The Cocaine Fiends

June 27, 2011 at 3:37 am (6 Heads, Cocaine Fiends) (, , , )

The Cocaine Fiends – 1935 – United States

The Cocaine Fiends is a reedit (with extra scenes) of The Pace That Kills (1928). Director William O’Connor also made the similarly exploitative Ten Nights in a Barroom. Cocaine Fiends has all the murder, suicide, and prostitution expected of a PSA-style flick from this era, plus a powerful oppressiveness despite the material’s innate hokum. I somewhat agree with Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Video Guide: “One of the most entertaining of the old anti-drug movies”.

After opening with a call-to-arms against the “dope devil”, a sleazy gangster (who “peddles dope to school kids”) seduces a rural bumpkin and hooks her on “headache powder”. Luring her to “the city” to launch her career (what career is uncertain), she winds up as a hophead, balling mobsters at the Dead Rate Café (with dead rats stenciled on its walls). She doesn’t write poor old mum for a year so her bro moves to the city to find her. Likewise, he “takes a sleigh ride with some snowbirds,” eventually screaming “I’d sell my soul for just one shot!” He knocks up another junkie who turns tricks before gassing herself while violins sigh on the soundtrack. To avoid being too educational, stirred in are musical numbers and a subplot where a girl’s boyfriend is a vice squad agent narcing on the girl’s racketeer dad.

Like analogous flicks (Reefer Madness, Marihuana, She Shoulda’ Said No!), Cocaine Fiends is an interesting time capsule of mass paranoia. The idyllic country and the grimy city suggest good vs. evil, but the biggest evil is not writing your distraught mother. Despite grim themes, Cocaine Fiends censors its darker subject matter. Prostitution is gently inferred and cocaine isn’t actually sniffed. Someone might hold a packet and then wipe their nose after a cutaway. But later, a man is shot and a pregnant woman commits suicide with an oven. Go figure.

Cocaine Fiends is primitively effective. Hopheads carry dark circles on their eyes and writhe in agony but still manage to be more disturbing than ludicrous. Considering D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) utilized similar narratives into the 90s, this type of urban parable obviously still resonates. The truth still is: No one ever says “I want to be a junkie when I grow up.”

Rating: 6/10 Shrunken Heads. Winners don’t use drugs.

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