Reefer Madness (1936)
Pickwick Group 2004
By Jimmi Campkin
Mae – She just wants to get by to keep herself in black dresses, stockings and have a day where Jack doesn’t moan about something. And have fun with joints, obviously. Although her wardrobe does have something of the funeral about it.
Jack – Cold hearted dealer who sells drugs to ‘kids’. Kids who stopped puberty over a decade ago. Dresses like Al Capone. Beaten to death in total silence by Ralph.
Ralph – Ventriloquist. Well, I’m just being presumptuous here, but every time he spoke, I did not see his lips move. Bravo, sir! You are the only one in this film displaying a talent. Just a shame that it has no relevance to the plot. Ends up in Bedlam.
Blanche – When she isn’t lying underneath someone, she is demonstrating her remarkable ability to play piano at 507bpm. Has an involuntary orgasm when hung-over. Despite this, she kills herself.
Dr Alfred Carrol – Just a moustache away from Nuremburg. Every time I watch this film, I imagine him played by Bela Lugosi around the time he was collaborating with Ed Wood. It’s just a private fantasy, nothing more.
Hot Fingers Perroni – I think that was his name. Perhaps he keeps burning them on those incredibly hot piano keys, because he certainly wasn’t touching them despite the plinky-plinky tune coming from it. A real character this one; he twitches whenever he sees a woman’s butt, smokes with a murderous grin and has hair that has been parted by a well-aimed axe.
Bill – Can you say ‘prat-fall?’ This guy certainly does his own stunts. He is framed for the murder by of Mary by Jack and sentenced to hang(?) but freed when the truth comes out.
Mary – Love interest of Bill. Killed by a stray bullet fired by Jack’s gun. I have no idea how it hit her in the back when the gun was fired at the floor at that angle. But then, I am a middle-class white British kid. I’ve never even seen a gun in my life; I am not an expert in ballistic trajectories.
Jimmy – Innocent kid roped in with bad people. Involved in a laughable hit and run after smoking what he thinks is a normal cigarette.
Assorted Parents – Present at the lecture. You can call them the moral majority, the ignorant masses, the nodding dogs…
The year is 1936 and there is a global menace lurking in the dark gutters and slimy drains of our streets. No, I’m not talking about Communism, Franco or the Nazis. I’m talking about… Cannabis!
Also going by the title of ‘Tell Your Children’, all you really need to know about this film is that it was made by bit-part actors and actresses (most of whom never worked in film again), it was distributed by a director whose other ‘information’ titles included How To Undress In Front Of Your Husband and that it was financed by a church group who, and I’m only guessing here, had probably read about marijuana in a book rather than experiencing it first or second hand. All great ingredients for a truly, brilliantly, bad film. Now, I’ve never smoked the stuff (and considering I spent four years at University, it is nothing short of a miracle flying against student stereotype), but even I can tell that this film isn’t entirely immersed in fact. On with the plot! I’ll just roll (there’s a first time for everything), light up and see if I can make any sense of this.
Our epic journey begins with a suitably shaky foreword warning of the effects of Marihuana (I have no idea either), calling it the “real public enemy… number one!” Meanwhile, I am having trouble focusing on the words due to a cameraman who appears to have left his tripod at home and has the jitters. This isn’t Star Wars by a long way. Dramatic music booms… sorry… muffles into our ears. Eventually, after a couple of bouts of motion sickness and some choice statements of shock and horror, the film starts for real.
Dr Alfred Carrol is giving a lecture on the perils of Cannabis (I’m guessing you have got that bit by now). After talking about the various methods of drug smuggling (and making a point that weed is more dangerous than heroin… hmm), he is going to tell us a story as an example of how it can destroy lives.
Floozy Mae and monotone Jack are dope-dealers. We are led to believe that they live in squalor and depravity (illustrated by having them wake up fully clothed and having a carefully placed cushion on the floor in their otherwise immaculate living room). It emerges that Mae only sells to other adults, whereas Jack likes nothing more than to rope in ‘the kids’. When they say kids, they of course mean it in the same way that Teenagers From Outer Space featured teenagers. The kids are probably all the other side of thirty.
