• Reefer Madness/Sex Madness - Forbidden Fruit: Golden Age Exploitation Picture Volume 2 (Kino Lorber) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Kino Lorber
    Released on: February 25th, 2020.
    Director: Louis Gasnier/Dwain Esper
    Cast: Dorothy Short, Kenneth Craig, Lillian Miles, Thelma White, Carleton Young, Dave O’Brien
    Year: 1938/1934
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    Reefer Madness/Sex Madness – Movie Review:

    Kino, in conjunction with Something Weird Video, offers up one of the most infamous exploitation pictures of all time, Reefer Madness, as a double feature Blu-ray release paired up with the hygiene scare film, Sex Madness, for a disc packed with vintage B-movie bliss!

    Reefer Madness:

    Our first feature opens with some text warning us about the perils of marijuana use, noting that those who partake frequently get violent and go insane! From there, we learn of the government’s efforts to combat the plague of pot overtaking the nation, because pot is worse for you and more dangerous than heroin. We then meet high school principal Dr. Carroll (Joseph Forte) as he’s delivering an address to the local P.T.A. about these very same dangers. As he tells them a cautionary tale, we see it play out before our very eyes.

    Mae (Thelma White) and Jack (Carleton Young) are pot dealers by trade, hosting parties at Mae’s apartment where vulnerable youths show up, get high, dance around and play the piano. It’s seriously sinister stuff. Jack’s pal, Ralph (Dave O'Brien), has got a thing for Mary (Dorothy Short), the swell girl of an all-American guy named Bill (Kenneth Craig) and he invites them to a party – Mary and Bill decline, but Mary’s brother, Jimmy (Warren McCollum), accepts. She loans him the car and he’s on his way. Before you know it, he’s stoned out of his gourd and running down old men in the street! Eventually Bill gets conned into heading to Mae’s place and talked into smoking some dope – which leads to him fooling around behind Mary’s back with saucy temptress Blanche (Lillian Miles). But when Mary herself shows up and imbibes, where will things go from here?


    Murder! Suicide! Pre-martial, extracurricular sex! Lots of giggling! Bad dancing! Manic piano playing! Weird hallucinations! Dirty fibbing! Women with black stockings! Disappointed parents and authority figures! Assault with a 1936 Ford! Reefer Madness shows you all this and more as we witness first hand how partaking in the devil’s weed can lead to one place and one place only – incurable insanity and a one-way ticket to the insane asylum!

    Over the course of sixty-five-minutes, director Louis Gasnier (who was at one time quite a successful director of silent films in France before moving to the U.S., not being able to adapt to the advent of ‘talkies’ and then falling into the exploitation circuit) and screenwriter Arthur Hoerl subject the audience to increasingly hysterical situations stemming from the characters’ pot smoking. There’s plenty of soapbox moralizing and plenty of preaching from the authority figures in the picture but it’s the pot party scenes that really steal the show. It’s here that the ‘gosh gee golly’ wholesome kids, some of whom won’t even touch a soda, turn into uncontrollably horny, violent lunatics – and it happens fast! It really only takes a few puffs before the change kicks in and all Hell breaks loose – it’s pretty hilarious to watch.

    The film is also a bit more violent (we actually see a bullet wound at one point) than you might expect, a little racier too – we see Bill hop on top of Blanche, we see Mae putting on her stockings and showing off her legs… not to mention the suicide scene. In the 1930’s this must have been pretty strong stuff, even if it’s tame by the standards of the modern era.

    Fun fact, the guy who plays the judge in the film – Edward LeSaint (who kind of looks like Donald Rumsfeld) – also played the judge in The Three Stooges short film Disorder In The Court!

    Sex Madness:

    The second feature (which uses the title card ‘Human Wreckage’) tells the story of a wealthy philanthropist named Paul Lorenz (Charles Olcott). He has a goal in life, and that’s to help stamp out the so-called "social diseases" (think syphilis and gonorrhea) that plague these United States of America. The working theory about how and why all of this nastiness is spreading has to do with patrons of local burlesque parlors getting all fired up and partaking in unprotected, casual sex.

    We see this happen in New York City where a young couple, James (Albert Patterson) and Jane (Miriam Bilavsky), yet to be tied in holy wedlock, take in such a show. Co-workers Peggy (Natalie Donet) and Betty (Polly Bestor) are also in the crowd, as is Paul’s own son, Tom (Pat Lawrence). Why, Tom is there not just to take in the seedy sights and sounds that the skin-tastic review has to offer, but also to attend a party after the show where he and a few others will get the chance to have their way with some of the dancers featured in the show. What Tom doesn’t know is that one of hose dancers, Sheila Wayne (Linda Lee Hill), has syphilis and she has no qualms about spreading it around!

