I didn’t think anything could startle me more than when Vinegar Syndrome released a Blu-Ray restoration of Dolemite. Well, they’ve outdone themselves – and in the best way possible. In a (pseudo) guilty pleasure come true, this awesome company has released one of my seminal coming-of-age wants, 1982’s erotic, surreal New York sci-fi horror/sex classic LIQUID SKY. And, in its stunning new 4K Blu-Ray (dual format, includes a high-definition DVD version) redux, this schlocker-shocker looks better than ever.
For those of you unfamiliar with LIQUID SKY, allow me to nostalgically glide back to that euphoric fantasyland known as 1980s New York (or, more precisely, early 1980s New York). If you were over eighteen and under thirty (and not dead or incarcerated), you were clubbing and grooving to the cool new sounds of music that seethed with retro beats, and pretty much left caution to the wind. You might have also been partaking in the heavy drug scene, which is the focus of this deliriously foggy celluloid flashback.
LIQUID SKY is not only a quintessential time capsule of that period, it’s a clever artiste-fueled exploitation movie that captures the feel of that era via an outrageous, psychotronic narrative involving an alien invasion as the cherry on top of the sex/drugs/rock ‘n’ roll scenario. It’s a movie that is as comfortable in a Times Square grindhouse as it is at the Anthology Film Archives.
The minuscule-budgeted pic was the brainchild of ingenious Soviet-born avante-garde/independent filmmaker Slava Tsukerman and his wife, Nina V. Kerova, recent emigres (1976) from Israel, who glommed onto the American culture scene via an overabundance of cinema expertise. LIQUID SKY, the formidable Tsukerman tour de force, is remarkable on so many levels, but primarily for the fact that it is the product of feminist ideology, acted, cowritten and largely crewed and produced by women. It is, in this area, a fuck you to every wannabe Harvey Weinstein, a revenge movie that insidiously zeroes in on predators of not necessarily solely females, but of youth.
At the core of LIQUID SKY is its protagonist, a beauteous, androgynous model, Margaret, portrayed by the astounding actress/model/writer/artist Anne Carlisle, who lives in a lower Manhattan apartment with her sometime lover, ruthless drug-dealer Adrian (an outstanding performance by Paula E. Sheppard; think Aubrey Plaza possessed by Joe Pesce).
Indeed, when I initially saw the posters for LIQUID SKY in the early 1983, I thought, “Damn, that David Bowie is unstoppable.” Of course, I was wrong. It was Carlisle gracing the one-sheets (although a sly reference to Bowie is made late in the picture). Friends who attended Midnight Showings enthusiastically reported to me that Carlisle seemed to be channeling Mimsy Farmer, which immediately sent me racing to the next screening. I did see the connection, particularly in the vocal delivery, and it’s certainly possible that Carlisle had seen More. Looking at the movie in retrospect, Margaret and Carlisle can best be defined as a serendipitous gene splice of Farmer and Emma Thompson. Hubba-hubba.
In the modeling world and the partying world (an often blurred line during those equally blurred times), Margaret’s chief nemesis is bad boy gay model Jimmy (also played by Carlisle). Their rivalry and ultimate violent coital clash is one of cinema’s ultimate WTF moments.
What propels LIQUID SKY as far into the mainstream as it dares to go is the aforementioned crafty subplot involving a Johann, a German scientist (Otto von Wernherr) tracking an alien invasion. He arrives in New York and hooks up with fetching Jewish promoter Sylvia (Susan Doukas), who along with an insatiable hunger for Chinese food, also harbors a lust for Jimmy. Johann moves his investigation into Sylvia’s apartment across the street from Adrian’s drug haven, and, telescopic sights in hand, prepares to observe the tiny spaceship (the aliens are not only microscopic, but invisible – a big SFX saving). Skeptical Sylvia inquires as to the rationale behind the invasion. And his explanation is mind-blowing: they are eternally looking for the greatest high: heroin (slang term: liquid sky). Knowing that this substance is lethal, they have discovered that the sensation at climatic sexual orgasm is identical to the horse buzz. Thus, they have targeted and inhabited human organisms who thrive on sex in all its incarnations. Unfortunately for the humans, the orgasmic release causes the lover of the host to die a horrible death; at first, this is evident by a stylish glass stiletto popping through their head. As the sexual experimentation grows, the happy vics are simply turned into shards of breakable matter that dissolves into nothingness upon impact.
