Criminally Insane (1975)

Author: Wes R.
Submitted by: Wes R.   Date : 2008-06-14 11:38

Directed by: Nick Millard
Written by: Nick Millard
Starring: Priscilla Alden, Michael Flood, Jane Lambert, Robert Copple, and George "Buck" Flower

Reviewed by: Wes R.

ďRosalee, Iím gonna tell you the truth for once, okay? You need a good beating every once in a while.
All women do. And you, especially.Ē

The last time I delved into the raunchy depths of low budget 1970s filmmaking, I found myself encountering Sardu and his theatre of the macabre in Blood Sucking Freaks. I left that film forever changed and not exactly wanting to take another trip down to the grindhouses of 42nd Street quite so quickly. But here I am again, braving a true rarity in the horror genre. A film whose alternate title is ďCrazy Fat EthelĒ certainly gives you warning about what you are about to witness. Criminally Insane is one of three horror films directed by low budget wizard, Nick Millard. The other two are the no-budget sequel Criminally Insane 2 and Satanís Black Wedding.

Ethel is crazy, fat, and locked away in an insane asylum. However, itís now time for her to be released. Her doctor tells her mother that itís best for her to try to lose weight, as itíll be better for her heart, and therefore better for her mental well being. However, she does not adhere to this advice. At all. Her idea of a pre-sleep snack is a box of Nilla Wafers, a bag of candy, and a glass of milk. For lunch, she fries an entire pound of bacon at a time. Her grandmother attempts to help her curb her appetite, but after finding all the food locked away in a cupboard, Ethel brutally murders her grandmother with a butcherís knife. Even a grocery delivery boy becomes the object of Ethelís rage as he threatens to take back her weekly food order because she canít pay. Soon, her sister comes to stay, bringing boyfriend after boyfriend to the house. They keep wondering what that horrible rotting smell is up in Ethelís grandmotherís locked bedroom. Will they get too curious and break down the door? How much fatter will Ethel get? How many more people will die to ensure her girth?

This movie is pretty different, thatís for sure. America is the fattest nation on the planet, according to most modern research and studies. In the past several years, weíve had numerous television shows and documentaries like Super Size Me to not only blatantly tell us that weíre fat, but to also point a finger at who is to blame for making us that way. We have diets that all but starve us, weight loss pills that can cause heart attacks and strokes, and more exercise equipment than we've ever had previously. Still, people are fat. Being overweight is a very sensitive issue for a lot of Americans, and most would probably kill to be skinny again. I found it a unique twist that the Ethel character in the film actually kills in order to stay fat. A film like this today would no doubt receive criticism for promoting an unhealthy lifestyle (as if murder is much healthier). There arenít a whole lot of people in the film to root for, since everyone is so sleazy and un-relatable. There really is no protagonist. In some warped, satirical way, Ethel is the protagonist and her weight problem is the antagonist, as it seems to be the driving force of her dementia and maniacal rage.

I really donít know what to say about this one. It has the feeling of a Herschell Gordon Lewis film, but not quite the budget of one. The plot and script are so simplistic, that the characters donít really have much to do except get introduced, meet up with Ethel and die. There are a few quirky touches sprinkled here and there that would no doubt put a smile on the face of many a low budget horror fan, though. The film isnít scary in the least, but it does manage a number of unpleasant moments. Iíd sure hate to be locked up in a spooky old townhouse alone with Ethel. It never really explains why she is crazy, other than that she used to have ďragesĒ. The ending was sort of abrupt, but I did enjoy it. The short running time of the film ensures that you wonít get too bored, though the pace sometimes crawls regardless.

Millard (who directed the film under the name ďNick PhilipsĒ) provides us with a few interesting stylistic touches. Heís obviously seen a lot of horror movies over the years. However, the film itself is so crude and amateurish, that itís often difficult to completely overlook its technical shortcomings. For instance, the editing is particularly bad. During one scene scored to music, we instantly cut to a scene without music right in the middle of the previous piece. The film wears its sleazy streak on its sleeve proudly. The characters are so slummy and down-and-out that one actually blows the ashes off the top of a beer can that has been used for an ashtray and takes a big gulp. Yummy. Another characterís idea of pillow talk is to tell the girl heís about to bed that she needs a good beating every once in a while, as he says, all women do. They just donít make them like this anymore, do they, folks?

The musical score is very simple but surprisingly effective in conveying the quirky low budget charm. The paint-like blood and gore effects arenít much more than fake blood being smeared on someoneís forehead or t-shirt. Herschell Gordon Lewis would be proud. The film gives off the impression that Nick Millard just up and decided to make a horror film one weekend with his buddies and this was the result. The film is so low budget that they couldnít even afford slow motion! I kid you not. One character slaps another, and there is a replay of the same slap in which his hand goes really slow, contacts her face, and then she reacts really slowly. Itís extremely obvious that itís not real slow motion. They were fooling no one. This provided the filmís biggest laugh. The plot and script are pretty straightforward. Anyone who threatens to come between Ethel and her waistline wonít be around long enough to see dinnertime. George ĎBuckí Flower (who is no stranger to low budget horror) appears in a small role as a detective that comes to investigate the disappearance of the grocery store delivery boy that encountered the wrong end of Ethelís temper. The actors are all pretty bad. Itís no wonder youíve never heard of any of them. Even Priscilla Alden (Ethel) goes through the movie as if sheís only read her lines one time. Of course, the Ethel character is supposed to be pretty spacey, so this actually helps the performance rather than hinder it.

A female slasher that can stand toe-to-toe with Freddy, Jason, and Michael? Ethel certainly earns her place in horror history, even if her film is nowhere near the quality of her contemporaries. If you are into indie horror and student films, this film resembles both. In this respect, I recommend giving Criminally Insane a look. If youíre into low budget fare from the 70s, it will also give you your moneyís worth for an eveningís entertainment. Otherwise, general horror fans should probably avoid it. I canít imagine anyone other than select audiences really enjoying it. Itís pace is far too sluggish to even appeal to the lovers of ďso bad, itís funnyĒ horror flicks. Lasting only an hour, this film isnít long enough to be obtrusive to oneís day, but is probably one that Iíll never watch again. Iím not going to trash this one, because I think there are definitely people out there for whom this movie would definitely find an audience with. If this sounds like the kind of buffet of low budget filmmaking that you would enjoy, bon appetite! Rent it!

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