Written and Directed by: Nick Millard
Starring: Priscilla Alden
Reviewed by: Wes R.
“Ethel refused to take her medication and there was a terrible scene.”
(I couldn’t have said it better myself, folks.)
(I couldn’t have said it better myself, folks.)
So, I managed to brave the ultra low budget Nick Millard film, Criminally Insane as no doubt scores of drive-in audiences did back in the mid-late 70s. For the most part, I was unscathed. It was an oddity from another place and another time in low budget American horror filmmaking. During the 80s, sequels were all the rage. Leave it to Nick Millard to return to his low budget roots and crank out a sequel to a film whose exposure to general audiences had only been during its original theatrical run and to the original VHS release by Western World Video. Could “Crazy Fat Ethel” make a comeback during the height of the 80s horror craze, when giants like Jason, Michael, and Freddy were taking record sums at the box office?
We open on the words “Criminally Insane II” glued or stamped on a sheet of construction paper with and fake blood splattered across. From here on, they didn’t even bother creating new opening credits. The same exact credits from the original have been put back into this film. Have I mentioned how low budget these films are? We’re then treated to a series of flashbacks to the first film that look like the filmmakers simply sat a camera in front of a TV screen playing the VHS of the first film. The new footage in Criminally Insane 2 is shot-on-video, and the quality difference between this film and the flashbacks of the first are striking. Ethel has earned a place back in the insane asylum for her actions in the first film, however, budget cuts are forcing the hospital to cut staff and patient enrollment. Guess who is one of the first to get released? That’s right. Ethel. Soon, she starts imagining that the old woman who has taken her in is her deceased grandmother. Like in the previous film, the tenants of the house begin standing in the way of Ethel’s food, and one by one, they are murdered as only people get murdered in grade-Z shot-on-video flicks.
If there is a film that could possibly look any more cheap and low budget than the original Criminally Insane, it’s this sequel. Most of the time, sequels earn a much bigger budget than the previous films, but I honestly can’t see how that is the case at all here. Not that a horror film needs a large budget to be effective, but where the first film was charming in its shortcomings, this film is just a plain chore to sit through, even at only 60 minutes. By 1987, long gone were the drive-in audiences who could forgive films for being so bad. With drive-ins, you really didn't have a lot of competition. Drive-in films only played drive-ins and A-List fare like The Exorcist and Poltergeist played the A-List theaters. On home video, the competition is much tougher, as Z-grade films often shared shelf space with A-grade. Some shot-on-video films at least try to be better than they really are, and you have to admire that. But Criminally Insane 2 is like a diseased hooker who doesn't care to infect the rest of the world with the faults of her shortcomings.
It’s amazing how many flashbacks there are in the film. With a running time of 60 minutes, I’d say at least 25-30 minutes of that are made up of flashbacks, if not more. You see pretty much all of the main deaths and plot points from the entire first film, including its ending. In all actuality, you could probably watch this one and not even have to bother sitting through the first film at all. There really isn’t enough new footage to even call this one a movie. There is no musical score this time around, except for the scenes from the first movie, and as I stated earlier, there are no new opening or closing credits. The exact same ones were re-used from the first film. It all kind of makes you wonder what the filmmakers entire point was by making this film. There are much better ways to shoot an effective quickie on the cheap. I’m sure there were a number of low budget mid-80s porno films whose budget was larger than this turd. If someone didn't know better, you'd think this were a fan film shot on the cheap by a group of fans of the original. But it's very much the real deal, by the real creative forces behind the first film. This is truly an actual sequel, meant to further the adventures of 'Crazy Fat Ethel'. It's canon when it comes to the Ethel-verse.
If they were going to go so cheap on a film, why did they stop at only one sequel? For this film’s apparent budget, they could’ve easily squeezed out ten or twelve Ethel films. They could’ve made her the female Jason. She could’ve been the plus size queen of 80s horror. Priscilla Alden is back as Ethel. If possible, her performance is even more stale than it was in the first film. She still gives good mean stares, but her intimidation factor has toned down considerably from the first film. It doesn’t help that the film is poorly edited and shot on video. You rarely see two people in a frame at once. You usually see Person #1 talking then cut to Person #2 responding, then cut back to Person #1 saying something else, then cut back to Person #2 again. It’s all very jarring and amateurish. With so many films under his belt, you’d think director Nick Millard would’ve done a little better this time out, but he apparently learned nothing in the years between the first film and this one.
The rest of the cast is… you guessed it… even worse than the previous film. It’s as if the filmmakers placed an ad in a local paper and took the first few “actors” that bothered to respond. The pace is completely screwed up, but I won’t blame the script, as until someone proves me otherwise, I’m not quite sure there was one. Director Nick Millard would return to the genre again with the little-seen Dracula in Vegas, but I think I’ve had my fill of bad direct-to-video fare for a while. Of course, I always say that, but seriously folks… this film (if you want to call it that) tested me and pushed me to the very limits of what is and isn’t watchable. The blood and gore effects are even worse this time around (yes, worse than smearing fake blood on someone's forehead as a "head wound"). One scene of a guy being stabbed in the back, all of the knives that Ethel uses go into the back in the same spot, and all fall slantways (easily showing that they are going into some type of guard or sheath to protect the actor. Could they have cut knives in two or used a rubber knife to at least somewhat convey a "knife sticking halfway into a human body"? I'm sure. But woah now, what do you think this movie cost to make? $200 bucks or something? Not on your life. These filmmakers definitely couldn't afford such luxuries as a fake knife.
I was lenient on the first film due to its mid-70s atmosphere and sense of fun, but this one is strictly the pits. There is a bit of fun to be had with shot-on-video slashers of the 80s, but this isn’t one of the better entries in that sub-genre by a long shot. The film is harmless, though, and like the first film I’m sure the cast and crew had a great deal of fun making it. The problem is, it’s just not much fun at all for the viewer. It’s about as interesting as a film about rectal disfunction and about as much fun as watching someone stomping a sack full of puppies. If someone were to ask me, what’s the bottom of the barrel, I wouldn’t say this film. No, this film is the damp, mildewy stain on the floor directly underneath the barrel. Avoid! Trash it!
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