A Dark, Gender-Bending Thriller With Aliens & Killer Sex
Cult and esoteric movie label Vinegar Syndrome rescues the avant-garde, New Wave sci-fi thriller Liquid Sky with a masterful 4K restoration supervised by the film’s cinematographer. The imaginative 1982 arthouse film is a visually impressive reflection on the excesses of drugs, sex and dangerous aliens in an unforgettable mix.
Russian director Slava Tsukerman’s underground cult masterpiece is just as bizarre today as it was when first released. Named after a term for heroin, it explores the insular club subculture fashionable in New York City during the early 80s through the prism of drugs and sexual violence. An androgynous, bisexual model comes to the attention of aliens visiting New York City that are looking for heroin. This is uneasy, out-there filmmaking for adventurous moviegoers looking for something different. Lead actress Anne Carlisle, a 1984 Playboy Playmate, plays dual roles as both genders, years before the term genderfluid would come around.
Margaret (Anne Carlisle), an androgynous dead ringer for David Bowie’s heroin chic years, is in a damaging lesbian relationship with her drug-dealing roommate Adrian (Paula E. Sheppard). Margaret is constantly dealing with a rival male model, Jimmy (Anne Carlisle in her dual role). Jimmy is hopelessly addicted to heroin and verbally abuses Margaret.
Tiny aliens have come to their little corner of the world in New York City, looking for heroin. After the aliens discover that chemicals secreted in the human brain during orgasm are even more powerful than heroin, they transform poor Margaret. She’s a perfect vehicle for the aliens’ ambitions, a nymphomaniac in a social circle that likes to live dangerously. She now instantly kills anyone she sleeps with, both men and women. While the scourge of AIDS isn’t directly named because it was still mostly an unknown phenomenon at the time, the parallels to its existence in Liquid Sky are undeniable.
… arthouse sci-fi crafted around graphically depicted themes
… arthouse sci-fi crafted around graphically depicted themes
Observing the aliens and Margaret from afar is Johann, a German scientist hoping to study the aliens. In probably the movie’s most amusing side-plot, Johann is staying with a random woman he met on the street in her apartment. He’s solely concerned observing the aliens through his telescope and ultimately stopping their plans. The woman thinks his entire story is an act and wants to sleep with Johann, humoring him.
The plot and narrative can get rough at times, moving from one violent sexual encounter to another, which doesn’t really matter to Liquid Sky. What matters is Anne Carlisle’s mesmerizing turn as two separate characters and the New Wave-inspired MTV visuals that call attention to the “aliens” turning Margaret into a killer. The trippier parts of Liquid Sky must have influenced scores of young music video directors in the early days of MTV. Older MTV viewers will instantly recognize the glowing colors and imaginative special effects that almost became ubiquitous for rock music videos in the 1980s.
The most polarizing creative element of Liquid Sky could well be its droning, aggressive electronic score. It instantly dates the movie for viewers far beyond its New Wave and punk fashions. On one hand, the pulsing electronic beats work with the arresting visuals. Its relentless synth sound does become repetitive and occasionally annoying. Some may get frustrated by the extended stretches when it plays.
Liquid Sky definitely isn’t a film for everyone with its fluid gender identities and violent sexual impulses. This is arthouse sci-fi crafted around graphically depicted themes such as drug addiction and rape. But its striking visuals and oddly compelling characters have carved out a definite place in cult film history.
Liquid Sky receives a magnificent restoration from the original camera negative. The newly scanned 4K transfer, supervised by the film’s cinematographer, Yuri Neyman, sparkles with fantastic color clarity and depth. The 1080P presentation breathes new life into the 1982 production. Cult label Vinegar Syndrome really outdoes themselves with this incredible transfer on Blu-ray.
The 112-minute main feature is encoded in high-bitrate AVC on a BD-50. It is shown at the film’s intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The transparent encode perfectly captures the film’s finer detail and texture in excellent clarity. The elements themselves are in superb condition, without any real flaws. This is a clean, effortlessly revealing movie that catches the eye. There is a depth and dimension to its cinematography you rarely see in older catalog titles from the 1980s.
Liquid Sky looks like a big Hollywood production in terms of color fidelity and contrast. It certainly has never looked better, even when it first ran in theaters. The solid black levels are paired with a consistently strong contrast and even flesh-tones. The new color grading is an unqualified success and strikes a balance between vivid and subtle.
The electronic-sounding score is heard in clean, high-fidelity mono DTS-HD MA. Vinegar Syndrome has taken the unusual and rare step of including the soundtrack at 24-bit/96kHz quality, rarely seen outside of music concerts on Blu-ray. The full-sounding monaural mix is fine at balancing the passages of dialogue with the droning sounds of the electronic score. This is a punchy affair with robust frequency response and low end kick.
Optional English SDH subtitles play in an off-white font. An isolated soundtrack is available if you enjoy the electronic score.
Vinegar Syndrome royally treats the film with all-new special features in this nice package for fans. This standard edition’s BD is identical to the sold-out limited edition that came out in 2017. The Blu-ray and DVD set comes in a clear Blu-ray case with reversible cover art. The primary losses in this standard edition from the first printing are the slipcover and original booklet.
Director’s Commentary – Slava Tsukerman gives this patchy, scene-specific commentary that also includes actress Anne Carlisle showing up. The big problem is that Tsukerman goes quiet for a long period of time around 45 minutes into the movie.
Interview with Slava Tsukerman (15:46 in HD) – A new 2017 interview with the director about his film and background.
Interview with Anne Carlisle (09:46 in HD) – The actress recalls working on Liquid Sky in a thoughtful, clear interview.
Director’s introduction (01:23 in HD) – Slava Tsukerman introduces his film in this optional feature.
Liquid Sky Revisited (52:56 in SD) – A 2017 making-of documentary with rare rehearsal footage and remembrances of cast members no longer alive.
Q&A from a 2017 Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers screening with: Slava Tsukerman, Anne Carlisle and Clive Smith (37:19 in SD)
Never before seen outtakes (13:05 in SD)
Alternate opening sequence (09:59 in SD)
Behind the scenes rehearsal footage (11:56 in SD)
Trailers – Four trailers in SD quality are included.
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