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  • Reefer Madness

    Posted in: Disc Reviews by David Annandale on March 2nd, 2004

    (out of 5)



    A hectoring principal tells his audience of concerned parents the story, in flashback, of thetragedy that befalls Bill and Mary. The All-American couple is destroyed through the actions ofa drug ring that seduces high school kids with the Devil’s Weed. Marijuana, as portrayed here,works like a combination of LSD, crack and Spanish Fly. When tragedy strikes, and Bill isbrought up on murder charges, the drug ring goes into hiding, but their own addictions threatento break the… wide open.

    There were countless drug films of this kind churned out in the 30s, but this is the one thathas become immortal. By every objective measure, the movie is terrible. The cinematographyis boring, and the acting is beyond dire. But the over-the-top hysteria is delightful, and there areenough scenes of cackling dope fiends and lunatic misbehaviour packed into 65 minutes to keepyou giggling even if you’re not high.


    “Willfully perverse” is the expression that comes to mind when one contemplates the factthat someone felt it necessary to remix a cheap 1936 mono soundtrack into 5.1 and DTS. Thedifference isn’t that noticeable. The opening music still gurgles and sticks to the front speakers,and there is, fortunately, no surround dialogue. There are a few sound effects that are well placed(such as a door buzzer), but this is a film with no backing music and few sound effects of anykind, so the surround tracks are really only good for a couple of extra laughs. The original mono(accompanying the B&W version of the film) is serviceable, and is, of course, limited by therock-bottom production values of the original movie.


    There is no way this film could look terrific. This sow’s ear is too begrimed for that.However, this edition, though splicy and grainy, is the best-looking print I’ve yet seen (it marksan enormous improvement over the Whirlwind release). The picture trembles, and there arevertical lines visible for most of the running time. The colour design commentary mentions thatthere were deliberate limits placed on the restoration, as they wanted some of the raw look toremain. Whether you buy this or not, this is still probably as good as this film is capable oflooking. The film comes in both B&W and colourized versions, and the latter is actually quiteinteresting. In every other instance but this, I despise the form, but here the designers took a filmthat looked like garbage to begin with and had fun with it. The most successful gambit involvesthe pot smoke: each character exhales a cloud of a different colour: pink, purple, yellow, green.The cheeseball qualitites of colourization actually enhance the camp elements.

    Special Features

    The colour design commentary makes a few stabs at humour, but is on safer ground with thetechnical details of this release. Former Mystery Science Theater 3000 host and headwriter Mike Nelson is on the other commentary track. In essence, he recreates his MST3Kschtick, and while he gets off some extremely funny lines, the overall effect lacks the energyprovided by his interactions with Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot. “Grandpa’s MarijuanaHandbook” is an odd little film with “Grandpa Ganja” extolling the virtues of pot in a mannerreminiscent of George Carlin. There are also some outtakes of this short, including a sillySpanish-dubbed scene. Finally, there is a trailer for the new version of Reefer Madness.The menu is animated and scored, though without transitions.

    Closing Thoughts

    Something of a labour of demented love, this is a fine release of the legendary camp classic,and earns its “Special Addiction” label.

    Special Features List

    • Mike Nelson Commentary
    • Colour Design Commentary
    • B&W and Colour Versions
    • “Grandpa’s Marijuana Handbook” Short Film and Outtakes
    • Trailer
    Posted In: 1.33:1 Fullscreen, Comedy, Disc Reviews, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital Mono (English), DTS (English), DVD, Fox, Special Edition

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