Friday, October 31, 2008

Criminally Insane (1975)

...aka: Crazy Fat Ethel

Directed by:Nick Millard

At first glance you might think that CRIMINALLY INSANE (also known as CRAZY FAT ETHEL) is cheap, dumb and bad. And it is indeed cheap, dumb and bad in just about every way a film can be bad. But while it digs its claws at the bottom of the trash movie barrel and moves from one ineptly staged scene to the next, I just couldn't help but like it because it's incredibly entertaining and packs more laughs than most straight-forward horror comedies. Some of the laughs are intentional, some aren't, but a laugh is a laugh, right? The whole thing is short (running barely over an hour), poorly written, full of laughable continuity errors, lamentable characters, terrible editing cuts, lame gore fx and horrendous performances, and most of it takes place inside one cramped home. The amusingly deadpan central performance from Priscilla Alden (who seems to have carefully studied Louise Lasser's performance from THE HONEYMOON KILLERS) is one of the main reasons it remains watchable all these years later. Ethel's a morbidly obese compulsive eater with major mental issues. Or as the video box states, she's "250 pounds of maniacal fury!" As the film opens, she's receiving electroshock treatments at a mental home. A doctor informs Ethel's Granny that it's against his better judgment to set her free and that she still suffers from severe paranoid manifestations, long periods of depression and violent outbursts. Nonetheless, she is released, so get ready world cause here Ethel comes! She and Granny go back to Granny's home in San Francisco and almost immediately all hell breaks loose.

Ethel is anti-social, bitchy, anti-Semitic ("That God damn Jew doctor!"), racist (she'll blame a later crime on some "colored" guy) and hungry. Very, very hungry. As soon as she gets to a kitchen, she immediately fries up a pound of bacon, a dozen eggs and converts an entire loaf of bread into a heaping pile of buttery toast. A midnight snack consists of a pound of hard candy, an entire box of Nilla wafers and a half gallon of milk. And even that's not enough to satisfy her! Later that night she goes downstairs to get even more grub and notices the refrigerator is empty and the cupboards are locked up. See, Granny's social security checks sure as hell can't cover Ethel's binge-eating sessions and she has taken preventative measures. A heated argument soon follows. Ethel loses her cool and stabs Granny in the back with a butcher knife. When she notices Granny's got a death grasp on the key she begins to frantically stab her hand over and over again while repeatedly screaming "I... want... that... key!"

She sticks Granny in a locked upstairs bedroom and then calls and places an order from a grocery store. When the delivery boy shows up, she smashes a bottle over his head and stabs him to death with a piece of jagged glass because she doesn't have enough money to pay for the 4 half gallons of ice cream she ordered. Before she can hide the body upstairs, her worthless outcast sister Rosalie (Lisa Farros) is ringing the doorbell looking for a place to stay. As soon as she takes a look at Ethel she says "I don't believe it but I think you've gotten ever fatter. What did they feed you in that nuthouse?" Subtlety and tact are not Rosalie's strong points since she's a cheap, drunken whore. And by cheap, drunken whore, I mean she's a hooker who drinks and snorts coke a lot. She also has an equally worthless boyfriend named John, who beats her, pimps her out and smacks her across the face when she laughs at him for putting on make-up (?) Both end up staying at the house a lot, where they notice a terrible odor emanating from Granny's room. Ethel attempts to mask the smell by emptying bottles of air freshener on the rotting corpses, but to no avail. And she can't seem to get rid of the bodies. Detective McDonough (played by "C.L. Lefleur" aka George "Buck" Flower!) shows up looking for the missing delivery boy and has several long and awkward dialogue scenes that sound nothing like questions a policeman would actually ask.

The gore scenes (including victims hacked up with a meat cleaver and beat over the head with a lamp) employ bright orange-red blood and mannequin parts. The food scenes employ an entire chocolate cake consumed at one sitting, a platter full of baked potatoes and several gallons of ice cream dumped into one giant bowl. There's one priceless 'freak out' nightmare sequence where Ethel repeatedly rushes at the camera with a knife, chops up a mannequin and runs around in a park in a flame-red moo-moo as frightened birds flee for their lives.

Yep, tis hilariously dreadful stuff indeed, but I cannot give it a "1" because I have seen CRAZY FAT ETHEL 2 and know this is a masterpiece by comparison. Oh hell, Part 2 was sooo damn bad, I'm going to go ahead and give it another point... And I still haven't seen DEATH NURSE or DEATH NURSE 2 yet, but I have them on stand-by. Expect this one might to move up to at least the 5 range by the end of the week.


1 comment:

tubeistdan said...

After two reviews I am forced to say that I find this to be the funniest movie I've never seen.

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