This weekend, Bradley Cooper’s options are Limitless, thanks to the magic of drugs. Mmm… Drugs. Drugs are bad, mmkay, but sometimes real-life drugs just aren’t bad enough, forcing filmmakers to make the damned things up. From the intelligence-boosting ‘smart drug’ NZT in Limitless to the emotion-sapping Prozium in Equilibrium, movies are filled with fake drugs that we can’t say ‘No’ to… because they don’t exist. Here are our ten favorites.
The Fear Gas from Batman Begins (2005)
“Well, you know how it is, Mr. Fox. You’re out at night, looking for kicks, someone’s passing around the weaponized hallucinogens…”
Before Bruce Wayne could become a good role model he first had to take a bunch of hallucinogenic drugs. What, did Grant Morrison write this movie? Batman overcomes his own nightmares thanks to the smoke from a rare blue flower, but in the hands of Dr. Crane (Cillian Murphy), the drug becomes a ‘fear gas’ that sends all of Gotham into terrified anarchy. The only thing to fear is fear itself… and drugs. Don’t do drugs, kids. (Unless you’re Batman. Then it’s perfectly all right.)
Prozium from Equilibrium (2002)
Christian Bale does even more drugs in this action-packed sci-fi spectacle from 2002. Equilibrium takes place in a dystopian future in which everyone on Earth is hooked on Prozium, a chemical that suppresses emotional responses. Emotions, you see, have become the latest scapegoat of a Totalitarian regime that has outlawed love, hate, everything in between and even works of art which could spur those emotions, from the Mona Lisa to tacky picture frames. Bale plays a ‘Tetragrammaton Cleric’ whose job is to kill anyone in touch with their feelings using the most awesome fake martial art in history: Gun Kata, which combines kung fu with firearms. When he goes off his meds he discovers what life is all about, and apparently it’s all about killing the bastards responsible for repressing all of society. A kick-ass movie, and an enormously under-rated one.
GLeeMONEX from The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy (1996)
Roritor Pharmaceuticals has a problem: after the initial success of their Tums-like product ‘Stummies,’ they’ve fallen behind in the market, leading a group of research scientists to fast track the most powerful anti-depressant in the world – GLeeMONEX – without proper testing. The Kids in the Hall followed the success of their hit TV series with Brain Candy, a somewhat underwhelming film with very amusing moments (the hero invents GLeeMONEX after the hilariously clumsy suicide of his father), but the movie’s recurring gag of people living out their happiest memories isn’t exactly the funniest in the world. Eventually the drug takes the world by storm, but everyone who takes it eventually slips into a coma, reliving their happiest memories over and over again. Be careful what you wish for… No, we don’t mean GLeeMONEX; we mean a Kids in the Hall movie.
The Heroin-Laced Human Endorphins from I Come In Peace (1991)
Dolph Lundgren is a cop who doesn’t play by the rules blah-blah-blah-blah-blah in what at first seems like a clichéd action movie from director Craig R. Baxley (Action Jackson). But there’s something weird going on here: Dolph keeps finding corpses full of heroin but dead from other, mysterious causes. Also, there’s weird alien weaponry lying around. Also the killer is an alien who pumps his human victims full of narcotics so he can extract their endorphins to make a highly addictive drug for his own species. Dolph teams up with his by-the-book partner Brian Benben (TV’s Dream On) and a good alien played by Jay Bilas to take down the extraterrestrial drug lord (Matthias Hues of No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder) in this better-than-you’d-expect sci-fi action treat from 1991.
Provasic from The Fugitive (1993)
We all know Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) didn’t kill his wife, but the filmmakers don’t really care why she’s dead: it’s just a MacGuffin to keep him on the run from U.S. Marshall Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones in an Oscar-winning performance). But even MacGuffins still need to be explained at some point (usually), and it turns out that Kimble was the original target for the murder because he found out that the fictional drug Provasic was actually giving its recipients chemically-induced Hepatitis. It’s a great movie (nominated for Best Picture, if you’ll remember), but as much as we appreciate a good evil plot this one kind of falls apart if you think about it too hard. The bad guy’s plan was to release a drug that kills anyone who takes it? Not because he’s a murderous bastard, but to make money off of that drug? What was his endgame after everyone started dying from his product? He can’t just move to Bermuda, you know. Everyone in the world will be calling for his head. This guy makes Harry Lime look like Florence Nightingale.
