Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Exploitation Movies: Reefer Madness (1936)

The 1930s produced a cornucopia of grindhouse exploitation films (aka "sexploitation" movies), usually disguised as "educational" movies that were ostensible cautionary tales about one social problem or another.

Today we have the granddaddy of all exploitation moves, and certainly the most notorious. It's the celebrated Reefer Madness from 1936.

Full movie:

It has all the usual stuff -- 25-year-old high school students smoking the dreaded "reefer", hooked on it by nefarious members of a well-dressed gang who maintain an apartment "dope house" where the kids can come and take a break. It doesn't take long for things to fall apart -- as usual in these movies -- and we see in rapid succession the "violence" that marijuana is so well-noted for. A hit and run in a teenagers car is followed by an accidental shooting of the teenager's sister, while all the time we cut to shots of the piano player, "Hotfingers", getting more and more frantic as the dope hits him, and then even more insane when it wears off and he is desperate for his "fix".

It's so perniciously difficult to control because it grows wild in every state, we are told by the stern narrator, and for the addict, it is worse than heroin!

As a casual observer, I was struck by the amount of marijuana smoke being exhaled. It looked quite cinematic with the lights behind it, but nobody ever seemed to inhale it. It must have been some good shit if they all got that high just from a mouth hit.

The money shot: No nudity, but it's a treat to watch Hophead Ralph turn rapidly into rank, raving insanity from the effects of his addiction to marijuana.

Lessons learned: Don't take that cigarette, even if the person offering it looks trustworthy. Don't trust people in suits maintaining an apartment just for high school kids to hang out. And of course, the big boss of the dope ring has a mustache.

I first saw this in a smoke-filled art theater in Isla Vista CA, just off the UC Santa Barbara campus in 1974. The smoke was so thick that you could barely see the screen, and the audience was so loud with its catcalls that you could hardly hear the dialogue.

Directed by: Louis Gastner. The original move was a straight informative documentary-type presentation intended to "warn the children" until our old buddy, Dwain Esper got hold of it. He recut it to make it seem more salacious and bring in better box office on the exploitation circuit.

This is the film that went missing for 30 some years, until was rediscovered in the spring of 1972 by the founder of NORML, Keith Stroup, who found a copy of the film in the Library of Congress archives and bought a print for $297. It became an instant hit among the youthful college student hippie-types of the world. and it also ushered in a new Golden Era for exploitation films in general. It was named by film critics as one of the worst films ever made -- and when you look at the list, that is some impressive company..

Taglines:  SEE youthful marijuana victims - what actually happens! Sin - degradation - vice - insanity! Tell your children! Women Cry For It - Men Die For It! The Sweet "Pill" That Makes Life BITTER! Adults Only! Drug Crazed Abandon! 65 years later, audiences are still hooked! It's Public Enemy, Number One!

Also known as Tell Your Children (Original title), Dope Addict, Doped Youth, Love Madness, The Burning Question

More reading:
   · Reefer Madness on the IMDB
   · Reefer Madness on Rotten Tomatoes