Pour me out some more Liquid Sky, because I need to get my fix.
Liquid Sky is a hedonistic party film that delves into the New York fashion culture of the early 80s. It’s about aliens that are looking for heroin but find something greater as the humans in the film try to make some sense out of their lives.
It’s impossible to classify this film as a sci-fi movie from the trailer. Liquid Sky appears to be more of a punk/new wave club/fashion film about models. It looks low-budget, experimental, and totally wacked out. If you don’t know anything about the film, this trailer will not help. But it might just make you curious enough to take a chance.
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The Fiction of The Film
While fashion model Margaret (Anne Carlisle) and her drug dealer girlfriend Adrian (Paula E. Sheppard), the occupants of a small New York “penthouse” are out at the local punk/new wave club for a fashion show, a small alien spacecraft (about the size of a dinner plate) lands on the roof of their building. Another model, Jimmy (also Anne Carlisle), is bugging Adrian for more cocaine, but she won’t sell it to him. Margaret picks up Vincent (Jack Adalist) and takes him back to her place. He tries to give her some drugs, and when she rebuffs him, he rapes her on the stairs outside the apartment.
Paul (Stanley Knapp) tries to use his last bit of heroin, but his girlfriend Katherine (Elaine C. Grove) knocks the syringe out of his hand. The next day he goes to see Adrian and get more, while coming on to Margaret. German scientist Johann (Otto von Wernherr) lands in New York and sets up a telescope on the Empire State Building observation deck to spy on the alien craft. He meets with a friend, Owen (Bob Brady) to explain that he’s searching for aliens that frequent areas with heroin. Jimmy meets with his mother, Sylvia (Susan Doukas), to get more money–to buy drugs.
Needing to get a better vantage point, Johann enters an apartment building across from Margaret’s building where he bumps randomly into Sylvia, who happens to own the place. She invites him up for Chinese food…and more. Unfortunately he is single-mindedly interested in the alien ship and not her advances. Owen, who is also Margaret’s former acting teacher, visits with his former student. The two have sex, as the alien observes them in a range of vision beyond human capacity. At climax, Owen slumps over dead, with a strange crystal protruding from his skull. Adrian returns home and helps Margaret hide the body.
Johann sees Adrian leaving through his telescope set up in Sylvia’s apartment, and tries to warn her of the dangers the alien poses, but he comes off as a weird, old, foreigner spouting nonsense at her. While she is out, Paul returns to the apartment to get more heroin. When Adrian isn’t there he forces himself on Margaret. She lies there powerless, and as he climaxes, he too dies. Margaret wishes the body would disappear, and it vaporizes mysteriously. She believes she has the power to kill people with sex.
Johann returns to Sylvia’s, where she is doing almost everything to seduce except taking off her clothes, and explains that he now believes that the aliens have found something greater than heroin. They have discovered the endorphins human release during sexual climax. That evening Jimmy and a crew show up for a fashion shoot on Margaret’s rooftop, which she had forgotten about. As she gets ready, Jimmy taunts her mercilessly about her looks, as the others do a variety of recreational drugs. She formulates a plan and begins to egg Jimmy on, making fun of his manhood.
As the onlookers all cheer them on, Margaret performs oral sex on Jimmy to the delight of the crew. When Jimmy climaxes he is instantly vaporized, and she explains that she can kill with sex. Adrian doesn’t believe her and proceeds to have sex with Margaret, also in front of the audience. Adrian too disappears when she climaxes. Empowered, Margaret dresses and takes off for the club where she spies Vincent again. She takes him home and makes him disappear as well.
Johann, seeing much of this from across the street, enters Margaret’s apartment to warn her, but thinking he’s an intruder, she stabs him.Margaret realizes what Johann was trying to tell her about the alien craft. It begins to leave, and Margaret realizes she wants to go too. She pulls Adrian’s stash out, and shoots up some heroin. The alien craft grabs her and departs just as Sylvia and Elizabeth arrive at the apartment looking for their men.
“To be fashionable is to be androgynous.” – Margaret
History in the Making
Liquid Sky drastically leaves behind the commercialized blockbusters of the summer of 1982 for an independent, low budget, art film. Directed by Russian-born Slava Tsukerman, the film feels like an avant-garde production that has emerged from Andy Warhol’s The Factory rather than an experimental film by an immigrant. Having been made for a small sum ($500,000) this cult-film made back three times what it cost to make, while creating a film that looked at the fashion, drug, and club scene of New York in the early 80s. It also served to inspire a mix of musical and fashion styles called elctroclash, which emerged at the turn of the millennium.
