Reefer Madness (1938)

Do you know someone held captive in the seductive grip of marijuana? Sorry, I mean, “marihuana?” If so, you must do everything in your power to help your friend see the light before they’re driven to mindless violence! And if that person happens to be you, then God have mercy on your soul… Or so Reefer Madness, AKA Tell Your Children would have you believe. Man, the makers of this film sound really uptight; if only there were a recreational substance that could help them relax…

Our story predominantly follows Mary, her brother Jimmy, and her boyfriend Bill. Their world turns upside down when they meet weed dealers Jack and Mae, and their henchmen Ralph and Blanche. I’m listing all their names for reasons, trust me. Jimmy and Bill get hooked, with Jimmy at one point killing a man in a hit and run (but suffers no legal consequences). Things turn extra bad when Ralph tries to force himself on Mary, but Bill gets some kind of psychic vision that his girlfriend is in trouble and rushes to her aid. A fight breaks out but ends when Jack pulls out a gun uses it to knock out Bill, but accidentally kills Mary in the process. They pin the murder on Bill, who was too high to realize he didn’t do it, and he’s found guilty in court. But Ralph freaks out between a combination of anxiety and the Devil’s weed, killing Jack. The remaining dealers get captured and Mae spills the beans that Jack was the one who really killed Mary; she throws herself out a window shortly thereafter. Bill’s guilty verdict is overturned, and Ralph manages to avoid his own sentence by being declared irrevocably insane. The school principal who was the narrator of the film warns assembled parents that the next tragedy could happen to their children, then turns to the camera and warns “or yours!” Fearmongering at its finest!

This movie takes place in a made up land where “marihuana” is the most dangerous drug known to man, more addictive and deadly than opium or heroin. I don’t think it’ll surprise anyone that this was made by a church group as flat out propaganda, using made up stories and statistics. It’s all bullshit, but ends up being unintentionally hilarious. It became one of the earliest midnight cult screenings because of that, and also because The Rocky Horror Picture Show hadn’t been invented yet.

BUT DID YOU KNOW THIS WAS BASED ON A TRUE STORY?! In 1933, 21-year-old Victor Licata killed his parents and three siblings with an axe while high on “marihuana!” Well, that first part is true, but the second part was completely unfounded. He most likely had schizophrenia (then known as “dementia praecos,” so there’s your fun fact), but that’s not sensational enough for the papers at the time. So he became a poster child for the dangers of marijuana and how it would drive its users to murderous insanity. I’m sure there are still people in politics today who believe that bullshit.

But why did I list all those names earlier? Why, so I could better contrast this with the parody/remake, Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical! Expect that on Friday.


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One thought on “Reefer Madness (1938)

  1. Pingback: Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical (2005) | Chwineka Watches

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