Posts Tagged ‘priscilla alden’

Not content to rest on his laurels after the “success” of 1987’s SOV non-classic Death Nurse, our good buddy Nick Millard was back the very next year to grace our unworthy screens with Death Nurse 2, and while this, as you’d expect, doesn’t even rise to the level of being a “bad” movie in any conventional definition of the term, never mind a “good” one, it does showcase Millard’s uncanny ability to wring a very little something out of absolutely less than nothing perhaps more than any other of his other productions, which is really saying something if you’ve seen either the first DN flick and/or Criminally Insane 2. I mean, consider the pickle ol’ Nick had left himself in — he  only cast his friends and family in his movies since he either couldn’t or didn’t want to actually pay anybody, yet psycho nurse Edith Mortley (Priscilla Alden) had killed everybody except her brother and the cop who shows up at the end in her first go-round as the titular Death Nurse. What’s a no-budget auteur to do, I ask you?

Well, friends, never underestimate the penny-pinching genius of Mr. Millard (or should I say Philips, since he’s working under the “Nick Philips” pseudonym here yet again because he’s recycled the opening credits sequence from the first Criminally Insane flick yet again). He just does what any sixth-grader with a super-8 camera or consumer-grade camcorder would do in his situation — he puts a hat on his wife and gets a new hairstyle for his mom, and presto! They’re both back in the sequel as brand-new characters! And since he covered his face up the whole time he was on screen himself in the original Death Nurse, he can play another character as well and no one’ll be any the wiser. So I have to ask you, my friends — isn’t DN2 worth seeing for the sake of these less-than-convincing switcheroos alone?

If you answered that last question with an “of course it is,” then I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’re still here reading this, and if your response was “are you kidding? I’m outta here!,” then you’re probably not, so it’s safe to assume at this point that I’ve successfully thinned out my blog “audience” to Millard die-hards only and I can now get down to the business of preaching to an admittedly damn small choir. Our story this time around picks up exactly where the first Death Nurse left off, with a plainclothes detective played by Millard’s step-dad stumbling across — something (we assume it’s Edith’s man-eating rats, but we’re never actually shown this for a fact) in the Shady Palms Clinic’s garage and moving in to bust up the Mortley siblings’ cozy little kill-the-patients-and-keep-collecting-their-Medicare-checks scheme. He’s immediately met at the door by the portly (okay, rotund) figure of the Death Nurse herself wielding a knife, some fake-ass blood gushes out of him, and that’s one less pesky cop to worry about.

Enter one John Sawyer, the new guy down at the county social services office who’s taken the place of Millard’s mom and steers some new clients Gordon (again played by Albert Eskinazi, not that he’s around much this time, about which more in a moment) and Edith’s way, most notably a homeless “bag lady” type named “Brownie” (Millard’s wife Irmi, who played the alcoholic patient last time around and plays an alcoholic patient this time around, as well, albeit in a hat and grungy clothes) and, later, a ranting right-wing lunatic who goes by the name of Mischa (I don’t know the actor’s name since it’s not in the fucking credits !!! — the same goes for the guy playing Sawyer, too, by the way). Edith ends up killing ’em both and feeding them to her stock-footage rats, of course, but it’s worth noting that Mischa’s death is especially entertaining because he takes a meat cleaver to the neck right after screaming “capitalism is goooooooood!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” at the top of his lungs. Incidentally, when we first meet Mischa we’re informed that he opposes the income tax and that he believes America is becoming a socialist hellhole , so he’s kind of a prototypical Tea Partier in that respect. Nick Millard, you were 20 years ahead of your time with this guy.

Apart from that, not too much of interest happens during the barely-60 minutes that Death Nurse 2 plays out before our undeserving eyes, and that’s really the beauty of it, of course. Priscilla/Edith sleeps on the couch and has flashbacks and/or dreams about the murders in Criminally  Insane and Satan’s Black Wedding, thus ensuring that once again we get that totally incongruous break (and it’s most definitely a break — Millard once again just inserts the old footage using no sort of “dissolving” technique whatsoever) from videotape to film and back again and that over a quarter of this movie is nothing but pure, unadulterated run-time padding. We learn explicitly (it was only hinted at last time) that Gordon (who’s laid up in bed “injured”  for most of this movie, giving Millard the chance to use the exact same shot of him over and over again) and Edith aren’t real practitioners of medicine at all but med school and nurse’s training dropouts, respectively, and that Edith is most definitely feeding rat meat to the patients in her care after the rats have done their duty and gobbled up the evidence of previous, and now deceased, Shady Palms “guests” (again, this was only vaguely alluded to in the original). About the only “surprise” that transpires is when Millard’s mother, Frances, pops back up as the identical twin sister  of the Faith Chandler character who was murdered in the previous Death Nurse flick  (spoting that different hairstyle I mentioned earlier to prevent too much confusion, as if there would be any — oh, and her name here’s Hope, so all that’s missing is Charity) — insert a couple minutes’ worth of “flashback” footage  re-showing sis number one’s demise — and is determined to get to the bottom of her sibling’s untimely disappearance. She conducts a half-assed stakeout senior-citizen style and is, of course, eventually murdered for her troubles.

