When a film starts in black and white, you might expect it to be dull or overly historical. However after the B&W opening in Prescription Thugs, we’re suddenly slammed to the mat at a WWE match. From personal demons that are revealed later, to the death of the filmmaker’s brother, we are unflinchingly exposed to today’s leading cause of accidental death in America—and it’s not car accidents or drunk drivers anymore.
A cautionary tale on so many levels, viewers of Prescription Thugs, directed and narrated by Chris (Bigger Stronger Faster) Bell, gain a keen understanding that, as murderous and collusive as the pharmaceutical industry is in their relentless march to profit for their shareholders, we don’t know the half of it. The film is entertaining enough to keep viewers engaged throughout, though I don’t believe it will reach the audience that would most benefit from it: high school and college students.
Chris and Mike ‘Mad-Dog’ Bell are brothers who are both professional wrestlers. While it looks like it’s going to be about wrestlers, director Bell deftly brings the material around so nearly anyone can identify with the cycles of addiction it’s so easy to slip into, once pushed on some metaphorical ice. Prescription Thugs brings in how Pharmaceutical corporate giants, who go out of their way to cause (for a public freshly weened on ‘direct to consumer’ marketing—thanks to Ronald Reagan) ‘problems’ to which only they hold the solution—in the form of a pill. Rental available at Amazon prime, HD $6.99
For an unlikely companion piece to the one hour, 26 minutes Prescription Thugs, one would have to go back almost 50 years to find the 1967 film adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls, a New York and Hollywood mash-up that no Damon Runyon ‘Guy’ would ever take a ‘Doll’ to because in this universe which, unlike the Bell’s documentary, resonates with no one. ‘Dolls’ are a euphemism for garden variety, very random ‘pills’ also known as ‘medication’.
As bizarre as it may seem, there’s a certain symmetry to these two films, if for no other reason than they belong together purely on the criteria of pills—and since not all pills are equal, we can enjoy the over the top studio treatment that a big budget, notorious pile of campy trash can provide for a the very naive populace of America, circa the mid-1960s, for what it is and still gasp in the true horror that, nearly five decades later, only the hair styles have changed.
It was enlightening to look at the phenomenon that Valley Of The Dolls was. I couldn’t resist it and found it a nearly captivating comic relief for a genre—the addiction/recovery film, that I’ll be writing about regularly in the pages of this magazine. And as old-school as this may sound, I’m determined to keep the tone light enough to entertain while seriously navigating the very real precipice of what drug and alcohol addiction have come to mean in the very twisted America of 2016.
Leonard Buschel is the Founder and Director of REEL Recovery Film Festival www.reelrecoveryfilmfestival.org.