This may seem like an odd place to begin even a bad film blog, as the failure and subsequent obscurity of “Death Drug” is very much deserved. B movie lovers are a devout bunch, tolerant of all manner of cheap sets, swiss cheese plotting and infinite variations of baseline technical ineptitude. They lovingly campaign for their personal favorite turds to be polished into updated Blu Ray editions, or limited run returns to the cinema. That is likely never going to happen here. However, I decided to open the blog with “Death Drug” because, to my head, it is a perfect example of 1 of the major classes of cinecrap.
In the age of the internet all media is infinitely more accessible, and all manner of film gets rediscovered. Every day, tons of titles ripple across blogs and forums as a “so bad it’s good” masterpiece, spreading outward until people who may have only seen a small part of the movie (if at all) feel the need to pass the word along. Much like the old children’s game of Telephone , except what gets lost in translation is that to get to the glorious few minutes of horror and hilarity, there will be 60-120 minutes where ABSOLUTELY FUCK ALL NOTHING happens. “Death Drug” only runs about 74 minutes, but without some friends to act as your MST3k crew, 56 of them are badly dressed dead air. That being said, if you too are damned to watch this alone, I’ll be giving you the TL: dr timestamps of the best bits, and that will likely be policy from here on out. Let’s begin, shall we?
“Death Drug” is a pretty standard cautionary tale, and the entire character/story arc is pretty much summed up in these two photos. It’s the sort of ineffectual scare tactic melodrama US teens are regularly subjected to in health classes. A pre “Miami Vice” Philip Michael Thomas plays Jesse Thomas, a musician moonlighting as a plumber until his big break hits. He has a beautiful wife, a steady job, and has just been accepted into a prestigious music conservatory. However, he won’t even have a chance to pack for music school, before two music producers offer him the record deal of a lifetime. What could POSSIBLY go wrong? His friendly local neighborhood drug dealer even gives him a free party favor to help him celebrate during his victory lap disco celebration with the Gap Band(?!). Just one hit can’t hurt……….until Jesse starts hallucinating, and loses everything he holds dear to the comforting puff of PCP.
I will never fault a young actor for appearing whenever and where ever they can. However, most of them would quietly move on to bigger and better things. What takes “Death Drug” from shrill cheapie to internet pass around is that Phillip Michael Thomas decided to have this 1978 film partially recut with additional footage and rereleased on home video in 1986.
In 1986 Philip Michael Thomas was as big a star as he would ever be, making some $100,000 an episode as Tubbs on “Miami Vice”, and had accumulated some respectable stage and film credits. He was a household name with enviable cheekbones, but much like his “Death Drug” character…..wanted a music career. Rather than do another production of “Hair” or remind folks he was in cult favorite backstage musical “Sparkle”, Philip Michael Thomas had a better idea. He had “Death Drug” recut to be a showcase for his own new music video, and added a rambling intro about his performance as Jesse being a “dug deep from the soul” “dramatization” he hoped we enjoyed.
Ignoring the endless faux newsreel footage, the 4 FULL SONGS of Gap Band noodling, and the fact that this movie goes on for nearly 20 minutes AFTER THE MAIN CHARACTER DIES, let’s see some highlights of this “dramatization”:
While Philip Michael Thomas may have thought he was digging deep for this role, he was digging his own career grave. Neither the recut film nor the music video made any impact at all, and by the 90’s the man who coined the term “EGOT” to describe his ambitions in entertainment was shilling for a psychic line. The psychic line was actually quite successful…..once they replaced PMT with everyone’s favorite faux Jamaican, Miss Cleo.