Reefer Madness

Year: 1936
Production Co: George A Hirliman Productions
Director: Louis Gasnier
Producer: George A Hirliman
Writer: Arthur Hoerl

If you came across this movie by accident on late night TV, you'd think you were watching a bad parody of an old propaganda movie warning about the dangers of drugs.

But it's quite serious, and the ham fisted moralising has to be seen to be believed. The fact that an audience for it even existed is as interesting as the film itself. People in the 1930s weren't any more stupid than we are today, but they were more trusting of authority than society today, and this film came out in a time of the absence of any real education.

With horror the likes of which Frankenstein couldn't possibly compete, a doctor at a school P&C tells a story of insidious moral decay. A trio of young hoodlums who hold parties (gasp!) with hip-swinging dancing (egad!) and jazz music (no!) that could lead to 'you-know-what' tempt God-fearing, squeaky clean local youth into becoming reefer addicts. It makes them paranoid, crazy and even murderous, such as when a paranoid scuffle breaks out over a gun and one formerly virtuous young lady is shot dead.

It's a tawdry tale, the sort we'd tell about heroin nowadays with promising young lives ruined and lost. In 1936 it might have been effective, but the use by date is as unsubtle as the over-zealous opening monologue about the horrors of the devil's weed. In the 60s and 70s it found its rightful place as a camp classic of midnight movie screenings and trashy TV.

Apparently there's still contention about the true identity of the original backers - some say it was the Army, some say it was a church group. But whoever it was did cult movie fans everywhere a community service.

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