The Most Ridiculous Public Service Announcements

The more you know, right? On both sides of the pond, public service announcements — or public information films, as they're called in the United Kingdom — have mystified and terrorized audiences for decades. The most extreme films include portrayals of drownings, nuclear attacks, and otherwise unfortunate catastrophes, and they can leave a long-lasting impression on the viewer — particularly if that viewer happens to be a child. "Many of the films from the 1970s work because they're so dream-like," one film critic told the Guardian in 2010, adding: "They appeal to those parts of the imagination that children let run free."

While ostensibly created in the name of providing safety tips and raising awareness about important social issues, the Guardian notes that the vast majority of PSAs ultimately peddle "fear, dishing out death and mutilation to adults and children who failed to heed their warnings." Over the top? Definitely. Ridiculous? Often. Here are the most ridiculous PSAs of all time. Any questions?

Puppets, drug pushers, and a problematic PSA

Ever thought about taking drugs? Well, think twice. This 1993 public service announcement — brought to you by Concerned Children's Advertisers and Health Canada — was specifically designed to scare you away from illicit substances for good. And with the help of some memorably misshapen puppets, it just might succeed.

In "Hip Choice," we meet two pouty puppet children resembling unusually bulbous, fat-lipped Cabbage Patch Kids. They're clearly on the wrong side of town — perhaps lost at the intersection between Sesame Street and Skid Row. In no time flat, our beady-eyed duo are propositioned by a drug-dealing puppet with a Lou Reed complex and two trembly hands piled full of dirty needles, soggy joints, and mealy, unidentifiable capsules. "The first hit's free," he coos, "but you find me when you need more. The choice is yours!"

As the children entertain this wholly unappetizing offer, we're subjected to a bizarre black-and-white montage (presented so quickly as to be nearly subliminal messaging) of dead celebrities who struggled with substance abuse: Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, John Belushi, on and on. Ultimately, the kids make their choice — the "hip choice," as it were: "This jerk's not worth the time." Alone and dejected, the dealer-puppet turns to the camera, removes his shades, and reveals two sickly, hollowed-out eyes. It's enough to put you off puppetry for good.

Oh, the Smurfanity...

You're now entering a corrupt cartoon world — a cold, unforgiving place where the entire Smurf community can be wiped out instantaneously by the ravages of war. We first see our tiny blue friends emerge shyly out from behind various mushrooms and tree trunks, congregating for a carefree afternoon of music and dancing by the campfire. The frivolity is short-lived.

Bombs rain from the sky, and Smurfs splutter and splatter. The whole village is destroyed in seconds. How many were lost that day? Count Smurfette among the deceased: She's face down on the ground, one shoe off. Only Baby Smurf survived, crying out into the fiery sky ... but who is alive to hear?

Though he likely claimed responsibility for the attack, Smurf-hating Gargamel had no hand in the carnage. According to CBS News, the apocalyptic abomination was created by The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in 2005. "We get reactions from all over the place," Philippe Henon, a spokesperson for UNICEF Belgium, explained at the time. "People are shocked and want to know the reasons behind this cartoon image." In fact, there was some method to the madness: According to CBS News, the certifiable Smurf snuff was intended to rouse "a complacent public into backing its fund-raising efforts for ex-child soldiers in Africa." The clip reportedly only played on TV in Belgium "after 9 p.m." in order to ensure children weren't traumatized — only adults.

A nuclear attack is no reason to skimp on the housework

It's something we've all wondered: In the case of unexpected nuclear holocaust, what's the best time and proper place to dispose of the dead bodies littered all over your property?

This minute-and-a-half spot from 1975 addresses these concerns sensitively and succinctly. According to the National Archives, "Protect & Survive: Casualties" was part of a series of educational videos and brochures that "[provided] members of the public with instructions on how to ... survive a nuclear attack."

The biggest takeaway from this post-apocalyptic primer can't be paraphrased, so here you go: "If anyone dies while you are kept in your fallout room, move the body to another room in the house. Label the body with name and address, and cover it as tightly as possible in polythene, paper, sheets, or blankets." All these years later, that remains the final word on the subject.

And here's some more end-times etiquette for you: "If, however, you have had a body in the house for more than five days ... bury the body for the time being in a trench or cover it with earth." And that's one to grow on.

Alarmingly unsexy: 'VD Is For Everybody'

According to Dangerous Minds, the American Social Health Association and the National Advertising Council produced this PSA in 1969 to spread awareness about the increasingly prevalent problem of venereal disease. Their hearts may have been in the right place, but their creative decisions were not.

