Reefer Madness Review

The opinions, rants and paranoia expressed in the following review belong to the reviewer alone and should not be taken as representative of DVD Times views, nor any other reviewer or contributor thereof. 20th Century Fox take care to cover their collective arses, so we shall also.

Reefer Madness is an odd little film. Originally known as 'Tell Your Children!' it was rescued from obscurity in 1970 and released once more upon a vastly different world to the one it was originally aimed at. If there is a prize for the worlds least successful propaganda film, then this must surely deserve it; it's probably responsible for more people trying the weed than it ever managed to convince that the weed is the most dangerous element in the universe. The humble weed, according to the makers of 'Tell Your Children!', is a drug of apocalyptic properties. Just see what happens to the hapless young people here who get caught in its deadly clutches.

What begins as a pretty wild party scene soon degenerates into murder, madness and paranoia/ Strangely, it never degenerates into pointless arguments about the nature of space/time, an academic discussion over the relative merits of Cliff Richard's Christmas singles or an in depth analysis of that forward looking, intelligent and woefully underrated show 'The Tripods', as is the end result of many a 'cannabis party'. If it had, it might have put a few more people off. But no, if you get involved with cannabis in this film, it won't be long before you're attending wild dancing party's in loose women's apartments. You can almost sense the 'young people' in the audience of the day desperately wondering where on earth they were going to get some from just as soon as the credits roll - anything to liven up 1938 a bit.

The flaw in the film is huge and gaping. Young people are lured up to a chap called Jack and Mae's apartment to be given cannabis, which he buys from a wonderful dealer downtown. The dealer here is never out, not at all paranoid and never makes you listen to Pink Floyd before leaving; he's wonderful and real life purveyors of fine herbs could do much to learn from his example. He even sells gin! How perfect is that! This visit to the dealer is the one and only economic transaction in the film. You sense that our fledgling dealer has got it all a bit wrong somewhere, as though nowhere did he realise that at some point he would have to start charging for it as well rather than just give it away to whoever walks in the door. Not a businessman to admire, then. But then, it's hardly his fault as we are told over and over again that marijuana grows wild in every state. So what's going on then? You'll never figure it out.

The scare tactics used are admirable. We are told at one point of a young girl who was found, under the influence of the drug, in the company of five men. What a good sport, but the emphasis here is upon the shame she must have suffered as '...the case made all the newspapers in West Virginia.' Poor lass. And if that doesn't scare you, the fate of Ralph surely will. We are warned at the beginning that he's a bit of a bad lad. His parents have gotten divorced in Paris, for goodness sake and if that were not bad enough, he's a good deal older than the others. He is, however, the hero of the piece, as all he seems to do is sit around and get stoned before succumbing to full-blown madness.

'Tell your Children!' has much to admire. It's stilted, over acted and camper than a row of tents. It also offers a valuable glimpse into the minds of the makers of the film and has much to teach about the nature of propaganda and, more importantly, why propaganda does, and often doesn't work. See, 'Tell Your Children!' is not aimed at young people. It's aimed at their parents, and that's why it fails on every score. Young people never behaved as they do here. Before the cannabis arrives, they are projections of an idealised version of youth that probably never existed. It's wonderful to imagine young people discussing Shakespeare over a cup of hot chocolate, but if this ever happened it was surely not the norm. Never mind, the makers hearts were in the right place, and thanks to them, you can still enjoy a wonderful and over the top piece of filmmaking that will raise many a titter from it's stoned audience.

The Disc


The print used was not a good one. Detail is relatively clear but there are many missing frames throughout. Interestingly, there are many missing frames from the attempted rape of Mary. It's nice to think that these ended up in the private collections of some perverted projectionists over the years, but we will probably never know. It has, of course, been coloured-in by lunatics, and so it's difficult to award any points for picture on this basis. It looks wrong, of course, and totally artificial, but that was probably the point. Being coloured-in, of course, awards it a zero mark for picture quality, on the grounds that it looks awful, is unnecessary and ruins the look of the movie.

A possible contender for the most inappropriate DTS mix? Possible, but it does its job well enough. It seems to be just the mono mix broken down and spilt into six. Your subwoofer will remain silent and there is no real difference between the Dolby Digital mix that you will really notice. It's not even significantly louder. If you want the mono version, you will be forced to watch the original version that is included as an 'extra'. The sound is remarkably clear and hiss free, though, and has survived much better than the picture elements. At times, there is a little distortion, but not enough to cause serious concern.

There are Subtitles on offer, but only in English and they are not particularly accurate. It's just as well the makers didn't try anything more exotic if they flounder at the challenge of their native tongue.


