The lights are down, my snacks are unwrapped, and nobody’s staring at you dude, you’re just being paranoid, which can mean only one thing: it’s time for Screaming in Harmony!!! Each month we shine the spotlight on a monster/murder/mayhem musical. Since we’re celebrating April as Reaper Madness Month here at Nightmare, you know tonight’s show had to be Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical. It’s in the name!
For those who aren’t “hip to the jive,” the original Reefer Madness is a 1936 anti-drug PSA/propaganda film. The movie told the tragic story of a teenager falling victim to the treacherous marijuana, leading to a bunch of death and paranoia. Now, I’m neither a historian, a horticulturalist, or both (a historticultrianist), but 1936 weed was like, half as potent as a modern menthol cigarette.
I’m not the only fan of trash cinema that had doubts about the facts presented in Reefer Madness, and once irony was invented in the early 1970s the film became a cult classic. Young adults across the nation went to midnight screenings of the educational program, high off the very jazz cabbage that the film warns against! And like… giggled a bunch instead of pistol whipping someone so hard that the gun goes off and kills someone else.
This newfound-appreciation kept Reefer Madness relevant waaaaaay past its shelf life, to the point that six decades later it was still recognizable enough to warrant a musical adaptation. Co-written by the writer of Heathers: The Musical, Reefer Madness The Musical takes some of the same characters and plot points of the original film and adds zombies, Satan, and cannibalism. And show tunes! This bombastic stage show finally made it to screens with the 2005 made-for-TV feature film Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical.
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THE SHORT VERSION
Our story begins in a small Norman Rockwell-ass town in the United States, 1936. A lecturer (Alan Cumming, Nightcrawler from X2 and a bunch of Shakespeare stuff) hosts a meeting at the local high school to warn parents of the dangerous drug rotting the minds of the nation’s youth, marijuana. He fans the flames of the parent’s fears (represented with Ensemble Zombies) and presents an educational film.
The educational film tells the story of Jimmy (Christian Campbell), a clean-cut high schooler. Jimmy’s in love with Mary Lane (Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars), and he wants to impress her by learning some new dance steps, but a diabolical drug dealer (Steven Weber, the TV version of The Shining) tricks him into getting looked on reefer instead! He hangs around the Reefer Den, wasting away with a dope fiend (John Kassir, the freaking Cryptkeeper) and plotting their next big score.
Jimmy and another locoweed freak steal Mary Lane’s car and run over a pedestrian, scaring Jimmy into swearing off the reefer forever. However, the dealer tricks him again and feeds him a brownie that contains… more marijuana! Jimmy returns to the Reefer Den, prompting Mary Lane to search for him. What will happen when she comes face-to-face with the devil’s lettuce? What will become of Jimmy? I won’t spoil anything, but Act 2 is a bloodbath!
GORE AND SCORE
The songs in Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical range from menacing to saccharine to bombastic. It’s all really, really good. Standout tracks include “Reefer Madness” (the song with the most zombies), “Romeo and Juliet” (where Jimmy and Mary Lane explore their newfound love), “Down at the Ol’ Five and Dime” (where Neve Campbell shows up briefly for a jaw-dropping dance break), “Listen to Jesus, Jimmy” (a bit of divine intervention in the form of a Vegas routine), “Mary Jane/ Mary Lane” (where Jimmy swears off reefer to be with the girl of his dreams), and “Murder!” (which is about murder).
Everyone in this movie is so good. John Kassir knocks it out of the park as a strung out dope fiend weed junkie, cackling and creeping in equal measure. Kristen Bell’s top-notch soprano is basically its own instrument, and Alan Cumming commands attention whether he’s playing a lecturer, a satyr, or the 32nd president of the United States of America. Finally, Neve Campbell has like five minutes of screen time, and four and a half of them are her doing absolutely insane swing dancing. Round of applause for Neve Campbell, a sentence I say every single day!
Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical is what the hip dope addict jazz cats call “far out,” “a heavy trip,” and “a great musical parody of the 1936 anti-drug film Reefer Madness.” The jokes are funny (though often politically incorrect, so there’s your warning), the songs are catchy, and there’s a ton of fake blood! What more could you possibly want from a movie?! If you wanna check it out for yourself, you’re in luck. Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical is on Tubi completely free. The soundtrack is on Spotify, with both the movie version and the original L.A. cast’s recording. There’s even some karaoke tracks to play around with! If you wanna do your homework first, the original Reefer Madness is on YouTube, and it’s in the public domain so it should stay up forever.
Have you fallen victim to the dangerous allure of the marihuana cigarette?! Let’s talk about it on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook page! For more reviews, recommendations, and musicals that can’t pass a drug test, stay tuned to Nightmare on Film Street.