Today’s feature is one of the most infamously terrible cult movies of all time: Reefer Madness.
Reefer Madness was directed and cowritten by Louis J. Gasnier (Parisian Love, The Perils of Pauline), with the screenplay being provided by Arthur Hoerl, who wrote numerous low budget movies over his career, including The Lost Tribe, Texas to Bataan, and Mystery in Swing.
The cinematography and camera work on Reefer Madness was provided by Jack Greenhalgh, who also shot Robot Monster, Dead Men Walk, The Mad Monster, and Lost Continent.
The musical director for the film was Abe Meyer, who also worked on such movies as Revolt of the Zombies and another famous anti-marijuana flick, Assassin of Youth.
The editor for Reefer Madness was Carl Pierson, who also cut movies like The Ape Man, The Dawn Rider, and Blue Steel.
The cast of Reefer Madness includes Dave O’Brien (The Red Skelton Hour), Lillian Miles (The Gay Divorcee), Carleton Young (Kansas City Confidential, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), and Dorothy Short (Assassin of Youth).
The plot of Reefer Madness follows a group of teenagers who become corrupted by nefarious dope fiends, who get them addicted to “the demon weed,” marijuana.
Reefer Madness inspired a loose musical remake in 2005 starring Alan Cumming, Kristen Bell, and Neve Campbell, which was based on a 1992 musical play inspired by the original film. The movie was produced by the Showtime television network, and debuted at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.
The plot of Reefer Madness is based loosely on the highly publicized case of Victor Licata, who murdered his family in 1933. Anti-drug activists claimed that his crimes were influenced by the use of marijuana, and the case was used to propagate the idea that marijuana could cause people to become violent. However, the idea that his marijuana use had anything to do with his violent behavior has been highly criticized, given we was found to have psychological conditions that left him prone to violent outbursts.
Reefer Madness has built up a significant ironic cult following among marijuana enthusiasts, which has grown after years of being held as a midnight screening staple.
Reefer Madness was originally titled Tell Your Children, and has been billed under a number of alternate titles over the years, including The Burning Question, Dope Addict, and Doped Youth.
The film is officially in the public domain, though the title card claims that it was copyrighted. The production of the movie is unclear, but popular belief is that it was written and produced by a religious group as anti-marijuana propaganda, but no one has ever come forward with a legitimate claim to the copyright. The version of the movie that most are familiar with is the result of a re-release, which inserted additional footage so it could be billed as an exploitation movie.
The reception to Reefer Madness has been traditionally negative, though it has become a cult movie staple for its transparent agenda and unrealistic plot. It currently holds a 3.7 rating on IMDb, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 46% from critics and 38% from audiences. It is worth noting that due to the movie’s cult status, there are a number of ironic positive reviews on both sites that have artificially elevated the scores.
The acting in Reefer Madness is of course way over the top, which fits perfectly with the exaggerated writing throughout the movie. The fact that it is obvious that no one in the production had any idea of how marijuana works definitely adds to the effect of the movie as a whole. Now that marijuana is on track for widespread legalization in the United States over the next few years, it is a good time to go back and look at the history of the public perception of the drug, which Reefer Madness showcases quite well.
The popularity of Reefer Madness as an ironic bad movie helped launch an entire subgenre of b-movie, specifically focused on the stoner demographic. I think that it is fair to say that movies like Evil Bong wouldn’t exist without the cult reputation of Reefer Madness.
Reefer Madness is certainly deserving of its reputation, and is a blast to sit through. I am a total sucker for these old social hygiene films, like I Accuse My Parents, and always get a kick out of seeing the sensationalized realities depicted within them. Reefer Madness‘s depiction of the effects of marijuana is one of the funniest things that I have ever seen in this kind of movie, just because of how wrong it is, and how much the actors desperately try to sell their performances. Reefer Madness is a solid recommendation from me, and I feel like every b-movie fan has an obligation to watch it at least once, because of its cultural relevance if nothing else.