Blindspot: The Cult of 2013: Reefer Madness

Reefer-MadnessFor my penultimate selection in this year-long look at cult films, I go back to 1936 and an anti-marijuana propaganda film, originally titled Tell Your ChildrenReefer Madness became a cult classic in the 1970s, when it rediscovered in a film archive and became a midnight movie hit for college students.  As narrated by high school principal Dr. Carroll (Josef Forte), Reefer Madness tells a cautionary tale about a boy named Bill (Kenneth Craig), who interacts with the wrong crowd and becomes exposed to marijuana, which turns people into laughing sex-crazed maniacs.  After an altercation, while under the influence, Bill finds himself on trial for a murder he did not commit and the jury hopes to use this case as an example of the evils of marijuana. When Reefer Madness opened with text calling “Marihuana” an unspeakable scourge and the “real pubic enemy number one,” I knew that I was in for an interesting film.  Probably the most interesting, and entertaining, aspect of Reefer Madness is how much it exaggerates the effects marijuana has on people.  Even though I don’t have any first-hand experience, I do know that the effects of marijuana are quite the opposite of the crazed maniacs seen in the film.  It’s hard to know for sure whether or not Reefer Madness was meant to be a true Public Service Announcement, though it was apparently slightly re-edited before it was renamed from Tell Your Children to Reefer Madness.  Indeed, there are a few times when the picture seemed to jump, which turned out on freeze frame to be subliminal imaging. One thing that is quite apparent about Reefer Madness is how adult it is for a film made in the 1930s.  In addition to the constant drug use, there are many sexual situations in the film, which I doubt would have been seen in mainstream films of the time.  If the film truly originated as a PSA funded by church groups, I have no idea what they were thinking when they made this.  I guess the point is to show how “extreme” the dangers of marijuana were. As a film purist, I watched film in its original black and white form, though I did take a quick peek at the colourized version that’s on the Special Edition DVD.  Since colourized films are usually terrible anyway, Reefer Madness actually has a little fun with the colourization and adds to the camp value by having the marijuana smoke appear in multiple colours.  This is definitely the version of the film that one would watch, if they were smoking marijuana themselves. Overall, Reefer Madness is worth a watching for its camp value, if nothing else.7 | FAIR 

Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).