Blue Sunshine (Jeff Lieberman, 1976)
Jeff Lieberman, it turns out, was quite the busy little beaver during 1976. First off, he released Squirm, a fun, intelligent ecohorror/monster movie in the vein of Frogs or It Happened at Lakewood Manor, but that doesn't play it anywhere near that straight. It was featured on the final season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and has been unjustly maligned ever since; it's actually a pretty good little flick. And then he turned around and finished Blue Sunshine, a movie that plays it a lot straighter than Squirm. It faded into obscurity almost immediately in America, then went overseas in '78, playing in a handful of European and South American countries before once again disappearing beneath the waves.
Thank god for the Catalans.
Blue Sunshine was rediscovered early this century and screened-for what may have been the first time in a quarter-century-at the Sitges Film Festival in Catalonia, Spain, in 2003. It was a smash with the festivalgoers, and the Sitges screening led to the movie getting a proper DVD release for the first time ever. It's not terribly surprising that someone noticed, given that a number of folks in the cast have since gone on to bigger and better things.
Plot: Jerry (Zalman King, the guy behind The Red Shoe Diaries in one of his final appearances in front of the camera) is at a party with his kinda-new girlfriend, Alicia (Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo's Deborah Winters) and some old friends. One of those friends, in the middle of a song-and-dance routine, suddenly goes nuts and runs out the door. Jerry goes after him, but while Jerry and Alicia are out driving around, the friend backtracks to the house and kills the three women who remained behind. He also attacks Jerry, which leads to a foot chase back to the highway, where Jerry throws him in front of a truck. Needless to say, he's accused of murder and goes on the run. While hiding out, he sees a newspaper article about a Navy man who suddenly went crazy and started killing people. The two had one thing in common: they suddenly started losing their hair, and right before they went homicidal, they went almost totally bald in one fell swoop. Jerry and Alicia start digging around, with the help of David Blume (All the President's Men's Robert Walden), a half-burnt-out doctor and one of Jerry's oldest friends... who happens to be losing his hair.
Trust me, I'm only scratching the surface of the awesome cast here. Mark Goddard (Lost in Space) and Ann Cooper (Seems Like Old Times) play a husband-and-wife team. Ray Young (Bagdad Cafe) is a bodyguard. The late, great Brion James (Bladerunner) turns up in a minor role. Bill Adler. Barbara Quinn. Stefan Gierasch. Alice Ghostley! And it's in no small part because of the stellar cast that the mystery plays here, even when you already know what's causing these people to go nuts (and if you've even heard of this movie, you probably know what it is).
Jeff Lieberman, to date, has directed just five big-screen features. Of them, I have now seen four (the 1981 thriller Just Before Dawn is waiting for me at home), and I've found all four quite enjoyable. This is not deathless cinema by any means, but Lieberman is a whole lot better than he's given credit for. This one gets a solid recommend. *** 1/2