Take a Drink: every time someone laughs uncontrollably because they’re high.
Do a Shot: for your shameful laugh when an old man gets run over.
Take a Drink: whenever someone is uncontrollably violent because they’re high.
Take a Drink: any time you laugh at something that wasn’t meant to be funny.
Do a Shot: for your shameful laugh when a woman jumps out the window.
By: Reel 127 (Six Pack) –
Reefer Madness is the story of a couple of teenagers who are lured into a dangerous lifestyle by using, you guessed it, marijuana. They enjoy the grass at first until it slowly turns them into violent addicts who are as much a danger to society as they are to themselves. Reefer Madness is a propaganda piece meant to teach the public about the dangers of pot.
There’s a good chance you have heard of Reefer Madness, though probably only in passing as the earliest known cult classic. Much like The Room and Birdemic, the original Reefer Madness is enjoyed now for how terrible and laughably bad an attempt it was at making a movie. Reefer Madness is also one of the earliest examples of propaganda film as only a few others were made prior to it.
The biggest success to come out of this movie was Dave O’ Brien as Ralph. He went onto to win the Primetime Emmy in 1961 for writing on the television variety program The Red Skelton Show. Never heard of him, that show, or even know the Emmys had gone on that long? That should tell you how successful the people who worked on this film were after Reefer Madness. In fact, if you look up any of the cast on Wikipedia their picture on their page is a still of them in Reefer Madness. The fact that this film was originally produced by a church group under the title “Tell Your Children” says all you need to know about the quality and content of this piece of… work? I hesitate to call it a movie because I’m not sure it can even be called that.
At least I got a few laughs out of this. No, really, laughs are the main thing Reefer Madness has to offer. And it wasn’t even produced as a comedy. Somewhere along the line the filmmakers made some un-intentionally funny decisions when it came to the Reefer. I had a hard time learning about the “dangers” of weed when I was mostly thinking “Man. Who the hell taught these kids how to dance?”
The campy nature of this film ruins any attempt at providing a serious message. I’m laughing too hard at the man being run over or the woman being shot in a scuffle to remember that this was a propaganda piece. Reefer Madness could even stop with just the man being run over and that would be funny enough as it is. They have the police looking for the car involved in the incident later. And they tell a woman who asks if the old man is okay, “He is. But that’s no excuse for a hit-and-run.” Just to pile on to the unintentional humor this movie has to offer, I called the main teen in this Jimmy before I even knew what his name was. Why? Because Jimmy was the perfect stereotypical name for a straight-laced all-American kid from the 30’s. Imagine my surprise when I found out his name actually was Jimmy.
You know what’s better than a bad movie? A bad movie that begins with tons of text to read. It takes this movie nearly four minutes (almost 6% of its runtime) to make it through the opening titles which are comprised of a long line of scrolling text. Scrolling text that hilariously enough has the word “marihuana” presented in the most beautiful font possible. Giving us the idea that “marihuana” is a classy thing that must be printed with a flourish at all times.
Here’s some context as to how long this goes on. Imagine that in The Dark Knight instead of getting that thrilling bank robbery to open, we instead get nine minutes of opening credits and scrolling text talking about how the Joker is an evil guy who will do all sorts of terrible things. I can tell you that nobody would stay in the theater past this opening.
The script is a fucking train wreck. The whole story is supposed to be a retelling of a tragic case of “marihuana” in a local neighborhood being told by a doctor. If that’s the case then why do we get scenes like a woman putting her stockings on and two teenagers falling in love over Romeo & Juliet? It begins to feel less like a story the doctor was able to piece together with firsthand accounts and more the like the guy is a stalker. I lost track of how many times I said “But why?” and “But how?” while watching Reefer Madness. One in particular is a man telling his boss he doesn’t want to sell “marihuana” to teens anymore. His boss tells him that he can have the man “retire permanently” if he doesn’t want to sell anymore. Because it was the 1930’s and even when threatening someone’s life people were polite. The scene is never brought up again, it only involved one of the main characters and they were just in the room, it doesn’t progress the plot at all. It’s almost like this was written by a bunch of church ladies with no experience in screenwriting.
The audio in Reefer Madness is terrible. I get that this is from the 30’s and, in a way, sound was still relatively new to film. But there are some points that you can barely understand what’s being said. I don’t think you can even attribute it to deterioration of the film. Half the time it sounds too grainy to make out anything, the other half it sounds like they are blowing out the microphone. There’s also little to no score for the entire movie, not to mention there are too many scenes where there’s just silence apart from dialogue. The score could have been something that would have help get the mood across and make some scenes actually serious rather than funny. But the filmmakers said, “Naw. Who needs music in a movie?” The cinematography is also too stale for this movie. Every shot is just static and not even composed nicely. You really might as well look at still images and get the same effect. The point of movies is to have movement (I’ll bet that’s what the “mov” in movies means) and not have a stationary camera filming stationary actors. It just makes Reefer Madness all the more boring when there’s nothing remotely visually appealing about it.
For a movie only slightly over an hour long it feels like it goes on forever. After ten minutes I thought at least thirty minutes had passed. The pacing is terrible, so Reefer Madness feels like a long lecture that just drones on. If you look at a film like Duck Soup which came out five years before this and had the same runtime, it feels quick because the dialogue and performances keep you entertained. Sure Reefer Madness had a low budget, but that doesn’t mean it had to be a terrible. If the filmmakers and actors had tried I’m sure it could have been an engaging film. But this film feels like a cop out where everything was done with only a couple of takes each time. Like they couldn’t be bothered to put in more effort.
The worst part about Reefer Madness is the horrendous acting. I didn’t care about any of the characters. One of them was on trial for a murder he didn’t commit and I couldn’t give a damn whether he was guilty or not, even considering he was going to be put on death row for it. Towards the end a woman is giving a tearful confession that proves he was innocent but all I saw was a woman saying lines and making sobbing noises every so often. I didn’t see characters in a story and was not drawn into the situation. I saw the equivalent of an elementary school play, the difference being that these are adults who should have learned how to act by now if they are supposed to be doing this as a career.
Good news, everyone! Reefer Madness is in the public domain. So you can go and watch it for free on YouTube. Hell, they even have the whole movie available on Wikipedia. I recommend checking it out because if you can get past the boring stretches then there are some pretty good laughs hidden in this flick. But by no circumstances should you be sober when sitting through this movie. Trying to watch Reefer Madness seriously and the way it was intended to be seen, is in no way recommended. It’s a bad movie, a really bad movie. There’s nothing redeemable anywhere about the acting, directing, or writing and Reefer Madness fails in every way.