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Reefer Madness (aka Tell Your Children) is a American exploitation film revolving around the tragic events that ensue when high school students are lured by pushers to try "marihuana": a hit and run accident, manslaughter, suicide, rape, and descent into madness all ensue. The film was directed by Louis Gasnier and starred a cast composed of mostly unknown bit actors. It was originally financed by a church group and made under the title Tell Your Children.

The film was intended to be shown to parents as a morality tale attempting to teach them about the dangers of cannabis use. However, soon after the film was shot, it was purchased by producer Dwain Esper, who re-cut the film for distribution on the exploitation film circuit. The film did not gain an audience until it was rediscovered in the 1970s and gained new life as a piece of unintentional comedy among cannabis smokers. Today, it is in the public domain in the United Statesmarker and is considered a cult film. It inspired a musical satire, which premiered off-Broadway in 2001, and a Showtime film, Reefer Madness, based on the musical.

Plot

Mae Coleman (Thelma White) and Jack Perry (Carleton Young), her lover, sell weed. Mae prefers to sell weed to customers her own age, whereas Jack sells the plant to young teenagers. Ralph Wiley (Dave O'Brien), a psychotic ex-college student turned fellow dealer (and "addict," according to the film), and Blanche (Lillian Miles) help Jack sell cannabis to young students. Young students Bill Harper (Kenneth Craig) and Jimmy Lane (Warren McCollum) are invited to Mae and Jack's apartment by Blanche and Ralph. Jimmy takes Bill to the party. There, Jack runs out of reefer. Jimmy, who has a car, drives him to pick up some more. Arriving at Jack's boss' "headquarters," he gets out and Jimmy asks him for a cigarette. Jack gives him a joint. Later, when Jack comes back down and gets into the car, Jimmy drives off dangerously, along the way running over a pedestrian with his car, although he survives. Jack agrees to keep Jimmy's name out of the case, providing he agrees to "forget he was ever in Mae's apartment".

Bill begins an affair with Blanche. Mary (Dorothy Short), Jimmy's sister and Bill's girlfriend, goes to Mae's apartment looking for Jimmy, and accepts a joint from Ralph, thinking it to be a normal cigarette. When she refuses Ralph's advances, he tries to rape her. Bill comes out of the bedroom after having sex with Blanche, and hallucinates that Mary strips for Ralph. He attacks Ralph, and as the two are fighting, Jack tries to break it up by hitting Bill with the butt of his gun. The gun goes off and Mary is killed. Jack puts the gun in the hand of an unconscious Bill, and wakes him up. Bill sees the gun in his hand, and is led to believe that he has killed Mary. Bill is sent to prison. The group of dealers lie low for a while in Blanche's apartment while Bill's trial takes place. Ralph, losing his sanity, wants to tell the police who is actually responsible for the death of Mary. The film attributes Ralph's insanity to marijuana use.

Ralph is arrested for Jack's murder.
Seeking advice from his boss, Jack is told to shoot Ralph so he keeps his mouth shut. Meanwhile, at the apartment, Blanche offers to play some piano music for Ralph to keep his mind off things. They are both very high, and Ralph tells her to play faster. She increases her playing speed to a downright cartoon-like speed in one of the film's most famous and over-the-top sequences. Jack shows up and Ralph immediately senses that Jack wants to kill him, so he kills Jack by beating him to death. The police arrest Ralph, Mae, and Blanche. Mae talks, and the criminal gang is rounded up. Blanche explains that Bill was innocent, and he is released. Blanche is then held as a material witness for the case against Ralph, but rather than testify against him, Blanche jumps out a window and falls to her death, and Ralph is put in an asylum for the criminally insane "for the rest of his natural life."

The film's story is told in bracketing sequences at a lecture given at a PTA meeting by high school principal, Dr. Alfred Carroll. At the end of the film, he tells the parents he has been talking to that events similar to those he has described are likely to happen again, and then points to random parents in the audience and warns that "the next tragedy may be that of your daughter's... or your son's... or yours, or yours..." before pointing straight at the camera and saying emphatically "...or YOURS!" as the words "TELL YOUR CHILDREN" appear on the screen.