    Entering into all of this is Millicent Hamilton (Vivian McGill) and her fiancé Wendel Hope (Mark Daniels). She’s just arrived in NYC after winning a beauty contest, and is about to find out just how trustworthy her so-called agent really isn’t, and how quickly and easily these social diseases can spread when the booze flows like water and proper morality begins to slip and sleazy doctors are taken at their word!


    Burlesque dancers! Women of ill repute! Gasp… shock… lesbians! Footage of syphilitic patients! Casual sex with unmarried partners! Drinking! Big city depravity beating down small town innocence! STDs are everywhere! Sneaky agents! Doctors who don’t know what they’re doing! Sex Madness offers all this and more as, once or cast is assembled, we bare witness to poor, innocent Millicent’s plight and the repercussions she and her family have to deal with.

    Like the first feature, it’s a low budget morality play of sorts and, again, like the first feature much of its entertainment value comes from how dated it is and how preachy it gets. Clearly made decades before the sexual revolution of the sixties, the film takes a very narrow view of the joys of bumping and grinding but as you’d imagine, this is very much so because it is such a product of its time. As such, it’s pretty taboo busting, and definitely stronger than your average film from the thirties. It tackles its subject head on, and it never goes quite as over the top as Reefer Madness does, but it’s a genuinely interesting artefact and an unusual early sex education film of sorts.

    Reefer Madness/Sex Madness – Blu-ray Review:

    Kino Lorber brings Reefer Madness/Sex Madness to Blu-ray with both features on a single 50GB disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed in their proper 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratios. Given the age and history of the films, it’s understandable that they’re in less than perfect condition here. Print damage is common, scratches are noticeable throughout, there are some emulsion markings and a jumped frame here and there – but it’s all watchable so long as you don’t go into this expecting visual perfection. Contrast can be uneven in spots, Reefer Madness in particular looks like it might have been put together using more than one source (just a guess), but improvements over past DVD editions are obvious from the start, as we get considerably better detail here. The transfers are very filmic, showing no noticeable noise reduction or edge enhancement of any kind. Imperfect, yes, but still a solid upgrade over what we’ve seen before.

    The English language 16-bit LPCM Mono tracks are on par, quality wise, with the video. There are no alternate language or subtitle options provided. There's a little bit of hiss here and there and range is quite understandably limited in both pictures, but dialogue stays clean and clear and easy enough to follow save for a few muffled lines here and there. The levels are properly balanced throughout, and while there are some audible defects, overall it sounds just fine given the history of the picture and the elements available to use for this release.

    The main extra for the first feature is an audio commentary by Eric Schaefer, the author of Bold! Daring! Shocking True! A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959. This one is a bit dry to start, with Schaefer going over the basics of what an exploitation film is and detailing the era in which the film was made, but it gets more interesting as it goes along and winds up being quite a solid effort before it’s over with. Lots of talk here about the release history of Reefer Madness, how the production came to be, the director’s past, the producer, the cast, and scores more. Stick with this one, it gets to be very good.

    Kino has also included a few shorts for this release, including a nine-minute abridged version of Assassin Of Youth. This is a pretty amusing ‘pot panic’ short where we learn how those who imbibe wind up committing crimes and killing people. Like most of these pictures, ‘it’s all real’ and it’s got an official host/narrator on camera to add some weight to the issues discussed. The best part is when a young lady finds her stoned beau making out with another gal and pulls a knife on her! Additionally, the disc includes an excerpt from a 1924 film entitled High On The Range. This is two-minutes’ of footage from an unidentified silent western that appears to be one of the earliest known depictions of on-screen marijuana use in cinema history. Basically, in this clip, a cowboy smokes a doobie.

    From there, we move on to a gallery of exploitation trailers, where we find promo spots for Reefer Madness (the seventies theatrical reissue), Cocaine Fiends, the Devil’s Sleep (Hopped Up), Narcotic, Marihuana: Weed With Roots In Hell, Youth Aflame and Sex Madness Revealed. Also included on the disc are radio spots for The Narcotic Story, Reefer Ruin, Metamorphosis and The Weed.

    Menus and chapter selection are also provided. The disc is accompanied by a double-sided insert card containing a short essay entitled Forbidden Fruit: An Introduction wherein Something Weird Video's Lisa Petrucci writes about how SWV came to acquire these vintage exploitation films.

    Reefer Madness/Sex Madness – The Final Word:

    Kino’s Blu-ray release of Reefer Madness/Sex Madness is a good one! The transfers aren’t likely to get much better than they are here, unless better elements show up one day, and the movies themselves are both fascinating, and frequently quite funny, even if that was never their original intent. A nice selection of extra features is included – highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Reefer Madness/Sex Madness Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      The piano playing is great in this one. Sounds better when you get the grin in there.