Right, I shall make this brief and then we shall continue with the meaty business of tearing this thing to shreds.
Blanche and Ralph are go-betweens who invite these ‘kids’ to Jack and Mae’s house-parties. Bill and Jimmy are the luckless youths who are ensnared. Whilst at one of these shin-digs, the gang run out of reefers and Jack doesn’t have his car to hand to get some more. Up steps Jimmy with a set of wheels not entirely convincing for someone of his supposed young and tender age. He and Jack drive to see Jack’s ‘boss’ (dealer, basically). To keep him occupied, Jack throws Jimmy a joint and goes inside. Suitably baked by the time Jack has returned, Jimmy then takes him on a hell-ride, cutting between stock footage of a car driving down a wide road and then studio footage of a car crawling between narrow town streets with the film sped up. Finally, Jimmy runs a stop sign and mashes a pedestrian into the gutter. Yum. Jack later tells Jimmy that all will be well and he won’t mention it to the police who are chasing the mad driver. He also mentions that the chap died – not really surprising if it was him rather than the car that makes that absurd noise when the collision happens.
Any person that can make a sound like that, must be breathing their last.
Meanwhile, Shakespeare loving Bill is descending into the seedy world of Blanche and her ever capacious arms. The next time I buy a new bike, I will call it ‘Blanche’ with respect to her liberal attitudes. He leaves behind Shakespeare loving Mary (there’s just something about her), who is understandably concerned at the recent change in her Romeo. Juliet goes looking for him, but instead falls into the arms of laughing boy Ralph who attempts to have his wicked way with her after doping her up. As she struggles, Bill hallucinates that his Juliet actually loves his raping method of seduction. As he attacks Ralph, Jack appears and tries to break them up. He clobbers poor Bill on the back of the head knocking him unconscious, but in the struggle the gun has discharged on the floor. By some miracle of geometry, wind direction, gravity and the shape of the living room, the bullet has ricochet into Mary’s shoulder-blade. The diagnosis by our expert group of doctors… I mean, our drug ravaged group of pot-heads, is instant death. Jack wipes the gun clean of his fingerprints and places it in Bill’s cold, unconscious fingers. He wakes up, Jack points at the new cadaver and lets Bill put two and two together to make eleven. Despite the fact that Bill has been out for less than thirty seconds and appears to have completely recovered his senses, he falls for it hook, line, sinker, rod and bucket of maggots.
Following a wildfire trial during which a jury take a few moments to sentence the kid (and fellow members of the jury appear to look at each others verdicts and simply copy the person sitting next to them), Bill is sentenced to hang. I didn’t realise America ever had hanging as a viable method of execution, but perhaps I can be corrected on that one. Ralph meanwhile is going slowly insane; nothing to do with the guilt of being a molester and witness to a murder and knowing that an innocent young man will be put to death. Oh noooo. It’s all down to those drugs. Ralph, I have to say, has taken a remarkable slide if it really is down to the drugs. We are led to believe that he has been a regular user for a long time now, and yet he appears to disintegrate in a matter of days. It is during Ralph’s reefer madness that one of the more ludicrous scenes takes place. Ralph demands of Blanche that she play the piano faster… and faster… and faster. The actress playing Blanche couldn’t do ‘vigorous piano playing’ and instead settled for ‘epileptic seizure’.
I am going to stop picking on their acting soon. You are going to have to simply appreciate that it is more wooden than the sets they are using.
