One Toke Over the Line: REEFER MADNESS (G & H Productions 1936)

cracked rear viewer


I’m writing this post while battling a nasty case of the flu, so it’s probably going to be a short one. That’s okay though, because really, what can I say about REEFER MADNESS? It’s terrible filmmaking, and dull as dishwater. There are plot holes so wide you could drive a semi through them. This little exploitation number would’ve been long forgotten after making the rounds on the grindhouse and roadshow circuits, until it was rediscovered by the stoner crowd in the 70’s and turned into an ironic midnight cult movie.


The movie itself finds stodgy Dr. Carroll lecturing the local School-Parent Group to help “stamp out this frightful assassin of youth” marijuana. He recounts what happened when some kids got hooked on the stuff. Seems this gang of drug pushers were out to corrupt American youth by turning them on at an apartment run by no-goods Mae and Jack. Sweet Mary’s brother…

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Embracing The Melodrama #7: Reefer Madness (dir Louis Gasnier)

Reefer Madness

“The motion picture you are about to witness may startle you. It would not have been possible, otherwise, to sufficiently emphasize the frightful toll of the new drug menace which is destroying the youth of America in alarmingly increasing numbers. Marijuana is that drug – a violent narcotic – an unspeakable scourge – The Real Public Enemy Number One!” — The opening crawl of Reefer Madness (1936)

“”I’ll buy you a soda!” — Drug Dealer Jimmy

“I never drink the stuff!” — Future Drug Addict Bill

Yes, everyone, it’s time to tell your children and maybe light one up because te 8th entry in our series devoted to embracing the melodrama is none other than the 1936 “educational” film, Reefer Madness!

Reefer Madness opens with Dr. Carroll (Josef Forte) talking to a PTA meeting about the dangers of marijuana use among the youth of America.  Dr. Carroll can tell that the PTA doesn’t understand just how dangerous marijuana is so he tells them that he’s going to tell them a story.  Yes, he says, he knows that they’ve probably already read about this story in the newspapers.  But he’s going to tell them all the details that were intentionally left out of the newspapers.  (Damn liberal media….)

As principal of the local high school, Dr. Carroll has noticed some strange things happening.  Some of the students are failing to give 100% in athletic competitions.  Meanwhile, former honors student Bill has been spotted giggling in class while discussing Shakespeare.  Watching all of this, Dr. Carroll can only assume that every student in his high school must be smoking marijuana!  (What Dr. Carroll never seems to mention — or find strange — is that all of the high school’s students appears to be in their 30s and 40s.)

Well, Dr. Carroll is right!  Weed, reefer, marijuana — call it what you will, it has taken over the formerly clean-cut, all-American students and now they’re all a bunch of giggling and murdering addicts.  Perhaps not surprisingly, this leads to murder, tragedy, and unwed pregnancy.  Over the course of 67 minutes, life after life is ruined by marijuana.  Most chillingly, Dr. Carroll informs us that “the next tragedy may be that of your daughter’s… or your son’s… or yours… or yours…or yours!”

According to Reefer Madness, smoking weed will cause you to have an utterly psychotic break from reality, transforming you automatically into a hyperactive, sex maniac who neglects your studies, runs over people in the street, and plays the piano while bugging out your eyes.  All it takes is one little toke to get hooked for life.  As Reefer Madness shows us, addicts can be spotted by the heavy cloud of smoke that forms around their head as they madly puff on their marijuana cigarettes.  In fact, marijuana is such a powerful drug that the addicts in Reefer Madness don’t even have to actually inhale to be effected.  In perhaps the film’s most infamous scene, a hallucinating marijuana addict demands that his piano-playing girlfriend play “faster…faster….FASTER!”

No wonder they call marijuana the “Weed with roots in Hell!”

Obviously, if you’ve ever smoked weed, then you know that Reefer Madness gets it all wrong.  However, the lasting power and appeal of Reefer Madness lies in the fact that even someone who has never smoked weed before in his or her life will watch this film and know that it gets it all wrong.  Reefer Madness is perhaps the most inept and inaccurate portrayal of drug use to ever appear on screen and, as a result, it almost defies criticism.  Yes, the film is thoroughly over-the-top and terrible but its terrible in its own oddly unique way.  As a result, it’s one of those films that simply has to be seen to be believed.

And here’s your chance!

And remember — there’s no hope with dope!

Scenes I Love: “Faster! Play it Faster!” from Reefer Madness

One reason that I love the old school grindhouse and exploitation films is because they’re often a far more honest reflection of their times than more mainstream films.  If you want to learn about history through film, don’t waste your time watching whatever film won best picture in 1936.  Instead, watch the movies that were specifically designed to exploit the times by presenting a somewhat more honest portrait of them.

So, what can we learn about 1936 from watching a classic exploitation film like Reefer MadnessReefer Madness, of course, tells the story of what happens after a group of clean-cut high school students are introduced to marijuana, the weed with roots in Hell.

Well, from the clip below, we can guess that, in 1936, high school was full of people in their 40s.  That and the marijuana of the 1930s was apparently laced with speed.

For giving the audience this unexpected insight into the past, this is truly a scene that I love.