Let's start with the titular theme song. It's certainly a toe-tapper, but the lyrics are enough to give anyone pause — about dancing or even more robust physical activities. They relentlessly invoke the fact that, well, "VD is for everybody, not just for a few." And by everybody, they really mean everybody: Throughout the minute-long clip, we meet a lady in a sundress and floppy hat, quickly followed by a gentleman stridently practicing violin by the window. Your friendly neighborhood librarian is evidently among the afflicted, as is the local butcher. Meanwhile, a pregnant woman glows with the promise of new life.

The oddest inclusion here? Maybe the woman walking purposefully alongside her horse. Paired with the lyrics to the song ("Anyone can get VD, that's what it's all about"), the ad ultimately plays like a ringing endorsement for venereal disease. Everyone is living their best possible life here, including the horse.

Pee-Wee Herman has a zero-tolerance policy for kids smoking crack

In 1991, Paul Reubens — the comic actor who portrays legendary man-child Pee-Wee Herman — agreed to "produce an anti-drug video" after pleading "no contest to indecent exposure charges," according to the Associated Press. Judging by the above clip, Reubens was ultimately subjected to some rather cruel and unusual punishment.

In the minute-long bit, Pee-Wee sits primly in a dark, nondescript room, flanked by an anonymous camera crew. He's wearing his signature red bowtie and too-tight grey suit, but his demeanor is unusually stoic and funereal. Harsh floodlights beam down on him as he stares into the camera, face scrunched up with intent. "This is crack," he warbles, indicating the vial in his hand. "Rock cocaine. It isn't glamorous, or cool, or kid stuff."

Later on, Pee-Wee scolds the viewer with this sternly worded warning: "Everybody wants to be cool, but doing it with crack isn't just wrong. It could be dead wrong." The ad concludes with the sound of a thunderous heartbeat and a tagline: "Don't even try it." Considering the PSA was evidently aimed at kids in elementary school — a demographic not exactly renowned for its out-of-hand crack cocaine problem — it's probably hard to measure how effective the campaign was.

C-3PO and R2-D2 would really much rather you didn't smoke, really

We're pretty sure this isn't canon. In this 1983 public service announcement, C-3PO comes down hard on R2-D2 after he catches the diminutive droid smoking. "R2-D2, you found a cigarette," C-3PO gasps, not so much sad as disappointed. "Well, I don't think smoking is grown-up at all!" R2 balefully chirps and bleeps, clearly looking for guidance, and C-3PO warns him in no uncertain terms that "it's very dangerous: Smoking does dreadful things to your lungs, and it's very bad for your heart."

C-3PO claims he's perfectly aware that robots don't have organs, but "humans do, and I think we should set a good example." That clinches it: R2-D2 determinedly drops the cigarette to the floor, despite the fact that both robots are indoors — which doesn't exactly "set a good example," either. The commercial ends with C-3PO beseeching the viewer: "Please, don't smoke."

In fact, this is just one of several Star Wars-themed PSAs that came out in the late '70s and early '80s. A 1979 clip, brought to you by the U.S. Department of Transportation, illuminates the dangers of drunk driving with the help of numerous alien species getting totally sloshed at the Mos Eisley cantina. Meanwhile, R2 and C-3PO also appear in a PSA about childhood immunization, with R2 actively worrying that he has "whooping cough." Smoking can't be good for that.

Meth: The Musical

There are plenty of tone-deaf anti-drug PSAs out there — and the one you ultimately think is the most ridiculous will depend largely on your threshold for talking dogs and pop star Belinda Carlisle.

But unless you really hate one of those things, you'd have to go with this anti-meth ad from 1998. Yes, the gritty footage of a strung-out teenage girl is chilling stuff on the best of days. She compulsively scrubs down every corner of the house with a toothbrush, taking the occasional break to scratch at her face and cower in the corner. Still, the pathos is largely undermined by the gutsy soundtrack, which seems deliberately primed to throw you right out of the narrative. (Key lyric: "Look at me, busy as a bee/Where'd I get all this energy? Ooooh, meth/Mm-mmm, meth!")

According to AdWeek, the taunting 30-second spot was produced for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the same organization responsible for essential PSAs like the egg-cellent "This Is Your Brain On Drugs."

'Powerful Stuff': The ultimate sizzle reel

Electricity is a particularly popular subject in public information films. There's no shortage of clips depicting young children getting zapped right out of their mortal shells, whether due to negligence or their own unwillingness to adhere to proper safety protocols. There are PSAs covering wayward children getting sizzled to death after climbing a pylon, and children being ferociously fried by electrical wires as they attempt to rescue stranded frisbees, fly kites, and use a sailboat.

But 1988's "Powerful Stuff" really goes for broke. At the end of this 15-minute film, a teenager named Darren muscles his way through a substation gate to retrieve a soccer ball. Under the watchful eye of his younger brother, Tom, Darren is electrocuted almost instantly when he attempts to toss the ball, his lifeless corpse left smoldering on the platform. Instinctively, young Tom runs into the substation and climbs up the ladder, hoping to somehow help his extremely dead brother. Tom is also zapped to death, his tiny body plummeting off the platform and onto the ground below. The film ends with tearful school children staring aghast as Tom's charred corpse. Powerful stuff, indeed.

