Reefer Madness is one of the best-known b-movies, and one of the best-loved, at least by those who’ve never seen it. It’s almost hard to believe that this little cult classic, a Gen-Y pop culture reference, the blueprint for every after-school special and “very special episode,” the subject of a very stupid musical, is, well… boring. But like Plan 9 From Outer Space, the idea of this b-movie is a lot more impressive than the movie itself.
Aside from overhyping marijuana as the most dangerous thing in the history of the universe, Reefer Madness’s main problem is that there’s just not a lot of story there. The movie’s barely an hour long, and yet there’s more padding here than on a memory foam mattress wearing falsies and catcher’s gear. There’s a bit where a character drops a book, and he and his girlfriend laughingly pick it up. There’s an argument over who should get a fork from the kitchen- seriously. And we’re treated to about six hundred scenes of people greeting each other. 15% of the dialogue consists of “Oh, hello!” “Good morning,” “Hi there!” etc.
What little story there is consists of Bill (Kenneth Craig) and Mary (Dorothy Short), two bland, plucky teenagers who make Ned Flanders look adventurous. After a hot date of doubles tennis and hot chocolate, they bump into Mary’s brother Jimmy (Warren McCollum), who’s already become involved with “the evil weed,” and he invites the two to a pot party at his friend Jack’s (Carleton Young) apartment. Mary’s got other plans, but Bill comes along, and after about nine minutes of contact highs he’s transformed from Captain Whitebread to a dope addict, flunking out of school and doing the nasty with Jack’s housemate Mae (Thelma White). (Another point of interest- high school students smoke tobacco like there’s no tomorrow in this movie, with no negative consequences). Mary worries that Bill’s foray into reeferdom will derail their plans to live out a safe, dull, upper middle class existence in a whites-only subdivision, and so she marches up to the party to do something about it. But since Bill’s in the other room gettin’ it on, Mary tries a J herself, and for no particular reason gets shot and killed. The druggies convince Bill he did the killing while really toasted, and so he’s tried and convicted for Mary’s murder.
But our little bunch of depraved white people doesn’t end there! See, Mae’s been holding Ralph, another one of the dope addicts, prisoner in her apartment, to keep him from testifying in Bill’s trial and exposing all their smelly dealings. When Jack shows up to visit, Ralph lightly hits him once, which is apparently enough to kill him. A guilt-ridden Mae turns states’ evidence, gives the whole story, and then jumps out an open window. Ralph, meanwhile, is judged legally incompetent to stand trial, cause he over-doobed his brain.
In all, two murders, one near-murder (at one point, Jimmy drives around while stoned and runs over an old guy), one suicide, and one looney, all blamed on the dread Marihuana.
Exciting, yes? No. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s a lot less interesting than it sounds. Reefer Madness is a lot more maddening than anything else. It’s worth a viewing just to say you’ve seen it, but otherwise it’s a total dud.