Criminally Insane (1975)
Director: Nick Phillips
I ever learn?
Time and time again I rent movies based on tagline
alone, and I always end up disappointed. But honestly people, how could one resist a video
whose cover depicted the visage of this monstrous woman, an insane look in her eyes, a
huge meat cleaver cocked over her head, and a tagline that boasts "250 pounds of
To me that screams, "What are you waiting for?
Rent me, you idiot!"
And rent I did - and now I'll just keep telling
myself that we're all entitled to mistakes.
Ethel Janowski, as the title implies, is criminally
insane. After a long stint at the local sanitarium (complete with behavior-modifying
injections and shock treatment), the doctors decide that Ethel is fit to return to normal
society. She is immediately released, and goes to live with her grandmother.
After returning home, Ethel spends the vast majority
of her newfound freedom eating. And when she's not eating (a very rare occasion, indeed),
she's sulking - a surly grimace planted on her face. Oh, and did I mention eating? A pound
of bacon here, a carton of ice cream there-Ethel really likes to eat.
During a standard late night Big Mac attack, Ethel is
shocked to find that Grandma has locked all the food up in the pantry, and hidden the key.
When confronted, Grandma explains that the doctor has voiced concern about Ethels
weight and the effect it may have on her heart. Thus, she has taken it upon herself to put
Ethel on an involuntary diet.
Naturally, the idea of going cold-turkey from
refrigerator privileges doesnt appeal to Ethel, so she immediately disposes of
Grandma with a large butcher's knife. But even after killing her, Ethel still cant
manage to pry the key from her Grandmas clenched fist. Now reaching the point of
desperation, Ethel chops up Grandma's hand in order to retrieve her junk food
bounty-honestly folks, you can believe me when I say: The girl has got to eat!
Now, I understand how this silly scenario may sound
funny - but let me assure you, it isnt. Its bad, and its all downhill
The next day, Ethel orders
eighty dollars worth of groceries. Being that Ethel doesnt have eighty dollars, she
kills the delivery boy and hides the body in Grandma's room (next to Grandma, of course).
Then, to make matters worse, Ethels prostitute
sister/cousin/whatever, Rosalyn, moves in with her. Not too long after that, her
ex-boyfriend, John, moves in as well. Rosalyn, at first, doesnt want anything to do
with John, due to his history of domestic abuse; but all is forgiven when John explains
(in not so many words):
"But baby, sometimes you need to be
Rosalyn immediately sees his point, and they get
right to the sex. Um...did I miss something here? I was thinking this whole abusive
boyfriend scenario was going to act as some sort of a catalyst - Ethel kills John in
Rosalyn's defense - or something to that effect, but it doesn't. Nothing becomes of this
whole domestic abuse subplot. Its not only tasteless, but pointless as well.
Anyway, after missing several of her shock treatment
appointments (how could you forget something like that?), Ethels doctor comes to
check on her. So what does Ethel do? Right! She kills him, and adds his body to the
homemade mortuary in Grandma's room - which leads to our next problem:
As the bodies begin to decay, John and Rosalyn,
oblivious to the process of rigor mortis occurring in the room right next to theirs, begin
to complain about the odd smell wafting in from under Grandma's bedroom door. When the air
fresheners stop doing their trick (no joke--air fresheners!), Ethel resorts to knocking
them off as well.
When you get down to brass tacks, the only notable
aspects worth mentioning in this dreck are some of the surreal sequences strewn randomly
throughout the film. For example, in the one scene where we actually see John abuse
Rosalyn (with a tame backhand across the face), it shows the slap once normally - and then
replays the slap in slow-motion! This slo-mo instant replay comes from
way out in left field, and as mentioned before, nothing becomes of it. It all adds up to a
paper tiger that is both random and stupid.
Another surreal moment takes place immediately after
Ethel finishes the freeloading duo. We, the viewers, are then treated to this bizarre
imagery of Ethel running repeatedly back and forth down the hall, in slow-motion, cleaver
in hand - and then the scene cuts to her hacking up a mannequin(?!). Then, still in the
same sequence, we see Ethel traipsing around an unknown cemetery in a red flowing dress -
skipping and laughing. All of this craziness comes from out of nowhere, and absolutely
nothing becomes of it. Was Phillips just feeling particularly artsy that day? Just got
back from a Fellini festival? We may never know.
I could go on and on about plot inconsistencies, the
less-than-special effects, the atrocious picture quality, a soundtrack courtesy of the mad
clarinetist--believe me, the list goes on and on. But Ive wasted enough time on this
Oh, and there's a surprise twist at the end, if you
can make it that far.
In summation, dont see it.
Doesn't appear to be available at Amazon.com.
-- Copyright © 2000 by J. Bannerman