In a dramatic finale, Jack hears that Ralph is on the verge of spilling all about who really shot Mary. Jack goes to kill Ralph but Ralph, for once not being paranoid but quite lucid, sees through Jack’s terrible attempt to appear friendly (good acting or bad… depends on your perspective I suppose). In another silly scene, Ralph beats Jack to death although judging from the sound effects, only about two of the numerous blows connected. In the end, all the survivors are arrested (except for Jimmy, whose fate is unknown, but probably involves drugs). Mae chirps like a canary. I think she was looking forward to having some different clothes in prison that wasn’t some sort of long black dress. Blanche performs an extraordinary confessional speech, cries crocodile tears and launches herself at an unconvincing painting of a city skyline dressed up as a window. She ends up flat on the pavement, more broken than her lunatic boyfriend. Speaking of the devil, Ralph ends up being sentenced to an asylum, where presumably he continues to grow the unusual hump that is slowly swelling on his upper back. The good doctor enigmatically gives us a closing speech and then points at the camera to warn us of the perils of drugs. Yes, all of us. Even YOU.
Even by the standards of the day, Reefer Madness is an appalling film. The acting is awful, the audio is either muffled or missing and the editing appears to have been achieved with scissors. I’m not kidding, there are some magic moments of cutting in this film. People have sentences inexplicably end or cut short, Bill memorably falls into a pond in three distinct stages and there is, of course, the magical scene with Jack opening a door to walk through it and then simply disappearing. The first time I showed this to my friends, they insisted on rewinding the DVD and watching that one part again. And again. And again. Also, there is the sheer bloody minded stupidity of the facts surrounding how dangerous it is as a drug. I have never heard of a stoner driving too fast. I’ve never heard of a stoner doing anything too fast. Neither have I ever been met by a stoner who wanted to kill me. On the contrary, most of the time you can’t get them off your shoulder as they lean into your ear and insist on detailing all their theories on how the Universe came to be and where it is going.
I’m not saying whether it is dangerous or not – that is an ongoing debate I am not really interested in being a part of. But even I, passive neutral as I am, can see that the effects have been, like Blanche, slightly oversexed.
Despite all of this, the film is dearly beloved by myself and at just over an hour in length, is always a great film to start any B-movie fest with your friends. Certainly, compared to a similar film like Cocaine Fiends (which has almost no redeeming features or comedy) it is almost a masterpiece. In fact, with five good friends and a generous amount of alcohol, you can easily add another ‘slime’ to the rating.
Things I Learned From This Movie
- Cars in the thirties had incredible levels of grip
- To play the piano, all you have to do is wave your hands vaguely over the keys and have a mild seizure
- The only cure for uncontrollable laughter is intercourse. Or at least heavy petting.
- Someone saying ‘You’re OK’ indicates a total level of trust.
- A jury will take just two minutes to condemn someone with a previously spotless criminal record, and known connections to behaviour impairing drugs.
- When a script says ‘Fall In Pond’, what it actually means is hover over the pond as if you are going for a dump, wait for the cameraman to manoeuvre a different shot, then fall backwards.
- The best cure for hallucination is a gun butt to the back of the head.
- All piano players are insane.
Stuff To Watch Out For
12mins – I think the guy on his own is supposed to be dancing, but he could also be buffing the floor clean with his shoes.
16mins – This is probably the best bit of acting in the entire movie. I don’t want to be cynical, but I’d say these two pieces of acting fodder were angling for a part on Broadway.
19mins – Is this bad editing or is my DVD player skipping? *WHACK*
20mins – Nope, it’s bad editing. My hand is sore for nothing.
25mins – HAHAHA! What the hell was that noise for? And was that car on rails or something!?
38mins – I love the way everything goes silent whenever the camera isn’t on the action. Owch! His head made a noise like a hollow box.
48mins – That sounded like Dr Stephen Hawking.
63mins – Jesus! Look at the state of him! Are we really supposed to believe that he has been smoking this stuff for years and years when he looks like that after a week?
Bureau Official – “Here is an example: A fifteen-year-old lad apprehended in the act of staging a hold-up - fifteen years old and a marijuana addict. Here is a most tragic case.”
Dr Carrol – “Yes. I remember. Just a young boy under the influence of drugs who killed his entire family with an axe.”
Ralph – “Mae? MAE!”
Mae – “What do you want?”
Ralph – “Bring me some reefers!”