The entire Mortley family enterprise is brought to a screeching halt, though, when one detective Gallagher (Millard himself) shows up at the door with a search warrant and informs Edith that a couple of her beloved pet rats escaped from the garage of Nick’s Pacifica, California condo — I mean, Shady Palms Clinic — and were dragging human remains of some sort with them. Gordon stays upstairs in bed, where he’s spent more or less the rest of the movie, and Edith calmly plops down on the couch and nonchalantly awaits her fate. So basically it ends just like the first Death Nurse did, only this time our murder-for-cash protagonists are in separate rooms rather than sitting next to each other on the same sofa. You’ve gotta appreciate the subtle little differences to fully grasp the awesomeness that is Death Nurse 2, friends (and for the time being you’ve gotta have a VCR, as well, since this isn’t available on DVD yet — I’m hoping Jesus Teran over at Slasher Video will change that sometime in the not-too-distant future, but for now it’s the Video City Productions VHS tape or bust).

We all know that there really is nothing new under the sun, but few movies drive that point home as relentlessly as Death Nurse 2. It might have been made a full year down the road after the first one, but it feels for all the world like it was shot the very next day — hell, maybe even later the same day. And I guess that’s what I love most about it. This is quite likely the most blatant, no-bones-about-it, complete waste of time every put together by anyone for any reason, yet it never manages to be outright boring even though any rational analysis dictates that it certainly should be. Granted, the story isn’t at all involving, the “acting” is atrocious (even the usually-reliable-in-her-own-singular-way Alden seems to be sleepwalking through this one), the blood and gore are laughably amateurish in the extreme, and the very notion “production values” is flat-out alien to the proceedings. But that’s not why you watch movies from Nick Millard’s late-80s SOV period. No, you watch them for one reason and one reason alone — to see just how deeply into his bag of tricks he can reach in his quest to fill up 60 minutes of Sony Betacam tape with only his wife, his mom, his stepdad, and a couple of friends to help him out.

You might call that a pointless exercise,  but I call it a display of sheer, bloody-minded determination. Mr. Millard, again, I salute you.


In a very real sense, if you’ve seen Mick Millard’s other SOV/DTV offering from 1987, Criminally Insane 2 a.k.a. Crazy Fat Ethel 2, then you’ve seen Death Nurse. Only you haven’t. Confused yet? Read on, all will made clear — sort of.

At its core, Death Nurse more or less amounts to Criminally Insane 2 in unconvincing hospital costumes (okay, in fairness the nurse’s getup worn by star Priscilla Alden and the lab coat worn by her pseudo-doctor brother, played by fellow Millard regular Albert Eskinazi,  are perfectly fine, but look for the little touches, like a dish rag attached with rubber bands standing in for a surgical mask, to show just how little money our guy Nick spent on this movie) — after all, it’s shot in Millard’s Pacifica, California condo, it stars Alden, Eskinazi, Millard’s mom, and his stepfather, and it’s about a homicidal fat lady, all of which should sound pretty familiar if you’ve seen CI2/CFE2. In addition, Death Nurse also runs just under 60 minutes in length and looks to have been shot on a consumer-grade VHS camcorder and then haphazardly edited with a basic two-VCRs-hooked-up-at-home set-up.

And yet — it’s the subtle differences here that show Millard’s creativity in the face of no resources whatsoever. His spread is now a clinic (that takes care of everything from open heart surgery to TB treatment to Betty Ford-style alcohol rehab) rather than a halfway house, his mom plays a social worker who takes care of indigent medical patients rather than a social worker who takes care of newly-released indigent mental hospital patients,  and the larger-than-life Ms. Alden plays Edith Mortley, psycho RN, rather than Ethel Janowski, psycho food lover.

So yes — even though both flicks are hopelessly padded to fill out their meager runtimes with “flashback” footage from the first Criminally Insane film (which in this context makes absolutely no sense being that Alden is supposedly playing an “entirely different” character here — oh, and the opening credits are borrowed from CI again this time as well, right down to the “directed by Nick Philips”), and even though they both linger on certain scenes waaaaaayyyy too long (check out how much time Millard spends showing us Eskinazi’s Gordon Mortley character digging a “grave,” for instance, or eating ice cream just a few minutes later), there are some key differences. And it’s one of those key differences that, in my mind, makes Death Nurse the superior “feature” (to the extent that either of them can be said to have any redeeming qualities whatsoever) of the two  — and it’s not the dish rag “surgical masks,” awesome as they  are.No, friends, what sets Death Nurse apart from its contemporary entry into the Millard canon is its (entirely unintentional, I’m sure, which makes it all the better in my book) full-throttle, no-holds-barred, do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-$200 leap into the realm of pure, unadulterated absurdity in pursuit of its less-than-lofty mission to simply kill 60 minutes’ worth of videotape.  While Criminally Insane 2  still tepidly clings to the notion of making some kind of rational sense, rest assured that Death Nurse has no such hang-ups.

