Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Criminally Insane (1975)

DIRECTOR: Nick Philips

WRITER: Nick Philips


Priscilla Alden
Michael Flood
Jane Lambert
George 'Buck' Flower
Robert Copple
Ginna Martine
Cliff McDonald
Lisa Farros


Ethel Janowski has just been released from a mental asylum. When she moves back in with her mother, her mother tries to control her eating habits based on the advice of her doctor. Ethel is not having any of it and brutally murders her mother. Anyone that tries to get in the way of Ethel and her fondness for food will end up getting on the wrong side of Ethel and meet a similar fate.

When looking at the poster for Criminally Insane, you could be forgiven for thinking that this film is a straight-up comedy. The big title in quotations, the tagline reading "250 pounds of maniacal fury" and a heavy set woman brandishing a meat cleaver. This all would scream a silly screwball comedy to me. Had I not been on the hunt for slasher films for my retrospective, I'd have passed this movie over thinking this was one of the funny variety.

This movie is anything but a comedy. You could take the entire plot of the film, and have yourself a big ol' chuckle over the fact that its a story that revolves around this lady who is mentally unbalanced and obese that brutally murders anyone that tries to get in the way of her shovelling unhealthy food in her mouth. For the most part, this movie plays everything completely straight. I'm pretty confident that many viewers will find much of dialogue on the funny side, but this is a pretty dark film.

The movie starts off straight away. We are given a brief rundown when Ethel's mum comes to collect her from the mental institution. Her doctor tells her mother that she should watch her daily food intake and within minutes Ethel stabs her own mum with a huge kitchen knife when she locks up the fridge and pantry and refuses to give her the key. For just over sixty minutes, we are subjected to victims coming to the house and Ethel killing them when they either belittle her eating habits or try and stop her from enjoying a quick snack.

One after the other, Ethel unleashes, kill after kill. The highlight of Criminally Insane is the sheer ferociousness of Ethel Janowski. Whenever she is on screen, murdering people, this is where the movie is at it's most gleefully vicious and violent. Most of these victims don't deserve their punishment, but it's still a hell of a lot of fun when witnessing the slightly over the top, if not fake looking blood and gore. I think if this movie has gathered a cult following since it's release, it will be based on the bloody kills and the political incorrectness of our killer.

Criminally Insane touches on a couple of slightly touchy subjects. We have the mental disability and domestic abuse. We cannot forget the cannibalism, murders or flat-out nastiness of individual characters who basically torment and torture Ethel due to her weight. I think if Criminally Insane were released today, it would've caused outrage from a lot of groups. We'd have the body shamers defending Ethel and her weight, others would claim she is unhealthy and killing herself. It's a movie that was clearly made at a time when people weren't as touchy on specific taboos and subjects.

There is one moment in the film that I found to be slightly unsavoury. Ethel has this sister who is dating a guy that beats her up. She even asks him why he does it and he tells her "that all women deserve to get hit once in a while, especially her". I just couldn't tell if this scene was played for laughs, but after he tells her this, she makes love to him. It's a very odd and uncomfortable scene and one that feels really out of place. As I said, this was clearly made at a time when these things weren't taboo but really should've been. Not at all pleasant to watch.

The acting in the film is held together by Priscilla Alden's performance as Ethel. She really does carry this entire film. Whenever she is running around, murdering people, I think she did her job incredibly well. The rest of the cast all range from average to poor. This is low budget filmmaking, and you can tell that most of these actors might have been first timers or even amateur. Still, we are here for Ethel, and she delivers an utterly insane performance.

Lastly, I have to mention the absolute strangeness of this film. I, myself, couldn't pick up whether this was trying to play things for laughs. This felt like a demented piece of filmmaking that was meant to push buttons at that time of its release. I honestly see John Waters remaking this at some point. I'm shocked that with all the savageness of the murders that this didn't find it's way onto some video nasty list. Tonally it's pretty uneven as it falls into comedy with the dialogue but takes all of the horror seriously. An odd proto-slasher.



- An old woman is stabbed with a kitchen knife.
- Someone is repeatedly stabbed in the hand.
- A man is smacked in the head with a glass bottle.
- Someone is stabbed in the stomach with a broken bottle.
- A woman is seen eating human flesh.
- A severed hand is found in the boot of a car.
- Two people have their heads hacked open by a meat cleaver.
- Someone's skull is bashed in with a metal candle stand.
- Someone is choked to death.
- A woman hacks up bodies with a meat cleaver.

Criminally Insane which is also known as Crazy Fat Ethel is a movie that I personally didn't enjoy. It's a film that needs to be seen to be believed. Recommended only for the central performance from Priscilla Alden as an obese killer who murders people over her love of food. The film sadly falls victim to its own low budget, dodgy acting, non-existent plot and an uneven tone. Had John Waters made this with Divine in the lead role, I think we have had something truly special. My fingers are crossed for a remake one day.

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