Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical
In 1936, there was a very
straightforward anti-drug movie being made by a church group in which an
extremely stern looking man warned the whitebread parents of Anytown, USA of
a new scourge which was targeting their kids. However, in general
church groups can't make movies, so they had the film
made by a cheesy exploitation producer who tarted up the storyline with
gratuitous sex, violence and a really disturbed-looking piano player.
The authority figure scared
the PTA by showing them the affects of their all-American teens after
smoking the demon weed Marihauna (their spelling, not mine...). Good,
old-fashioned, clean-cut, A-student kids start to fall into all sorts of
deviant behaviors including cackling wildly, eating too much, not studying, playing the
piano abnormally fast, playing tennis poorly, fornicating, driving 45 miles
an hour on city streets and eventually taking an axe to chop up their entire family.
Of course, watching the film
it is pretty hard to miss the producers' hypocrisy. They are loudly
decrying the immoral acts while they are leeringly cataloguing them and
fetishistically sharing them on screen. Reefer Madness was just
one of these exploitation flicks that came out in the era. Others
included Marihuana: Weed with Roots In Hell, Cocaine Fiends and
Sex Madness. However, Reefer Madness became particularly
popular as campy entertainment many years after the film was released as a
quote-unquote serious parental warning.
Still, it's an odd thing to
turn into a musical.
However, apparently someone
did. This is the movie version of an off-Broadway musical that is
apparently -- according to the press info and the fact that they'd bother to
film it -- rather popular (though I have to admit I'd never heard of it
before.) The movie musical played the Film Festival circuit before debuting on
Showtime earlier this year. Now it is being released on DVD. I
can sort of see what they were going for -- a campy old-fashioned incredibly
ironic song-fest like Little Shop of Horrors (which was also based on
a schlocky old movie) or Rocky Horror Picture Show (which was
inspired by the old films, though not specifically based on one.)
For almost an hour, it works
pretty well. The songs are catchy and kind of funny. The jokes
are obvious but clever. The dialogue is purposefully clunky (some of
it pilfered directly from the original film, but delivered for ultimate
irony.) The acting is supposed to be broad as are the jokes.
The mostly unknown cast
(female lead Kristen Bell has since gone on to star in the critically
acclaimed TV series Veronica Mars) mostly came from the stage cast of
the musical and they
obviously love the material. A few Hollywood ringers join in on the
fun; Alan Cummings (X-Men) plays the stern and impossibly
conservative lecturer, TV vets Steven Weber (Wings) and Ana
Gasteyer (Saturday Night Live) play the drug-dealer and his moll and
Neve Campbell does a good-natured cameo as a diner waitress with gams that
go on for days. Campbell undoubtedly did the part as a favor for
brother Christian, who plays the male lead -- a good-boy-gone-insanely-bad
due to the wacky tobaccy. Interestingly, Neve gets top billing on the
box, despite the fact that she is actually onscreen for less than ten
In the end, the point is
made long before the movie is through. As the action moves forward the film gets more out there, and not necessarily in a good way.
There are lots of odd post-modern touches that come out of nowhere; zombies,
burning books, sadomasochism, extreme gore, even cameo appearances by
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Devil and Jesus. It quickly seems that
the story has gotten away from its creators. By the time that it comes
to the very trenchant but incredibly obvious modern socio-political point of the
film the audience has pretty much lost interest about 45 minutes earlier.
Oh, and while it was a nice
touch and a great bonus, the biggest problem here is that the DVD also
includes the original 1936 film. Watching the old Reefer Madness
you quickly realize that it is still much more amusing than this
musical spoof of it -- and it's not even trying to be funny.
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Posted: November 9, 2005.