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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Weed and Horror Movies

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For those of us old enough to have been exposed to those creepy grade-school safety films about the dangers of lighting up, there's always been some sort of connection between horrific onscreen images and the allure of a certain illicit leafy substance. As we hit our teens, some of us (I'm not calling out any names, mind you) figured out that sneaking out to see Maniac and copping the occasional toke ranked pretty much side-by-side on the list of things guaranteed to freak out your parents and get you grounded for life.

Horror film teens sometimes grow up to be horror filmmakers, so it comes as no surprise how many movies over the years have taken note of marajiuana, exploiting the medium to both celebrate and demonize the green monster.

In honor of today's auspicious date, we're taking a break to remember those glorious moments where horror history and cannabis culture collide...

When you consider the role of weed in horror movies, you can pretty much divide it into three categories - the most typical of which being the depiction of casual use among characters. This is most common in the golden era of slasher flicks, mostly from the late '70s to early '80s. Even in the years before 'Just Say No,' slasher flicks were known for a certain conservative morality, and pot use was lumped together with casual sex as something the 'naughty' kids did - pastimes which left them weak, distracted and vulnerable when the knife/axe/machete/chainsaw-wielding killer finally catches up to them.

It's pretty rare to see the pure-hearted 'final girl' indulging in a toke, although in the more liberal '70s you might have seen the heroine take a puff or two - often with comical results, like Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in John Carpenter's Halloween. Laurie's cheerleader pal Lynda (P.J. Soles) inhales with more experience but draws her last breath moments later, thanks to the quick handiwork of Michael Myers.


That other great slasher standard Friday the 13th continues the tradition of associating pot use with victimhood... and although it's implied the first film's survivor girl isn't as pure as she seems, we don't actually see her indulge in a little puff-and-pass during a round of strip Monopoly (she doesn't even get around to removing her blouse when she loses). The creators of the Friday the 13th remake offered their own reefer reference, once again proving that slasher-stalked stoners clearly have no idea what kind of movie they're in... or that they're about to see their own intestines.

Friday the 13th

Even sensible Mom and Dad aren't always averse to rolling a joint in the face of impending doom... especially if they're ex-hippies like Steve & Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson & JoBeth Williams) in Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist. [Dad would later have a much worse experience with tequila in Poltergeist II, but we'll save that for a future booze-themed horror feature.] John Carpenter put a couple of nice fatties in the hands of somewhat older, allegedly more responsible characters in The Thing, proving once again that no matter how carefully you tend your home-grown Antarctic blue, smoking it will leave you extremely vulnerable to cellular invasion by a shape-shifting alien invader.

In the postmodern Scream slasher revival of the mid-'90s, the influence of weed returned  usually associated with another teen-horror standby: the goofy comic-relief stoner. This beloved (or annoying, depending on your point of view) character is well represented by Jack Black's cameo as the dreads-sporting pool boy in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.

Scream veteran David Arquette even made his own pot-centric horror effort, The Tripper, which pits a group of spliff-happy, free-lovin' hippies against a psycho wearing a Ronald Reagan mask. The concept sort of fuses slasher-movie conservatism and '80s anti-drug paranoia, if you really think about it... although doing so would probably be a huge waste of time. But at least they were clever enough to premiere the film on 4/20.

Given its giggle-inducing nature, pot was easy comic fodder during the late-'90s horror-parody wave which for some of us could only be enjoyed with the aid of brain-numbing additives anyway (I'm looking at you, Scary Movie series). But there were a few high points (no pun intended) among the bunch, like the stoner zombie flick Idle Hands  which features a scene in which two easygoing undead potheads (Seth Green & Elden Henson) release a malicious crawling hand while attempting to microwave a burrito.

A more menacing but less frequently used cinematic trend is the use of weed as a device to lead thrill-seeking victims directly into the jaws of death. The most notorious example is the original Last House on the Left, in which two hapless teenage girls try to score some pot before a concert and fall into the clutches of a twisted trio who rape, torture and kill them. In a way, it's a super-extreme version of those drug-scare films we saw in school: don't smoke pot, or you'll end up at the bottom of a swamp with a serial killer's name etched into your abdomen.

An interesting modern-day twist on that cautionary theme surfaces in the indie horror outing The Hamiltons, which centers on a troubled kid whose handsome older brother uses the promise of quality weed to lure unsuspecting girls into the family's basement dungeon... where they're ultimately drained of blood to feed the unseen creature lurking in the crawlspace.

Another trend in hemp horror is the depiction of cannabis as the monster itself. This more literal pot-horror subgenre doesn't get nearly as much respect... usually because the movies involved are so fucking goofy. Case in point, the fine folks at Troma.  in their ongoing quest to offend every sentient being in the universe have frequently added drug use to their lowbrow comedy arsenal: this tradition goes back to Class of Nuke 'em High, in which radioactive weed contributes to a KY-slathered beastie that began life as a toilet-aborted fetus. Yes, it's just as disgusting as it sounds.

More recent riffs on the the marijuana-monster motif include the Misty Mundae-starring SOV effort Bite Me! which involves a genetically-altered batch of weed that causes a swarm of massive CGI spider-things to run amok in a seedy strip joint...

...and of course there's Charles Band's Evil Bong, which is basically a pot-based variant of the countless gimmicky puppet-monster flicks cranked out by Band's Full Moon Productions (many of which are referenced in the movie). But at least they had the wisdom to cast legendary stoner hero Tommy Chong in a small but memorable role... a brave move on Chong's part, considering he'd just experienced some bong-related scares of his own, courtesy of the government's Operation Pipe Dreams.

The stoner-horror subgenre was most recently updated with the release of GraveStoned, a tale of two struggling pot growers whose attempt to break into showbiz finds them on the run from a zombie whose arm they recently stole. Come to think of it, this one might make a fun potheads-vs-reanimated-limbs double-feature with Idle Hands.

But for sheer weed-based weirdness, you just can't top the fucked-up monstrosity that is Blood Freak, a completely deranged abortion of an over-moralizing monster movie (produced by a religious group, which should tell you all you need to know), in which a pot-smoking biker eats mutant poultry and turns into a giant blood-crazed turkey. Yes, you read that right... and no, words cannot describe how unbelievably wrong this film is on every level. It's probably the one anti-drug film ever made that can only be truly appreciated while you're stoned off your ass.

Now bear in mind that this was not meant to represent a comprehensive list of THC terrors..

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