It also veered away from the traditional themes of sci-fi films, touching on the new wave club scene, and the drug subculture. It seems to have more in common with dramas of the day such as Looking For Mr. Goodbar and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls than with even experimental sci-fi films such as The Man Who Fell To Earth, or Solaris. Anyone looking for some strange twist or reveal is in for a disappointment, as the film is just a strange exploration of a subculture that many viewers probably have never experienced.
Liquid Sky opens with a neon-looking UFO flying into New York City. Only when it lands on the rooftop of the building does the audience realize that its scale is the size of a dinner plate. At no point is there anything but a strange fleeting image of the alien. In fact, it’s not completely obvious that the strange, solarized eyeball is in fact supposed to imply the creature watching the humans. And unlike more traditional sci-fi films, the alien is not the center of the piece. While E.T. focuses a lot on the boy Eliott, it’s also about the alien and its relationships and needs. Liquid Sky introduces the alien craft and creature within and then focuses the remainder of its almost two hours on the strange humans.
In this way, the slice of life seen within this fashionable and drug addicted group is akin to an alien culture, if one assumes that the film is taking place from the vantage point of the alien. The humans in their weird clothes, strange artful makeup, weird beat poetry, eclectic music and constant drug use, might seem like aliens to normies. Even the characters of Johann and Sylvia, who at least look normal, are strange eccentric individuals, with Johann ignoring anything but his work, and Sylvia having a libido in overdrive.
Liquid Sky might not have provided much to future sci-fi films (the Dolph Lundgren vehicle I Come In Peace did have aliens overdosing humans on a synthetic heroin), but it did seem to pre-sage the growing trend in films about drug culture, which was possibly reflecting the overt usage from the late 70s and the excessive 80s. Films like Drugstore Cowboy, Rush, and later Trainspotting probably owe some of their success to early presentations of drug-use on film in experimental films like this one.
As with many of the sci-fi films reviewed here on Sci-Fi Saturdays, Liquid Sky certainly looks at the human condition and how life affects the characters. Margaret always seems like an outsider, unsatisfied with her life, and unsure how she fits in. She seems to hate herself, and lets other characters step all over her, from girlfriend Adrian, to random drugged out men that treat her like an object. Her journey to fit in culminates her finding solidarity in the strangest of places–a drug addicted alien in a small UFO.
With the help of the alien, Margaret is able to take control of her life back in some small way. The alien, who is looking initially for heroin, but comes to realize that the endorphins released by orgasm are equal if not better, kills the men (and one woman) that have sex with Margaret. Not even realizing the possibility of extraterrestrial influence (in fact, she thinks it’s some godlike indian, due to the crystal ‘arrow’ shot into their skulls) she believes she has taken back the power that society has denied her, and can now kill with sex. It becomes a moment of wish fulfillment as the stepped-on becomes the one in power.
In something more befitting of a sci-fi film, Liquid Sky also deals with the themes of duality. Not only does it have an overt use of mirrors and reflective surfaces (including the ones that people snort cocaine from), but the use of Anne Carlisle portraying both Margaret and the androgynous Jimmy provide a confusing look into the ideals of beauty in society. For a low budget 1982 film, the split screen effects of Margaret and Jimmy are nearly imperceptible, leading to the effect that it is in fact two separate actors. It’s not the traditional doppelganger as seen in films, but in this case, with Margaret’s nemesis being Jimmy, the character is her own worst enemy.
The Science in The Fiction
For a film about non-standard social circles, there’s a surprising plethora of information about how drugs work. Johann gives a rather oddly detailed speech to Sylvia about how opiates operate within the human brain. He points out that there are special receptors in the human brain to accept opiate molecules. Why is that? He points out that there must be a naturally occurring molecule in the human body. This is what the aliens tap into in their search for heroin. A very interesting aspect that helps elevate the film from low-budget exploitation film, it somewhat of a more thoughtful story.
The Final Frontier
Liquid Sky is not for everyone. But it’s an interesting film to watch especially in the context of its release–just a few months after some of the biggest sci-fi films of all time. It’s concerned with the human condition on a smaller scale and provides a somewhat truthful look at an element of society that was not widely viewed. Watch the film with an open mind and see for yourself what it has to offer.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.