The Cessploitation Conflagration #1

Nate Bradford & Steven Ronquillo

We burn the midnight oil, scraping the bottom of the barrel, to bring you the cream that rises to the top.


Hollywood has long had a love affair with the anti-drug movie.  Reefer Madness wasn’t the first time that filmmakers tried to convince kids that drugs are bad, but it’s still considered the go-to benchmark by which other anti-drug films (serious or otherwise) are measured.  Tonight, we present our top three anti-drug allegories.  They may not be as straight forward as Reefer Madness, but all three of them are a hell of a lot more fun to watch.

NUMBER 3:  Transmutations (1985)

STEVEN: This was a work for hire that Clive Barker did before he was a big author.  It’s about a drug that transforms your body into your innermost being.  It’s like a Zen / cautionary tale, and it involves a gangster who is torn between the girl he loves, one of the mutants created by the drug, and his bosses who push the drug.  It’s basically a dry run for Nightbreed, but it’s an interesting watch.  So far it’s only been released on VHS.

Note: Not available on DVD in North America, but there is a Region 2 PAL release. -Ed

NATE:  My favorite thing about this flick is the cast.  Denholm Eliot AND Miranda Richardson?  Somebody pinch me.  This movie blends a zombie film atmosphere with a gangster film sensibility, then throws in a mad scientist twist and rock video segments just for fun.  The plot is unpredictable and director George Pavlou (of Rawhead Rex fame) keeps things moving briskly enough that you have little or no time to contemplate inconsistencies. Barker later disowned the end result.

STEVEN:  And, if you can’t tell, Barker later gutted the Transmutations script and used bits and pieces of it to flesh out his books Weaveworld, The Great and Secret Show, and, most definitely, Cabal. The script was written before the Books of Blood were published. Pavlou bought Rawhead Rex and an unwritten, new script from Barker at the same time. Transmutations is what Clive threw together.

NUMBER 2:  Brain Damage (1988)

STEVEN: Frank Henenlotter really cuts it to the bone with this one. Aylmer is the best explanation for why folks do drugs that I’ve ever seen on film. From showing the euphoric highs, to Aylmer’s seductive speeches, you get to see not only why folks do drugs, but also how those drugs can rip out your asshole in the same breath. A classic and a must see.

NATE:  I love most anything Frank Henenlotter does and this movie is no exception. Beloved 1950s horror host Zacherly supplies the voice of the sperm-like Aylmer who sings, dances, and blackmails Rich Herbst with his hallucination-inducing drug. This flick has some intense gore (which is always a plus in my mind), and there’s even an in-joke nod to Henenlotter’s classic Basket Case.

STEVEN: My favorite scene has to be the euphoria scene A.K.A. “Brian’s First Trip”. Every time I hear a junkie tell how his first trip on any drug was, it’s the imagery from this scene, where the blue juice just floods and overwhelms his senses, that comes to mind. This is one of the most seductive scenes in horror history.

NUMBER 1:  Altered States (1980)

STEVEN: Ken Russell’s sci-fi film is one of the trippiest movies ever, filled with pro-drug and bizarre religious material. The weird, happy ending that shows unless you’re connected with those you love, you might lose yourself, is totally nice, but it goes against a lot of how asshole-ish the main guy acts throughout the movie.

NATE: Like Henenlotter, Ken Russell is one of those directors who can do little wrong in my eyes. This is one of his most ‘mainstream’ films, and also one of my favorites by him. Ostensibly based on the true story of a college professor who ate a bunch of LSD and then locked himself in a sensory deprivation tank, Altered States tells the tale of a man seemingly driven to a primeval state by repeated episodes of drug and / or deepwater, think tank abuse. This flick (like all of Russell’s), has tons of super-cool, mad-scientist / Anti-Christ imagery and also features a young Drew Barrymore who, if her biography is to be believed, was probably ON drugs at the time.

STEVEN: What I find most amusing about Altered States is that it was one of the last movies to get a ‘70s-style PG rating (meaning blood, gore, and nudity, were ALL allowed). After this came out, it was the start of a new era where the MPAA really cracked down hard.


Nate Bradford is a writer, musician, actor, filmmaker, and philosopher who divides his time between Bangor, Maine and Brooklyn, New York. He is a film fanatic who was employed briefly as the Editor-in-Chief of the Exploitation / Horror fanzine Mondo Muerte.

Steven Ronquillo is a film geek who has wasted most of his years on this planet trying to see the weirdest and oddest movies he can. He loves movies more than anything else and considers watching them his full-time job.

About Steven Ronquillo

I watch crappy movies so you don't have to.
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