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The 100




Reefer Madness
(1936)
Reviewed by Jenny LeComte
Rating: 6 Beans

o you remember those thousand-year-old, super-educational films you used to sleep through in health class? In my day, they were filmed in somebody's basement with a battered Super Eight stuck together with gaffer tape. They also featured narration by either the worst B-grade actors who could be yanked out of a 70s blaxploitation flick or the world's most boring man.
The health class films I was subjected to told us not to smoke cigarettes, raid our parents' grog cabinets, have sex before we got married or sit down on public toilet seats. Naturally, after watching one of these shockers, us Aussie larrikins were filled with the insatiable desire to smoke, drink, have premarital sex and use every thunderbox along the eastern seaboard.
Likewise, the "educational'' film "Reefer Madness'' uses fire and brimstone to warn impressionable young people of the dangers of smoking marijuana. Yet I've been told it's trendy in some circles to hire this awful vid, smoke a couple of bongs, get stoned and giggle uproariously at the preposterous dialogue.
Upon receiving "Reefer Madness" (special mind-bending double bill with "Cocaine Fiends'') for my birthday, I stuck it in the vid machine and prepared myself for 169 minutes of hilarity. And I did laugh - a lot - despite not having any mind-altering substances on hand.
"Reefer Madness'' is in pretty poor shape after gathering dust in the vaults for more than 50 years. The sound and picture quality is abyssmal. But if you strain your ears and sit nice and close to the screen, you can pick up a few gems. By the way, I am not going to tell you any of the actors' names because I don't want to tell on them.
The onscreen prologue (accompanied by spooky music) warns that mari-jew-wanna is "the new drug menace which is destroying the youth of America in alarmingly increasing numbers.'' Ooh, you don't say.
The lead characters are a cheesy couple called Bill and Mary, who make Brad and Janet out of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show'' look like members of a Columbian drug cartel. Bill and Mary never say anything ruder than "gosh''and spend their days drinking tea and playing tennis. A lot.
Enter Jack, the local drug dealer. He invites high school kids around to his girlfriend's apartment for immoral purposes - namely smoking reefer and dancing the jitterbug. Jack's girlfriend is a sleazy little minx who resembles Mae West on an acid trip. And the apartment itself looks like an opium den. How a couple of clean-living kids like Bill and Mary had the guts to climb the stairs in the first place has got me beat.
They end up doing more than climbing the stairs. A beautiful girl who just happens to be hanging at Jack's sticks what looks like a normal cigarette in Bill's mouth. He takes one puff and develops a maniacal giggle and the sudden urge to jitterbug till he pukes. The girl, who's also stoned, urges him on and says: "Faster, faster!'' to the git playing the piano (Freudian slip or just bad dialogue - you be the judge).
Naturally, Bill is hooked on marijuana from the very first puff. It's only taken one bit of buddha, one dab of dacca and one sniff of spliff to turn this fine upstanding American boy into an axe-wielding, homicidal maniac.
Homicidal? Really? Well, yeah. After another of Jack's wild parties (he has them every night), Bill ends up...gasp...killing Mary! On this particular occasion, Mary gets inadvertently turned onto the wacky weed while Bill is otherwise occupied with a good sort in the...gasp...bedroom. No, they don't do the deed, or even kiss. But Bill's ruined just the same.
Mary, meanwhile, is too stoned to defend herself when Ralph, the most hideous of potheads, tries to...gasp...kiss her. Mary screams blue murder and in bungles Bill, still stoned to the eyeballs and waving a gun around. He shoots Mary in his excitement, leaving a bullet hole in her back as big as a dime. Gee, they must have manufactured some pretty heavy duty ammo back in the 1930s.
Bill, of course, sobers up abruptly and gets wrongfully convicted of murder. He's also got to endure a tongue-lashing from his high school principal, which I found a more horrifying prospect. The principal has got to be the most pompous git I've ever seen on the small screen.
"Isn't it true that you have, perhaps unwillingly, acquired a certain harmful habit through association with certain undesirable people?" he thunders, glaring at the hapless Bill.
And what's poor Bill gonna do? Say: "Yes, sir, I am a marijuana fiend. Please expel me or, at the very least, give me a good going over with a parmesan cheese grater." Yeah, right.
Besides, the film hasn't hit bottom yet. That occurs when Ralph kills Jack and the clueless girlfriend blurts: "He's guilty, Mr Police Man, and he did the other murder as well.'' So Jack's dead, Ralph's taken to jail for life and Bill's made a monumental balls-up of his life, all because of marijuana. The clueless girlfriend, meanwhile, is then taken to an insane asylum where she hurls herself out the window. Oddly enough, I didn't feel like doing the same thing after watching this film. I was laughing so hard that suicide was the last thing on my mind.


Other reviews for this movie:

Jason Catanese
Nicholas D'Amico




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