Don't get put out to pasture

Farms can kill you. That's the takeaway from "Apaches," a surreal 1977 PSA produced by the Central Office of Information and the aptly-titled Graphic Films that seems to follow the dream logic of a Kenneth Anger film. The main crux of the half-hour film — which has an intensely confusing timeline that makes absolutely no sense — involves a group of small children who descend upon a farm for an afternoon of mischief. They are Kim, Sharon, Michael, Danny, Tom, and Robert. The playdate doesn't go well.

Things get off to a roaring start when Kim leaps onto the back of a moving tractor and loses her balance, instantly getting crushed beneath the wheel. (Back at school, a disembodied hand removes the label above Kim's coat hook ... this is the aforementioned "confusing timeline" we warned you about.) Next, Tom falls off a fence and immediately drowns in a mud slurry. (His school desk is cleared out. Don't ask.) Poor Sharon drinks a strange liquid found in a barn, dying in agony that night. (Her mom dutifully empties Sharon's dresser ... some time later?) Meanwhile, Robert is crushed to death by a falling gate, and Danny — the film's narrator! — suffers a tractor-related death of his own. In the end, only "daft" Michael survives, left to fend for himself in a dangerous, newly friendless world. Quite an afternoon, all told.

"Apaches" ends with a list of names: real children who died in random accidents "the year before" the film's unfortunate conception.

The dark, dank dangers of ​'Lonely Water'

Now for something wet and witchy. The squalid, self-proclaimed Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water is a shrouded Grim Reaper figure that loiters around scummy ponds and lakes. In his own words, he's always "ready to trap the unwary, the show-off, the fool." It's safe to say drownings are his business and pleasure, and he's particularly fond of small children in trouble.

In this 1973 spot, the Spirit giddily watches a number of young boys unwittingly splash into their watery graves. "Under the water, there are traps," the Spirit intones. "Old cars, bedsteads, weeds, hidden depths. ... It's the perfect place for an accident." If the Spirit's voice sounds familiar, that's because it's provided by the late Donald Pleasence, the actor best known for playing Dr. Sam Loomis in the 1978 horror classic Halloween and many of its sequels.

Katy McGahan of BFI Screen Online aptly notes that the PSA "plays like a distilled horror film, deploying the menacing tone and special effects normally the preserve of X-rated cinema shockers."

Kids, a field trip, and a reckless driver ... oh no

As we're learning, lovable school children almost never survive in the harsh world of public service announcements. In this short 2014 film created by Northern Ireland's Department of the Environment, a baleful acoustic cover of Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" only heightens the sense of impending doom. Brace yourself as the kids excitedly put on coats and backpacks, giddily leaving the classroom to go on a field trip.

When a harried young man gets into his car and hits the road in a hurry, it's clear this field trip will be a total bust. Meanwhile, the children have arrived at the park, where they play a game of "Ring Around the Rosie." The young man suddenly loses control of the vehicle — perhaps distracted by that Guns N' Roses cover. The car careens into the park and manages to crush and kill each and every child in a matter of seconds.

Just when you thought the emotional manipulation had finally come to an end, a chiding voiceover effectively doubles down: "Since 2000, speeding has killed a classroom of our children. Shame on you." According to the Independent, the commercial was sharply criticized for attempting to "improve social conduct through the use of nightmares." In fact, that's a rather good way to describe the mission statement of PSAs on the whole.

Whatever this was

It's an old truism, but it stands the test of time: "If the combined forces of Alf, the Ninja Turtles, the Muppet Babies, Winnie the Pooh, Garfield, and George H.W. Bush can't fix something, nothing can." It was with these bold words echoing in their ears that the minds behind "Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue" leapt into action.

The year was 1990, and the War on Drugs was going well. Really well. For the drugs. In a post-Reagan world where young folks had figured out that "Just Say No" had a foolproof Achilles heel in the form of just saying yes, the powers that be were anxious for a new, hip way to convince kids that chemicals designed to make your brain feel fun were a bad idea. And nothing, someone must have decided, is more hip than a Smurfs/DuckTails crossover PSA.

The narrative goes like this: A little girl notices that her older brother is acting strange, so her officially licensed toys come to life to put a stop to things, as is common in the world of sobriety. Going on a rolicking adventure, the siblings learn of the dangers of ... marijuana addiction from all their favorite cartoon buddies. Also, Alan Menken wrote a song for it, the whole thing was introduced/hosted by the Bushes and their dog, and Joe Biden called it "the single most ambitious and important drug education program ever attempted anywhere." The '90s. What a time to be alive.