* * * * (1936, 68 minutes, Rated PG)
Tell Your Children (That This Movie is a Scream)
Contrary to popular belief, propaganda films aren't limited to World War II. Even back in the '30s,
propaganda films were commonly used in another kind of war - the War on Drugs.
Yes, long before Nancy Reagan made a Very Special Appearance on "Diff'rent Strokes" to Just Say
No, there was a War on Drugs... specifically on the "unspeakable scourge" of marijuana. Reefer
Madness, originally titled Tell Your Children, fights that war one ham-fisted scene after another.
The ham-fistery starts right out of the gate with this scrolling text:
It goes on like that for three whole minutes. Seriously, I put the whole thing in a Special Side Bar
for you. And while I'm not well-versed in the ganja, it's pretty apparent that the makers of this film
have never, ever been anywhere near marijuana.
After those three minutes of reading, we get more reading! Newspaper headlines tell us all about
the evils of dope, and that we should all "Come! Hear! Listen!" to the esteemed Dr. Alfred Carroll
talk about "Tell Your Children." Which doesn't make a lick of sense to me, but people come out in
droves just the same. After outlining exactly how one can grow, process, roll and even hide pot --
just what you want in an anti-drug film -- Dr. Carroll tells a tale that happened in this very town.
Mae and her beau (and pimp?) Jack are drug dealers who host parties for potential/current clients.
We very quickly see the effects of “the dread Marihuana” when a piano player sneaks off for a joint
|The motion picture you are about to witness may startle
you. It would not have been possible, otherwise, to
sufficiently emphasize the frightful toll of the new
drug menace which is destroying the youth of America in
alarmingly increasing numbers. Marihuana is that drug
-- a violent narcotic -- an unspeakable scourge -- The
Real Public Enemy Number One!
|Cheech and Chong, Violence-Mongers
Meanwhile, Jimmy gives Jake a lift to his
supplier, and smokes up a bunch while waiting
in the car. Naturally, that makes him crazy!
Jimmy drives like a mad man and runs down
an elderly gent trying to cross the road, which is
more the actions of a street punk from a Troma
film than a pothead. What were they lacing their
weed with back in the ‘30s?
Mary goes to Mae’s to find out what the Sam Hill
is going on with her brother and Bill, and gets
assaulted by Jack’s creepy buddy, Ralph. Bill
hallucinates that Mary is hooking up with Ralph,
and goes on one of those crazed pot-fueled
Just for you, here is the full,
glorious opening scroll from
The motion picture you are
about to witness may startle
you. It would not have been
possible, otherwise, to
sufficiently emphasize the
frightful toll of the new drug
menace which is destroying
the youth of America in
numbers. Marihuana is that
drug -- a violent narcotic --
an unspeakable scourge --
The Real Public Enemy
It's first effect is sudden,
laughter; then come
dangerous hallucinations --
space expands -- time
slows down, almost stands
still... fixed ideas come next,
conjuring up monstrous
extravagances -- followed by
emotional disturbances, the
total inability to direct
thought, the loss of all
power to resist physical
emotions... leading finally to
acts of shocking violence...
ending often in incurable
In picturing its
soul-destroying effects no
attempt was made to
equivocate. The scenes and
incidents, while fictionalized
for the purposes of this
story, are based upon actual
research into the results of
Marihuana addiction. If their
stark reality will make you
think, will make you aware
that something must be
done to wipe out this ghastly
menace, then the picture
will not have failed in its
Because the dread
Marihuana may be reaching
forth next for your son or
daughter... or yours... or
A SPECIAL SIDE BAR
|What did you think was in
and starts tweaking and twitching like Cosmo Kramer on too
much Mountain Dew.
Jack’s new marks include Jimmy, his sister Mary and her
boyfriend, Bill. They seem like good, wholesome all-American
teens, the kinds who enjoy tennis, hot chocolate and Romeo
& Juliet, though by "teens," I mean "actors well into their '30s."
Good to know that's not limited to '90s television.
When Bill first joins Jimmy at Mae's place, he clearly does not
approve of all the decidedly not family-friendly partying but
crumples like a paper cup under the slightest bit of peer
pressure. Unfortunately for Bill, “the dread Marihuana” is even
more addictive than Angry Birds, and seemingly overnight, Bill
is cheating on Mary, screwing up in school and acting like
|Bobby Knight (right), clearly in the midst
of a marijuana-fueled tirade.
berserker frenzies you always head about. Jack steps in, a gun is pulled, and suddenly it’s the
inspiration of Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana,” which I’ve inserted into this review for very little
Yes, Reefer Madness aims for Hamlet-level tragedy: an innocent life is lost, another hangs in the
balance -- “Let’s make an example of this kid!” shouts the jury foreman, because suddenly this
film takes place in Texas. There’s even a character who ends up pleading guilty to “fostering
moral delinquency” (though I can’t imagine how much jail time that would land someone) before
committing suicide. Yet another character is sent to a mental institution for life due to his
So instead of Hamlet-level tragedy, with its cheesy performances and bizarro depictions of
marijuana use, the film is about as sad as a scantly-clad Will Ferrell running wildly in public. It’s
no mystery why it’s such a popular midnight movie or why NORML latched on to it in the ‘70s for
circulation around college campuses: This movie is pure, un-cut camp.