bill that will fill your night with fright, but take care to be in bed before the sun rises kiddies!
Tales from The Crypt (1972)
As with the meal at any restaurant, you should get the juices going with a hearty appetizer. This sample platter of macabre delights showcases five tales of suspense. Based on the EC Comics bearing the same name, this fantastic anthology flick features Peter Cushing and Joan Collins among a cast of famous Brits.
The Deadly Spawn (1983)
Your meal consists of the heaviest cheese the 80's could offer. It has all the thrills and chills you'd expect from the title, plus far more laughs. Refill the popcorn bowl, turn out the lights, and dig it!
Don't forget to come back and let me know in the comments what your thought of these two back to back. And feel free to suggest next week's Screaming Saturday Double Feature service (Hulu, Netflix, etc.)
If you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famousColonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.