Back in the Piney Woods of East Texas, us God-fearing kiddos were sometimes allowed to watch, gasp, a movie at church! Trouble was, it was always the same goldang one. I must have seen A Thief in the Night about 185 times, twice during each of our annual New Year's Eve lock-ins, as THAT year was ALWAYS the one the Anti-Christ was going to ride hell on the backsides of all us wishy-washy folk who didn't get called up to heaven in the rapture. And that's exactly what the movie was about -- similar to the now popular "Left Behind" book series. And danged if the flick wasn't always good for a holy-roller conversion or two. Well, the same "scare 'em into action" principle applies to three films from the '30s released on DVD as The Madness Trilogy: Reefer Madness (1936, 67 minutes, aka. Tell Your Children), Cocaine Fiends (1937, 60 minutes, aka. The Pace That Kills) and Sex Madness (1937, 60 minutes, aka. They Must Be Told).
Reefer Notables: No breasts. Four corpses. Soggy Romeo in fountain. One yard monster. Wild driving (with hit and run). Gratuitous soda jerk. Sobering court scene. Swirling newspaper headlines. Really fast piano playing. Fireplace poker attack. Interrogation montage.
Reefer Quotables: A crabby pusher snaps at his dame, "Oh, why don't you button your lip! You're always squawking about something. You've got more static than the radio!" Even your great-grand pappy faced peer pressure, "If you want a GOOD smoke, try one of these."
Reefer Time codes: Lingering shot of starlet adjusting stockings (8:40). The first toke (14:50). Hedonism in full swing (20:25). Promiscuous sex (33:05). Weird-ass, hangman's noose optical effect (52:08).
Cocaine Notables: No breasts. Two corpses. Stocking rinsing. Implied hooking. One suicide. Gratuitous musical numbers. Two-man fist fight. Kidnapping.
Cocaine Quotables: This poor mother hasn't a clue, "Oh, I declare, I just don't know what's getting into girls these days." Carhop hophead is a real party gal, "You know, with all this money, I feel like making whoopie tonight." Daddy's little girl is all grown up, "You used to be sweet and clean."
Cocaine Time codes: Young Jane does her first line -- off camera, of course (7:20). Two Barrels road-side diner (15:51). Pan to coffee pot boiling over to imply passionate nookie (33:26).
Sex Notables: No breasts. One corpse. Dancing girls. Pedophilia. Gratuitous costume-party footage. Crooked doctors. Knowing nods.
Sex Quotables: Sheila the swingin' chorus girl isn't sleepy, "Did you say bed? That's not for relaxing -- that's for action!"
Sex Time codes: As near to on-screen lesbian tongue rasslin' as they got back then (2:55). Watch for the window in the background to shut, startling the actress, who stumbles over her line (11:00). Sleazy theatrical manager "auditions" a young hopeful (18:29). Phony footage of syphilis victims (24:15).
Extras: None. But there's a menu option titled "How to use this disc." When selected, the following text appears: "When the highlight is positioned correctly, pressing the ENTER button on the remote control activates the choice and the next screen or video segment will be displayed. Pressing the TITLE button takes you to the MAIN MENU of this disc. The MENU button, when activated, causes the disc to access the last SUB-MENU that you visited." Seems as if the producers of The Madness Trilogy assume anyone who'd buy their disc IS on drugs.
Final thought: A decent party video, provided the participants indulge in one or more of the above sins. Also, this collection is not to be watched in a single 3-hour sitting, as retinal bleeding may occur. Recommended.
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G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.