Cult-O-Rama: Slava Tsukerman’s new wave, sci-fi & sex-infused 1983 NYC cult classic “Liquid Sky”

By on November 19, 2018

…Cult movies transcend all categories, and give their audiences something they’ve never seen but always wanted to,” says Night Flight’s Pat Prescott near the end of this 30-minute clip-centric 1988 survey we’re calling “Cult-O-Rama,” now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

Slava Tsukerman‘s new wave, sci-fi and sex-infused cult classic Liquid Sky — which definitely showed film audiences something they’d never seen before in 1983 — is just one of seventeen titles from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s that we’ve highlighted here.


Set during the early ’80s in a seedy Lower East Side Day-Glo demimonde, Liquid Sky is a modern-day fairy tale parable, one that isn’t easily identifiable as belonging to any particular genre since it contains not only elements of sci-fi and sex fantasy but also memorable comedic and tragic moments too.

The plot follows what happens when unseen aliens piloting a ’50s-era looking flying saucer — who take their sustenance from heroin or “liquid sky” — are attracted to NYC due to the high concentration of drugs being used by the city’s junkie denizen.

They land on the roof of a downtown building where a gender-fluid Connecticut-bred WASP-turned New York new wave fashion model named “Margaret” (Anne Carlisle) lives with her lover, punk rock singer and heroin dealer “Adrian” (Paula Sheppard).

Their penthouse apartment — at 28th & Broadway in the East Village — was where Anne Carlisle actually lived.


Margaret has a lot of sex in the film — including some cocaine-fueled oral sex — and as a result she produces an over-abundance of endorphins.

The aliens come to realize that the euphoria-inducing brain chemicals produced by earthling brains during orgasm is more pleasurable than heroin, so they take over her body.


Realizing the power she has at her fingertips — at one point she says “I kill with my cunt” — the avenging sex monster begins to kill her lovers, who vaporize in an explosion of iridescent orange-green-blue light.

One of her lovers is the obnoxious gay model “Jimmy” (he’s also played by Carlisle), which means the androgynous Margaret — with spiked-up hair and face paint reminiscent of David Bowie‘s early ’70s Aladdin Sane phase — is able to fuck herself.


Margaret also deals with a weirdo UFO-ologist from Berlin — “Johann” (Otto von Wernherr) — who is studying the city’s intergalactic visitors.

In the end, Margaret makes her escape, vanishing into space in the flying saucer, although we’re actually not sure whether the aliens have taken her with them, or they’ve killed her off.


Read more about Liquid Sky below.


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Liquid Sky producer/co-writer Nina V. Kerova, director/co-writer Slava Tsukerman, and actress-/co-writer Anne Carlisle

After graduating from VGIK (Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography) film school in Moscow, Russia, Vladislav “Slava” Tsukerman (b. 1940) worked on mostly short films for the next twelve years, directing his first feature, I Believe in Spring, in 1961.

In 1973, Tsukerman and his wife, Nina Kerova, moved to Israel — where he directed a few more films over the next couple of years — before finally emigrating to New York City in 1975.


For Liquid Sky, Tsukerman set out from the start to create an instant “cult classic,” producing, directing, co-writing and even composing the film’s jarring synthesizer soundtrack (along with Clive Smith and Brenda Hutchinson), using a Fairlight CMI.

Liquid Sky‘s screenplay (credited to Tsukerman, his wife and Anne Carlisle) transposed his feelings that — as a Russian émigré now living in America — he sometimes felt like a stranger in a strange land, or an alien from outer space.


Tsukerman has said Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera was a main source of inspiration too, but after another Russian émigré, artist Vitaly Komar, brought him to CBGBs for the first time, Tsukerman wanted Liquid Sky to also embrace the art, music and fashion of the Lower East Side’s new wave & punk club scene.

Tsukerman also got some ideas from visiting NYC’s new wave art galleries with his wife and their friends, including Marina Levikova, who did Liquid Sky‘s art design and costumes.

He was also inspired by the vibe of Andy Warhol‘s Factory scene too (Warhol was his favorite American artist).


Liquid Sky alternate poster by Scott Saslow

Liquid Sky  — made for less than $500,000, although it looks like a million bucks, mainly due to Yuri Neyman’s incredible cinematography — won the “First Jury Award” when it premiered at the Montréal World Film Festival in August 1982.

The film then had a nearly four-year run screening as a “midnight movie” at art-house cinemas in New York, Boston, and Washington D.C., but many of Liquid Sky‘s loyal fans created its devoted cult following by sharing the film with each other on VHS tapes.


“Cult movies appeal with a sense of special community,” Ms. Prescott concludes. “No matter how warped your vision, you’re not alone.”

Here’s a complete list of the other films (not all of them should be considered “cult”) that we featured in “Cult-O-Rama”: Dennis Hopper‘s Easy Rider (1969), George Miller‘s Mad Max (1980), John WatersPink Flamingos (1972), Penelope Spheeris‘s Suburbia (1984), Alan Parker and Gerald Scarfe’s Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982), John Landis‘s Animal House (1978), Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Ken Russell‘s Tommy (1975), Jonathan Demme‘s Stop Making Sense (1984), Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap (1984), Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones’s Monty Python & the Holy Grail (1975), Spike Lee‘s She’s Gotta Have It (1986), Perry Henzell’s The Harder They Come (1973), Paul Bartel‘s Eating Raoul (1982), David Lynch‘s Eraserhead (1977), and Penelope Spheeris’s The Decline & Fall of the Western Civilization (1981).

Watch Night Flight’s 1988 “Cult-O-Rama” episode on Night Flight Plus.


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.