Not surprisingly, this hypothesis causes the ever-increasingly horny Syl to question her guest’s sanity. Except that it’s all true, and unfolds into LIQUID SKY‘s Rear Window sidebar, that is if that Hitchcock masterpiece were codirected by John Waters and Stan Brakhage.
Meantime, Margaret is pensively questioning her choices. Fucking her college professor (causing his demise) prompts her and Adrian to box up the body like a return mail-order catalog item. When a client of the latter, who had earlier raped Margaret, too, receives a similar fate, the bisexual model becomes understandably unnerved. During a swinging rooftop party, inhabited by druggies and video artists, Margaret reveals and then proves her fears to the snarky guests. Yet, the cheeky-chic-kees remains unconvinced in their stoned state, causing Margaret to be systematically assaulted by an angered Adrian, pissed that her party is turning into such a downer. The end lesbian result (also the most sensuous sexual encounter in the picture) finally convinces the partyers that all is not right. By now, Margaret becomes the epitome of the adage “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and wants to go clubbing with the startled revelers. As Margaret sees it, she is now the voice of all women who have ever been stepped on; she decrees that it is her duty to wreak vengeance on every man who has ever done her dirt. And since she’s now in her burgeoning insanity fuck-to-death mode, Margaret, after a pregnant pause, adds that she will then go after the women. An equal opportunity alien monster psychopath debaucher if ever there was one.
It’s not at all out of the realm to call LIQUID SKY prophetic. It very clearly relates a tale of strange deaths that seem to plague gays and drug addicts, at least three years before the AIDS epidemic became known and was given a name.
The lush look and sound of LIQUID SKY is phenomenal, especially considering its budget, and Vinegar Syndrome has gone the limit in preparing this terrific 1080p widescreen transfer. The disc is crystal-clear, exploding with neon pop and pastel colors so indicative of the decade. I was pleasantly joyful to discover that the movie got a laserdisc release back in the mid-1980s; of course, this in no way compares to the marvelous job VS has done with the Blu-Ray in 2018. It is a sight-and-sound platter monument to the excellent work of d.p. Yuri Neyman and composers Clive Smith, Brenda I Hutchinson (along with Tsukerman). The script by Tsukerman (truly and auteur), Carlisle and Kerova genuinely tackles the horrific freakish beauty of the embryonic 1980s. And the dialog is concurrently subversive and hilarious (“If you fuck me, you die!,” extolls an omnipotent Margaret. “I’m a killer. I kill with my cunt!”).
Having a pristine copy of LIQUID SKY would be enough for the pic’s legions of fans, as well as sci-fi buffs and 1980s archeologists. But that’s merely the beginning of this remarkable Collector’s Edition. There are over 2 1/2 hours of original extras included in this package, and feature a director’s intro and audio commentary (plus an interview), a recent screening Q & A with Tsukerman, Carlisle and Clive Smith, a 50-minute “making of” documentary, featuring rare behind-the-scenes outtakes, a photo gallery, an alternate opening, reversible jacket art (including that 1983 “Bowie” imagery) and various LS trailers. The most valuable and replay-able (at least for moi) supplement is a recent interview with Carlisle, who accurately chronicles the era, the movie, the characters and herself – proving that the LIQUID SKY success was definitely not an accident. At a time when getting into the Biz (as much then as now) was a cliquey affair, and therefore, next to impossible, it was fortunate for so many talented individuals to be part of a culture that briefly allowed one’s self to be living performance art (the makeup, outfits, ‘dos). Carlisle rightly chides the critics who call the pic a punk fest, as it was, in effect, a New Wave movie in every aspect of the phrase. This is the truism of the LIQUID SKY legacy – a dangerous influential creation whose spot-on depiction of the early Eighties club scene was later bubblegum-hijacked by the Working Girl crowd. Damn, I miss those days!
LIQUID SKY. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 1.0 DTS-HD MA. ALL REGION Blu-Ray. Vinegar Syndrome/Z Films. CAT # VS-200. SRP: $32.98.