Substance D from A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Richard Linklater’s freaky adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly follows undercover detective Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) as he tries to infiltrate a futuristic drug culture and track down the suppliers of Substance D, a highly addictive drug that causes hallucinations, severe paranoia and even split personalities, literally causing the two sides of the brain to go to war with each other. Naturally, he becomes addicted to the stuff. Beautifully rotoscoped a la Waking Life, Linklater’s film itself feels like a bad trip, filled with drug-induced philosophical conversations between Reeves and his addict buddies played by Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr. See it sober, or at least on something other than Substance D.
Nuke from Robocop 2 (1990)
There’s a new drug sweeping the streets of Detroit, and its name is Nuke. (Man, these drug dealers sure know how to market don’t they? What, was ‘Black Death’ taken?) It’s up to Robocop (Peter Weller) to save the day – again – but he’s overworked due to a recent police strike, leaving Robocop 2 to clean up the streets. The problem is that this new Robocop (played by Manhunter’s Tom Noonan) is more violent than the first: a former criminal himself who only does what the man tells him to because they supply him with his own steady supply of Nuke. Not nearly as good as the first Robocop (but then few movies are), Robocop 2 is still a fun sequel with a bad-ass villain and one of the better robot brawls captured on cinema (other than Robot Jox, obviously).
The Re-Agent from Re-Animator (1985)
It’s important to remember that most drugs were created with the best intentions. Morphine is still used in hospitals, marijuana was just a happy-happy-puff-puff cigarette and crack was… well okay, crack is crack. But few drugs were made with purer goals in mind than Herbert West’s Re-Agent in Re-Animator, Stuart Gordon’s adaptation of one of H.P. Lovecraft’s lesser but more entertaining works. West’s drug has the ability to return the dead to life, but throughout Re-Animator and its two sequels – the pretty good Bride of Re-Animator and the less than good Beyond Re-Animator – he never quite gets the formula right. The corpses he re-animates usually go on a killing spree, except for one time where for some reason the subject regains total conscious and develops the ability to control all the other mindless zombies West re-animated. (It had something to do with a hypnosis subplot wisely excised from the finished film.) Good idea, poor execution… the Re-Agent, that is. Re-Animator is a horror classic from start to finish.
The Black Meat from Naked Lunch (1991)
William Burroughs did a lot of drugs. We’re pretty sure about that. But director David Cronenberg must have been on the Black Meat when he directed Naked Lunch, the surreal adaptation of Burroughs’ most famous work that combines the text of the novel with the facts of the original author’s unusual life, like the time he accidentally killed his common-law wife during a drug-induced game of ‘William Tell.’ It’s a disturbing film and a little hard to recommend without a lot of caveats, but perhaps most disturbing of all is the plant where the film’s fictional drug – Black Meat – is harvested from giant centipedes. It looks like a scene from Hostel crossed with A Bug’s Life, and afterwards you’ll never want to suckle from an insect teat ever again.
Lot 6 from Firestarter (1984)
A lot of people experimented with drugs in college, but in Firestarter the experiment was highly scientific: Andy (David Keith from The Indian in the Cupboard) and Victoria (Heather Locklear from… Oh, you know who Heather Locklear is) took part in a clinical trial of the drug ominously named ‘Lot 6,’ which was supposedly a form of LSD but in fact gave them both mild psychic powers. Their daughter, on the other hand, gets wild psychic powers: she can burn things with her mind. Now Andy and his daughter (played by a young, young Drew Barrymore) are on the run from The Shop, the evil company that produced Lot 6 and also the equally evil drugs from The Lawnmower Man and Golden Years. Generally speaking, giving anybody drugs that bestow upon them the power to kill you with their minds is considered a bad idea. ‘Just say no’ starts at the top, people. Or rather, it starts with The Shop.