That Golden Age of Exploitation...
IN 1930'S AMERICA, it must have been thrilling to wander into a flee-pit theatre, sit back and view a startling fable about drug abuse, prostitution, polygamy, venereal disease or just about any other grubby contemporary social concern, safe in the knowledge that it was, all the time, being wrapped up in a cloak moral legitimacy. (Hell, who wouldn't buy that for a dollar?) What might have been even more thrilling was wondering what fantastic scenes were about to flutter onto the silver screen in front of you. Would it be skinny-dipping youths? Or 'forbidden' footage of a well known gangster rotting on a mortuary slab? Or Well, whatever it might be, one thing was always for sure, it was gonna' be mad, bad, and probably dangerously hysterical...
EDWARD HIGGINS dribbles into his salted popcorn, and awaits for the feature presentation, wondering what Pee Wee Herman is doing in the adjacent stall.
Parents beware! There's a new threat to your horrible, prep-school, red-headed, freckled, gap-toothed children. And, yes, it's worse even than communism. So, bad, in fact, that it should only ever be discussed in a hushed tone. It's marihuana. And, it's mind-bending horrors are set up for all to see in these reconstructive, cautionary tales. One puff from the herb (and, yes, there is a H at the beginning of that word), and your son will become a babbling, murderer and rapist. As for your daughter, she will, in all probability, start dancing, show her knickers and then start playing volley-ball...
People were understandably concerned.
The drug tales are perhaps the most widely known of all the exploitation films, because they owe about as much to reality and good science as Brucie's wig. And of all the drug films, the most famous, and most assessible, is of course Reefer Madness. Snappy title, don't you think?
Dr. Carroll ( presumably having borrowed his white coat from the set of Time Tunnel) gravely intones about the disasterous effects of rijuana use. The kids (35 year-old's to a man) have found out how much fun it is to hang out at Mae's place - and why not? You see, Mae and Ralph are the sort of friendly neighborhood drug dealers, with dangerously groomed hair . Mae prefers the older clientelle, but Ralph sees a potential gold mine in high schoolers. At first, it's fun and games, but soon, it all turns very serious and very deadly. Mary winds up dead after her boyfriend, Bill, thinks he sees her making out with another guy, when in fact she was in the process of being raped. Bill rushes to fight the other guy because he has taken Bill's girl, so-to-speak. Atfer a brief scuffle, Mary is accidently shot, and somebody must pay.
In case you haven't heard, Reefer Madness is considered by most to be one of the worst films ever made, and make no mistake about it, it is a well earned reputation. The movie is bad in every aspect. The writing, direction, acting, sound, lighting, set design---everything is bad. In fact, everything is so bad it is comically bad, but the neat thing about this film is that it is in fact an important film. It is not important as a "movie" per se. Rather, the importance of this film is in what it reveals about the time in which it was made. It would be easy to say that this is just a propoganda film that distorts what the reality of the time was. However, propaganda of any kind almost always can give us a fairly accurate clue as to what fears lurked within the public when the propoganda was being cranked out. And, in fact, it was around this time that some serious drug legislation was passed. In this regard, films like Reefer Madness are very important historical cultural documents. You can laugh at the acting in these types of films, but you had better understand the power that they have.
This is a rather difficult film to rate. If I had to rate this film just on the cinematic aspects of it, it would get the lowest rating. However, I do feel that there is some greater importance to this film. For that reason, my rating