This weekend you can catch the obscure, drug-scare horror film Blue Sunshine — with the director in-person, no less! — at the Alamo Drafthouse, a great theater that happens to be just one of Denver’s many options for repertory, arthouse and independent film. If you don’t want to leave the house, you can find it streaming online simply by typing the name into a search box. But when I first wanted to see it back in 1989, the process was a bit more difficult.
My search for Blue Sunshine kicked off thanks to another obscurity — the one-off album by postpunk “supergroup” the Glove that shared the film’s title. Formed by Steve Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Robert Smith of the Cure, the Glove was a weird foray into quasi psychedelia, reportedly written and recorded under the influence of lots of drugs and old, shitty movies — including the one that gave the album its title. I was obsessed with the album for months, and made it a mission to track down the movie. It was a mission that took me three years to complete.
Even baby-faced millennials will no doubt recall that in 1989, the Internet was barely more than a kludgey experimental toy for college students and whatever DARPA people were still following their baby. And while I don’t know for sure, I recall that repertory-film theaters like the Alamo weren’t really a thing, at least not in the places where I lived between 1989 and 1992 — a couple of small towns in Wyoming, one in Texas and a third in Pennsylvania. So for me, it was video stores or bust, and mostly it was bust.
Everywhere I went — and I moved around a fair bit in those years and traveled a bit more — I would seek out every video store I could find, peruse its shelves for this mythical LSD-panic slasher, and inevitably wind up disappointed. I’d also ask the clerk, just in case it was checked out or they could order it or something, but nope. No deal. I must have visited fifty video stores looking for this movie before I finally found in at some mom-and-pop outside of Pittsburgh. I signed up for a card, rented the movie and, at long last, fulfilled my quest.
Honestly, it was a bit disappointing. Blue Sunshine isn’t a bad film, but let’s just say it came by its obscurity honestly. It’s a pretty silly tale of a man who’s wrongfully accused of some really weird murders (the victims are shoved into a fireplace, of all stupid things) that were actually committed by his college buddy, who dies in an accident right after the murders. In the course of figuring out what drove his friend apeshit, he finds it’s not an isolated incident — people are losing their hair and flipping out murderously all around him! This gets traced back to a batch of tainted LSD called Blue Sunshine, and there’s some other silliness, but the whole movie was kind of a weird, goofy trifle mainly of interest due to the plot device of bad acid and the fact that two great musicians made an album inspired to some degree by it.
As unimpressed as I was, I was still glad to have found it. There was a strange satisfaction in spending all that time and energy tracking down something so off the wall and obscure. It wasn’t the only video obscurity I set my sights on tracking down back in the day, but it was the one that took the most work and longest time, for what turned out to be among the least rewards. And now, more than twenty years later, I’m even happier to have had the experience, for the simple fact that it is basically impossible to do these days.
Now, if you hear of a movie you want to see, you just … watch it. Blue Sunshine is currently streaming, for free, on at least two legit sites. If it wasn’t, and I didn’t live here in Denver where I could catch it on the big screen, I could no doubt pick up a DVD off Amazon for a few bucks, or eBay if it’s out of print. If I wanted to be ethically flexible, it’s very likely I could torrent it with little effort, too. My current obscure movie dilemma is precisely the opposite of the one I once had — now, I have literally hundreds of obscurities sitting around on hard drives, as links to streaming sites, or on DVD, just waiting for me to find time to watch them, and the crushing weight of all that opportunity makes it hard to pick what I’m going to watch when I get in a weird film mood. It’s a genuine embarrassment of riches.
Still, I don’t want to get too old-man “I walked to school barefoot in the snow” on you. If I’m being honest, yes I do miss the thrill of the hunt that I used to get poking around old video stores and flea markets for film obscurities. But like most things nostalgic, there’s a lot of misty-eyed sentimentality hiding the truth of the matter, which in this case is that it kind of sucked for movies to be so hard to find. The tinge of sadness I feel in knowing I’ll likely never be so engaged in tracking down a movie is easily salved by the fact that. thanks to the technology that makes nearly every film ever made easily available, I’ve seen hundreds of films I might never have seen the old way. I can indulge manias like my zombie movie obsession without leaving the house. I can rewatch any movie that ever meant anything to me with only minimal effort, usually within minutes of getting the urge, and never more than a few days later. I can’t deny the old way had its charms, but at the very least, our brave new world means your disappointment at a movie not living up to your expectations is always available on demand.