The Original Feature

The original version of the film. Just as funny, if not more so, and just as relevant. This should be your first encounter of the film if you've not seen it before. The print used is the same as the pre-coloured version so frames are still missing, and there are dropouts and damage, but the mood of the film is sombre and dark and the contrast levels are on the whole, excellent. Sound is also good, strong and clear. Picture quality is fair, given the movie's age; it looks as good as VHS and would probably score a 5/10.

Also just the English Subtitles are included.

Commentary From Mike Nelson

Mike Nelson, of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, gives a nice, smart arse commentary to the film. It's not funny at first, but strangely gets much funnier as the film progresses. The last twenty minutes or so are hysterical and this is a feature well worth experimenting with.

Commentary From Legend Films

In which the colorization people should beg our forgiveness, but they do not and instead discuss what sort of mood and feel they were hoping to add to the film. Rather dull and un-involving. These people do not come across as film buffs, more like graphic designers. They are stilted and uncomfortable and frequently run out of things to say. At one point, they are reduced to using helium balloons on their voices to pass the time and to provide a cheap, and not particularly big, laugh. The highlight of the commentary is the ordering of a pizza, for which we get every stage in detail; the initial idea, which is a good one, the 'wondering where it is' stage followed by the arrival of hot mozzarella goodness.

Grandpa Ganja's Marijuana Handbook

You've probably never heard of Grandpa Ganja before, but after this you'll never want to see him again. He's every child’s worst nightmare, a grandfather that talks shit. Most grandfathers talk shit because of senile dementia, but this one talks shit 'cos he's been stoned since 1968. Unfunny, patronizing and toe curling embarrassing. Even if you're as stoned as can possibly be, you won't find him funny. Consisting of a series of 'lessons' on the weed, it's beyond awful. But hey, did you know that cannabis combats the effect of Bromide, that impotence-causing drug often added to food in military establishments? Or at least that's what Grandpa Ganja claims, so that's the next quality source to quote whence next discussing the pros and cons of legalizing the weed. "Look, dude, it's a fact, and I know it's a fact, because I saw this guy, right, Grandpa Ganja who was an extra feature on this Reefer Madness DVD that me and the guys watched last weekend." If that doesn’t neutralize the debate for the next twenty years, or get you laughed out of the room, then perhaps the next fact will; that it is safer to drive when stoned. Ludicrous and very offensive. What you get here is 25 minutes of propaganda that's far more insidious than the main feature. After watching this, you might never take a toke again. All it does is perpetuate the myth that all cannabis users are bumbling, muttering, repetitive poltroons. If you think cannabis is a safe drug, then you are wrong. When used in moderation and with care, and a firm understanding of the laws of probability, then it is a fine and noble hobby. There is nothing duller, though, than the full time stoner, just listen to the Grateful Dead for proof of this.


'Colorized' says it all, really. Someone has come along and decided that this is the only the way to make this baby sell to the MTV generation and heart breaking it is to concede that they are probably right. And watching the film, and more importantly the commentary provided by Legend Films, you begin to sense why colorization is a very wrong and bad thing. These, essentially business people with no actual creative experience or even interest, have appeared and decided amongst themselves what the mood and feel of the film should be. This robs the original creative element of the film of any influence they had over the work they created. A scene originally shot for seriousness is redirected as comedic and so on and so forth. The effect is extreme in this particular film, but the same model applies to any colour version of a B&W film.

With mounting horror, as you watch the commentary, you will realise that they discuss 'Reefer Madness' as their first colorized cult movie. What next? 'Brief Encounter' re-shot as a camp classic? 'High Noon' redirected as a spoof? 'Raging Bull' as a Popeye cartoon? Well, keep listening and they will tell you. 'Night of the Living Dead' and 'Carnival of Souls'. Carnival of fucking Souls'! What harm did that lovely, gentle and dear movie ever do anyone that it deserves such a terrible fate as this. Imagine that dreamlike masterpiece in colour! Imagine that, once these festering baboons of culture have wiped their collective colorizing arses on it. It's just too awful to even think about. An esteemed colleague has pointed out that it’s possible that this has already happened, but lets not let it happen again, eh?

Don't buy this version of 'Reefer Madness' and instead seek out a second hand copy of one of the original B&W releases that you can pick up for about a dollar online. If this sells poorly enough, maybe we can save 'Carnival Of Souls’. It's too late for 'Night Of The Living Dead' as there already is a colour version of the print knocking about but it's not too late to make a difference. If you really must see this version, and at least one of the commentaries is fun, then please at least buy a second hand copy. Think how good that'll be for your karma.

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