Cast



History

"If you want a good smoke, try one of these."
Tell Your Children was financed by a church group and intended to be shown to parents as a morality tale attempting to teach them about the dangers of cannabis use. Soon after the film was shot, however, it was purchased by notorious exploitation filmmaker Dwain Esper, who took the liberty of cutting in salacious insert shots and applying the more scandalous title of Reefer Madness, before distributing it on the exploitation circuit. Such education-exploitation films were common in the years following adoption of the stricter version of the Production Code in 1934. Other films included Esper's own Marihuana (1936) and Elmer Clifton's Assassin of Youth (1937), and the subject of cannabis was particularly popular in the hysteria surrounding Anslinger's 1937 Marihuana Tax Act.

The film was reissued under a number of alternate titles, including The Burning Question, Dope Addict, Doped Youth and Love Madness. The concept of after-market films in film distribution had not yet been developed, especially for films that existed outside the confines of the studio system, and were therefore considered "forbidden fruit." For this reason, neither Esper nor the original filmmakers bothered to protect the film's copyright, and it eventually fell into the public domain.

In 1971, Reefer Madness was discovered in the Library of Congressmarker archives by NORML founder Keith Stroup, who bought a print for $297, and made it the darling of pot smokers and college campuses. For this modern audience, the poor production values and overacting create an uproarious comedy. Distributing Reefer Madness to college campuses of the 1970s helped bankroll the burgeoning film company New Line Cinema.

Today, Reefer Madness is considered to be a cult classic, and one of the best examples of a midnight movie. Its fans enjoy the film for the same unintentionally campy production values that made it a hit in the 1970s. Sean Abley's stage adaptation, Reefer Madness, ran for a year in Chicago in 1992.The film was spoofed in a musical of the same name, which was later made into a made-for-television film in 2005, which featured major actors such as Alan Cumming, Kristen Bell, Christian Campbell, and Ana Gasteyer.

Release history

A scene from the colorized version of the film.


In 2004, 20th Century Fox, in collaboration with Legend Films, released a colorized version of the film on DVD. The original release date was April 20, 2004 (4/20/2004), a reference to the drug slang term "420." Also during the film, the number "4" and then "20" is flashed very quickly (as a joke on subliminal messages), which is an effect added by Legend Films. The color version features intentionally unrealistic color schemes that add to the film's unintentionally campy humor. The smoke from the "marihuana" was made to appear green, blue, orange, and purple, each person's colored smoke representing their mood and the different "levels of 'addiction'".

The DVD also included a short film called Grandpa's Marijuana Handbook, a new trailer for Reefer Madness, produced by Legend Films, and two audio commentaries, one discussing the color design and the other being a comedic commentary by Michael J. Nelson, formerly of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame. Legend Films owns the copyright to the colorized version of Reefer Madness. While most have praised the new color version for its campy treatment of the cult film, some viewers claimed that the color choices would better suit a film about LSD than a film about cannabis. A DivX file of the colorized version with the commentary embedded is available as part of Nelson's RiffTrax On Demand service. In 2009, a newly-recorded commentary by Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett was released by RiffTrax.

The DVD release of the 2005 TV movie has the original film as a bonus feature.

See also



References

  1. Sandrew, Barry and Horvath, Rosemary. Reefer Madness DVD, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2004, DVD commentary. ISBN 024543102465
  2. Peary, Danny. Cult Movies, Delta Books, 1981. ISBN 0-517-20185-2
  3. Supposedly, the couple is "living in sin," yet they sleep in separate beds as do all married couples depicted in films of the era.
  4. The actor can clearly be seen jumping out of the way before the car hits him.
  5. In one of the camera shots taking place before it is revealed that Mary has been "shot in the back," the gun is aimed at the floor, one of the film's most revealing mistakes.
  6. The window is clearly a painting in one shot, and when you see the body on the steps of the building, it is clearly a mannequin, as noted in Sandrew and Horvath's audio commentary for the colorized DVD edition.


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