Reefer Madness (1936) – dir. Louis J. Gasnier

Reefer Madness is the unusual type of film whose undeniable datedness in quality has essentially improved its stature in the pop culture universe. It was essentially conceived as an “educational” film, meant to be shown in classrooms, meetings, and the like, during the 1930’s. Though I have seen quite a bit of educational films from the 60’s (mainly touching upon topics of drugs or sex education), I’ve seen very few from much earlier dealing with such a titillating topic.

Despite my limited knowledge in this kind of cinema, I could definitely see how this film would be extremely effective, given the time. With the naivety of 1930’s American audiences, I could imagine this film being truly terrifying to those that watch it. It outlines the fictional account of a troupe of teenagers who are taken in by marijuana’s hallucinogenic fantasy and, thus, emerge into a progressive downward spiral. While these stories are definitely unrealistic by today’s standards, it does an effective job at upping its scare tactics to the highest propagandistic extremes. Murder, suicide, and insanity are apparently the results of one’s abusing marijuana, and it doesn’t need to be stated that this film’s portrayal of this is completely biased. However, the film plays itself off as more of a horror film in this sense, made even more unsettling by the fact that the children of the parents who watch this film could just as easily be taken under this strong-arm.

Up until the present day, the constant debate over the necessity and danger of this drug remains heated. However, it’s not hard to see that the situations in Reefer Madness are at worst highly exaggerated to convey its message, and at best just completely misinformed. Therefore, the film has become a cult classic, due to its unintentional humor over these ridiculous portrayals of abuse of this substance. We all know now that marijuana is not proven to cause insanity, and some humor could therefore be found in the absurdity of such methods to sway youngsters away from the potent villain.

Besides these aspects of camp, however, Reefer Madness is unsurprisingly rather dull. Its story is vastly typical and formulaic, at least by modern standards. I’m sure that narrative of Bill and Mary’s relationship and how it ended may have been shocking for 1930’s audiences, but it’s fairly predictable in all reality. Moreover, there’s only so much humor one could find in the outrageousness of the narrative; the conventional repetitiveness of of its script really causes it to wane and, overall, it’s pretty boring. I can see how the film has attained its cult status – and deservingly so – but its non-existent rewatchability factor marks it right up there with many of the other typical, sometimes funny propaganda films. I’m sure I would enjoy the RiffTrax version of this film much more.

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3 Responses to Reefer Madness (1936) – dir. Louis J. Gasnier

  1. Sir Phobos says:

    The musical version with Kristen Bell is awesome. I haven’t seen this one, but I’m sure it’s something I’ll watch at some point. I’m guessing I’ll get some mileage out of it, but not too, too much.

    Oh, on the topic, it’s nice to live in Colorado.

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