There are a few great forgotten horror films for stoners. We can all guess how those films ended up forgotten. Check out the marijuana-fueled mayhem of Ticks, for example, where a backwoods genius creates monster bloodsuckers while injecting his ganja crop with steroids. The Evil Bong films probably need to be rediscovered by everyone who’s ever watched them. And don’t forget the pot-themed opening of the recent Friday the 13th remake, where eager teens get wiped out for going after Jason’s stash.
But the true Great Lost Stoner Horror Film remains 1980’s Toxic Zombies–also known as Bloodeaters, Blood Butchers, Forest of Fear, and Garden of the Dead. This humble production was inspired by the totally true stoner horror of paraquat. That was a powerful herbicide that the U.S. government decided to spray on Mexican marijuana crops in the late ’70s. The problem, of course, was that pot farmers aren’t the most moral types. Those guys weren’t likely to throw out their poisoned plants. There was soon a big outcry, with people accusing the Feds of trying to kill American kids by proxy.
In real life, there wasn’t much of a real medical threat from paraquat. In Pennsylvania, a young businessman got the idea to make a horror film about a toxic chemical that turns innocent pot farmers (and a crop-dusting hillbilly) into gut-munching zombies. Writer/director/star Charles McCrann put together a low budget, blew up the 16mm prints to 35mm, and managed to get his film into theaters. He even shot Toxic Zombies outside of Pittsburgh, in the tradition of zombie maven George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. McCrann ripped off John Carpenter’s Halloween score for a soundtrack, though.
Toxic Zombies turns out to be a fun zombie flick and a fine anti-authority film. The local FBI agents are just as homicidal as the zombie pot farmers. McCrann cast himself as a nice-guy Forest Ranger who’s outraged by his irresponsible government. Behind the camera, he was smart enough to include some gratuitous nudity and lots of primitive gore effects. The biggest problem is that McCrann didn’t seem to know anyone over the age of 25 to cast as authority figures. The FBI agents in his cast look more likely to have been smoking the props.
Toxic Zombies didn’t get much appreciation. Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert–then the country’s most popular film critics–showcased the film (under Garden of the Dead) as their Dog of the Week in their popular syndicated show. At least the guys at the early days of the USA Network were savvy enough to showcase Toxic Zombies as part of their overnight weekend programming for potheads. McCrann probably didn’t worry too much about his cinematic legacy. The film buff would go on to a successful career in finance–which, tragically, would lead to his death at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
It’s not terribly tragic that Toxic Zombies ended up in the same public domain as Night of the Living Dead. McCrann might have wanted it that way. Now you can watch Toxic Zombies in its entirety without even having to leave your house on this very special day. Enjoy the movie right here, and don’t worry about the quality. It didn’t look any better at a drive-in theater back in the ’80s: