Set in the neon grime of 1980’s New York City, Liquid Sky focuses on the new wave/punk performance art movement complete with copious amounts of sex and drug use. By today’s standards, I feel like this title may be classified more as sci-fi, but many 80s video stores lumped this into horror, and that is the vein in which I and many cult enthusiasts first viewed it. Just don’t expect any gory gut-bursting action; this one is more weird and shocking than blood-soaked.
Amidst a sea of shiny latex and heroin we find Margaret, a bi-sexual alternative model trying to build her career. She is often confronted by snarky modeling rival Jimmy who is played by the same actress as Margaret, just in drag. (This gets really weird later in the film when Jimmy and Margaret have sex.) Margaret lives in a small apartment with her girlfriend Adrien, a foul-mouthed heroin dealer. Attracted by the heroin usage and possibly the ridiculous amount of neon, a small alien space craft takes up residence atop the couple’s roof. A German scientist who has been tracking the craft explains that the aliens inside are addicted to a chemical produced in the human brain at the point of orgasm. Noticing that Margaret seems to have a constant flow of sex partners, the aliens start killing all her sex-buddies to harvest this chemical. Margaret quickly takes notices that all of her sex partners are dying and becomes convinced she is the cause.
Sound bizarre? Trust me - the alien/sex/drug concept is the most normal thing about this flick. Submerged deep in the oddball NYC performance art culture, Liquid Sky makes Warhol, Yoko Ono and Klaus Nomi look like mainstream sell-outs. The film opens with a seeming endless musical number called “Me and My Rhythm Box” preformed by Adrien (who horror fans will recognize as Alice from Alice, Sweet, Alice). Though the song is spoken-word over synth music, it somehow manages to be off-pitch. Yet, it is fantastic! Scored by the director, the piercing synth sounds continue throughout the movie, often turning into a blaring cacophony to accompany the plastic and neon on-screen.
Drugs play a prominent role in the movie, so much so that at times the film feels like a commentary of the NYC drug culture, though the message seems to have gotten lost in all the absurdity. There is even a lengthy diatribe on the benefits of heroin use. Additionally, the absurd and awkward final scenes of Liquid Sky feature much of the cast snorting lines of cocaine, causing me to question if the white powder vanishing up their noses was real, or if I should even bother wondering.
In between all the sex, drugs, and debauchery, the filmmaker inserted shots of the Empire State Building which look strangely phallic but by the end looks more like a giant hypodermic needle, further fueling the opiate derived theme. I will applaud the film for being one of the few media depictions out there to accurately portray a New York City apartment. Whereas the TV show Friends left much of the world thinking that NY dwellings featured luxuries like closets and more than one room, Liquid Sky shows the flats that most of us know well- a single room and a poorly lit mugger-hiding stairwell.
Though Liquid Sky was made for just $500,000 (most of which seemed to go towards the neon paint budget), it garnered a $1.7 million return within the first few months of theatrical runs. The film had also long been touted as an influential piece of art, often cited by modern day directors as a core inspiration. Liquid Sky does occasional theatrical screenings including 2010 showings in both NYC and LA.. The movie was released to DVD in 2000 by MTI Home Video. The limited numbers and brevity of the release did not give this quirky little flick the exposure it deserves. DVD copies now sell on Amazon and eBay from $50 to $100. Even a used VHS copy will cost around $30. This one is not on Netflix and will never come to your local Redbox. Though pricy and hard to find, this crude little rarity is worth the quest to witness the hypnotic androgynous neon lunacy.