Dead Is Dead
August 4, 2011 8:04 PM   Subscribe

1970s/80s educational anti-drug films. Can you help me identify this one? And (hopefully) find it online?

When I was in 7th and 8th grade - in about 1982 and 83 - our health class curriculum featured a handful of anti-drug movies, shown on film projectors. This was in New Jersey, if geography matters.

There was one that I have never been able to forget, and a recent Facebook thread reuniting some of my classmates shows that NONE of us were able to forget it. We can't remember many identifying details, but together we've identified several clues or motifs. I'm hoping the hivemind can identify the film based on some of these specifics.

1. There was a narrator voice employed throughout the film, and it was sort of a "Superfly" blaxploitation-style, cool and worldly-sounding male voice.

2. One of the motifs this voice repeated, whenever a subject of the film ended up dead, was that "Dead is Dead." Many of us are convinced that "Dead is Dead" is the title of the film, but searches have so far not produced this film under that title.

3. One scene involves a man strung out on something vomiting bright green vomit in a stairwell.

4. Another scene involves an affluent, suburban white woman who has life stress and takes some sort of pill for it. The narration goes something like "Had a bad day? Pop a pill! Car won't start? Pop a pill!" Ultimately the narrator visits her home and opens a suitcase full of drugs, explaining how she would get hooked on each one over time. The final drug was cocaine, and his quote about that was something like " it ends with the mother of all dirty drugs, sweet cocaine."

I would really love to know more about this film - its provenance, who was in it, who produced it, who funded it - and it would be amazing to see it again, if anyone has it streaming online. IN hopes that MetaFilter's army can turn something up - thanks!
posted by Miko to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Found this on a forum:

The content of Dead is Dead is as coldly matter-of-fact as the title. Produced by actor Godfrey Cambridge, this informational video discusses drug addiction: its causes and its possible cures. Several real-life addicts are shown fighting their addiction by going through rehab therapy. This 21-minute reality dose is not designed to be pretty: Cambridge deals with a tough subject with commensurate toughness. The production date of Dead is Dead is uncertain, but we'll place it in the early 1970s. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Available to rent on VHS here.
posted by jenny76 at 8:08 PM on August 4, 2011

Bah. Forum is here.
posted by jenny76 at 8:09 PM on August 4, 2011

Response by poster: jenny 76, that is definitely the film - so interesting to see that others remember it the same way! I'll start following some of these leads, but still hope to turn up a link where the film is archived or otherwise available...
posted by Miko at 8:49 PM on August 4, 2011

I remember that film, pretty much as you describe
posted by kaszeta at 8:56 PM on August 4, 2011

Ad for "Dead is Dead."
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:37 AM on August 5, 2011

does part of this film take place at JFK Airport? i've been trying to think about the name of the anti-drug film I saw years ago and the phrase "pop a pill" rang a bell for me. i thought the "pop a pill" woman somehow ended up at JFK at some point in her story...
posted by kuppajava at 7:58 AM on August 5, 2011

I saw that film, in ninth grade in Colorado. It was as you described. In addition to the bright green projectile vomiting, I also remember images of horrible open wounds from using dirty needles, and a photo of a face- the lining of the nostril had somehow become detached from the inside of the nose, and was hanging out of the nostril, inflated, inside-out. The narration alleged that this was the outcome of excessive cocaine use.

That movie scared the bejesus out of me, and still squicks me out 30 years later.

posted by ambrosia at 10:14 AM on August 5, 2011

I just found the film. It's pretty intense as far as drug films go. You can contact me at to get a copy on DVD.
posted by avgeeks at 2:51 PM on February 8, 2012

Well, just got home from watching this shocking gem at avgeeks' house, and still processing. I've seen a lot of 16mm anti-drug films and this one is right up there at (and over) the top. It's well worth seeing, a real period piece and an obvious classic of the genre. Producer Godfrey Cambridge, star of Melvin Van Peebles' 1970 white-man-turns-black flick Watermelon Man, tells us at the start a couple of friends died of overdoses, and he is Serious about his mission, staring you down for long periods as he tells you the truth about what awaits all users.

I'm unclear about whether the junkie shitting his pants in withdrawal was real or not, but will settle for the position that if it wasn't real, it was definitely the best-acted junkie shitting his pants in withdrawal ever filmed.

Miko, your memory of a Superfly/Blaxploitation vibe is right on; the music at the start and end is Curtis Mayfield's "Stone Junkie" and Bill Withers' "Lean on Me" is playing as the woman in the stairwell crawls up the steps, gives up, turns toward the camera and projectile vomits. It's quite effective. I'm not sure at what it's quite effective, but it's definitely a powerful scene. And that scene with Cambridge on the couch with his drug sample collection and the suburban white mom is really bizarre - he kinda teaches her how to use each one in the classic "anti-drug film shows kids how to use drugs" style.

ambrosia's right about all the gruesome shots of open sores, noses, twisted dead junkie corpses in trash cans, dead children, etc. They're completely unflinching and really tough to watch. (No JFK in this one, kuppajava.) Anyway, I can see why it would be unforgettable to see as a kid, for sure.
posted by mediareport at 8:52 PM on February 12, 2012

Oh, and Skip also noted one of the things that makes "Dead Is Dead" unique is the way it hits hard at the hypocrisy of parents' own drug use (Miko's "pop a pill!" memory), and also calls out doctors, pharmacists and pharmaceutical companies specifically. That was surprisingly blunt.
posted by mediareport at 8:58 PM on February 12, 2012

One more and I'll stop; I forgot another great bit: at the end, Cambridge offers some sharply political suggestions, including boycotting products from Turkey, Southeast Asia and other countries that send drugs to the US, and recommends reading the 1972 book The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, which documented CIA complicity in trafficking. Unusual stuff to find in an anti-drug educational film.
posted by mediareport at 9:33 PM on February 12, 2012

Response by poster: Wow, this is amazing! Hearing your description, not only is it no surprise I have vivid memories of this from 7th grade -- what I'm amazed about is that it was OK to show this to seventh graders. Not sure that would fly now.

Most of all I'm glad I wasn't just imagining/exaggerating. Since this thread was posted I joined a Facebook group of people from my high school, and this was one major topic of discussion. For what it's worth, many people credited it with instilling serious fear of drugs. Not that they would have turned out to be junkies if not for the film, but it was certainly attitude-defining.
posted by Miko at 7:47 AM on February 13, 2012

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