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Reefer Madness: Special Addiction

Anti-drug propaganda shorts and films have always had a fatal flaw: They're usually made by people who seem to have never actually used the drugs they're railing against. From 1938's Tell Your Children (which was later luridly retitled Reefer Madness) to the current spate of anti-marijuana commercials, those who have fond (if fuzzy) memories of sitting around, snacking, and generally acting stupid and lazy will be either insulted or amused that stoners — for over 60 years now — have been turned into killers and rapists to horrify people who've never toked. That's not to say there aren't side effects from smoking pot — it's just the way the propaganda works is through trying to make the drug sound worse than it actually is, which leads anyone who's ever gotten high to see through such false protestations. But the appeal of seeing such ridiculous propaganda has always been strong: New Line's president Robert Shaye got his start in the '70s peddling Reefer Madness to the midnight crowd, selling a movie about the horrors of mind-altering substances to an audience of people who were more than likely mind-altered. A success, it helped plant the seed of New Line and turned Madness into a cult hit. Realistically, there's nothing all that special about the title. It was one of a series of education-exploitation reels that would hook audiences (the same way Hollywood could with Old Testament stories) by reveling in the lurid underpinnings of the drug culture, and then staking a flag on the moral high ground above it. Madness follows the pattern in suit, casting its "normal" leads in Billy (Kenneth Craig) and Mary (Dorothy Short) — two kids in love and about to take over the world when they're invited by Jack (Carleton Young) to his den of vice. At first only Billy goes, and there — with pal Ralph Wiley (Dave O'Brien) — he experiences the pleasures of marijuana, which apparently involves laughing a lot and listening to jazz. But when friend Jimmy (Warren McCollum) smokes it, he ends up causing a hit and run that he's totally oblivious of. Billy and Mary were sort of dating, but the demon weed keeps Billy returning to Jack's pad and ignoring Mary, and there he engages in pre-marital sex with one of Jack's willing floozies (it seems no one actually gets paid for sex and drugs here). But then Mary comes over and Ralph gets her high, after which he decides she's drugged enough to rape. Seeing this, the shamed Billy is incited to protect her, but when Jack hears the commotion he comes in and tries to break things up and accidentally shoots Mary (women tend to die in pictures like this, while men tend to learn their lessons — unless it's a pregnancy movie, in that case the woman tends to give birth and then dies). Though Jack did it, Billy is set up and seems likely to be given the death penalty, until Ralph begins to crack and wants to reveal the truth. Helmed by silent film director Louis J. Gasnier, the dialogue in Reefer Madness is awkward, hammy, and poorly delivered, while Gasiner's work behind the camera perfectly complements the incompetence in front of it. Though some find horribly bad movies entertaining (and this is a horribly bad movie), it's not as much fun as you might hope. Fox has released their Reefer Madness: Special Addiction DVD on April 20, 2004 (in pot-culture, "420" has long been a term for "it's time to smoke some pot." Snopes.com tells us that this expression comes from a group of pot smoking San Rafael High School students who organized their time of sparking up. The expression caught on and has become mythologized to the point that stoners can offer totally different reasons for its existence) The film comes in a colorized version with Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS audio. For the purists, the original black-and-white version is available with its original mono track. The colorization has that two-strip Technicolor look that gives everything a pastel shading (the best element of which is that each different smoker gets different colored smoke), while the surround remixes never manage to turn the film into something for demo use. The most notable extra, and perhaps the only reason to acquire the disc, is the commentary by "Mystery Science Theater 3000"'s Mike Nelson, who provides a jocular track that offers no insight into the making of the film, but does provide enough laughs to make it worth a listen. There's also a commentary by the color version's producer Jared T. Sandrew and creative director Rosemary Horvath. Also included is "Grandpa's Marijuana handbook," a pro-pot service announcement delivered by an elderly man, which also comes with outtakes. And a newly made theatrical trailer is on board. Keep case.
—DSH



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