Criminally Insane (1975)

     Director: Nick Phillips   Hoff! Hoff! Hoff! Hoff!

Will 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 maniacal fury!"?! "I really don't want to become a Jehovah's Witness!"

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 Ethel’s 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 doesn’t appeal to Ethel, so she immediately disposes of Grandma with a large butcher's knife. But even after killing her, Ethel still can’t manage to pry the key from her Grandma’s 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 isn’t. It’s bad, and it’s all downhill from there.

That's our Ethel!The next day, Ethel orders eighty dollars worth of groceries. Being that Ethel doesn’t 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, Ethel’s 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, doesn’t 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 beaten."

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. It’s not only tasteless, but pointless as well.

Anyway, after missing several of her shock treatment appointments (how could you forget something like that?), Ethel’s 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. "HAAAASSSAAAAAAN-CHOP!!"

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 I’ve wasted enough time on this review already.

Oh, and there's a surprise twist at the end, if you can make it that far.

In summation, don’t see it.



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-- Copyright 2000 by J. Bannerman


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