Consider — the “plot” here revolves around a nurse and doctor (who according to Millard are apparently phonies with no medical training, although the “screenplay,” ad-libbed for the most part as it is, makes no explicit mention of this fact) who take in broke patients and then kill them and keep collecting money from Medicare/Medicaid for their “treatment.” Even though county social workers still have to come by and check on these people. In addition, they don’t even put up the pretense of having real surgical equipment about, resorting instead to using hacksaws and steak knives on their (fully conscious, I shit you not!) patients.  Ethel — I mean, Edith — then feeds the dead remains of their charges to her pet rats in the garage (cue stock footage from Willard) before feeding the rats to others in her care (such is the delicate cycle of nature, I guess). Then a cop (Millard’s step dad) comes along and busts up their little racket and our quaint homemade “epic” is over.

If any of that makes a lick of sense to you, then congratulations on possessing enough suspension of disbelief to almost take Death Nurse seriously. But fear not — Millard’s heavy-handed attempts at “black comedy” still ensure that you won’t (or can’t). Consider : a dead TB sufferer (played by Millard himself with his face covered by a handkerchief at all times) is dug out from his shallow grave and hosed off to “prove” to the pesky lady from county social services that he’s still alive (wouldn’t she notice the smell?). Gordon attempts a heart transplant by inserting the ticker of his dead dog into a human patient — and their cat (who wanders about the clinic freely, apparently) makes off with it. And ol’ Gordo is trading sex for booze with his alcoholic patient (played by Millard’s wife, who also evidently “produced” this movie, whatever that even means).

So yeah, I think it’s fair to say that Death Nurse is more than willing to loose itself from the moorings of reality. But you still can’t really escape the sense that more or less nothing is happening in this movie because, well — it’s not. It just sounds like it is. Watch it and you’ll see what I mean — Millard possesses the unique ability to make even the truly absurd seem hopelessly mundane and to almost hermetically cleanse any scene of all dramatic tension. He could make a real-live snuff film and I swear to God the thing would seem tedious and drawn out. And while some readers out there may find that to be rather insulting to good Nicholas, I genuinely mean it as praise, because it’s a feat I’ve never seen any other director duplicate with the kind of consistently vigorous non-vigor (hell, anti-vigor) that he does. One thing that’s definitely worthy of admiration, though, regardless of how you feel about Death Nurse itself, is the quality of Slasher Video’s new 25th Anniversary DVD release of the movie. Both picture and sound have been remastered to the point of being genuinely passable (no small feat there I would imagine), and it’s loaded with terrific extras including an on-camera interview with Millard (who’s definitely an amiable guy and pretty darn honest about the “quality” of his product), a terrific feature-length commentary with Millard and his wife, Irmi, that’s engaging throughout, a Priscilla Alden tribute featurette showcasing scenes she’s  in from numerous Millard productions, a short-but-sweet still photo gallery, and a YouTube-style “review video” from the head honcho of All in all, it’s a more comprehensive package than any right-thinking person would ever have dreamed a flick like this would receive. Kudos all around.

At the end of the day, it’s pointless to compare Death Nurse to anything other than Millard’s other late-80s SOV productions, not so much because it doesn’t play by the same rules as “normal” cinema, but because it doesn’t even seem to know what those rules are. Although in many ways it’s hopelessly redundant when viewed alongside Criminally Insane 2 (which is already hopelessly redundant in and of itself if you’ve seen the first Criminally Insane), it’s the sheer temerity of Millard thinking he could basically do the same flick again (I picture in my mind him yelling “Cut! — And print!” when he wrapped up CI2 and then saying “Now let’s shoot it again quick in the hospital costumes!,” but I guess they were made a good six or so months apart, which for some strange reason I actually find kind of disappointing), coupled with his absolute unconcern with, if not outright disdain for, trying to be in any way “believable,” that elevates — or knocks down, depending on how you look at things — Death Nurse to its own plateau. This is a work of art — and I don’t use that term lightly, off-handedly, or in any way condescendingly — that manages to be both a complete rip-off and yet defy comparison at the same time. In its steadfast inability to be anything other than what it is, even if “what it is” amounts to being a total rehash of an earlier rehash, it stands alone as perhaps the most jaw-droppingly, amazingly, near-hypnotically pointless movie ever made — until, of course, Death Nurse 2 came along the very next year. Let’s hope Slasher Video sees fit to give it similar treatment in the not-too-distant future.

Quick question — what do you do when you’re flat-ass broke? Watch TV? Read a book? Take a walk down to the park? Daydream? Or maybe something truly pathetic, like sit in front of your computer screen and write at length about movies almost no one gives a damn about on your blog?

I’ll tell you what Nick Millard used to do when he had no money. He made movies. In the 60s and  early 70s his output consisted mainly of 16mm softcore “nudie” fare shot primarily in and around his then-hometown of San Francisco, but sometime around the middle part of the “me decade,” he got the idea to expand his horizons and shoot a few horror(ish) and action flicks on 35mm — then all was silent for a good few years until the SOV mini-craze of the mid-to-late-80s hit and the ever-enterprising Mr. Millard realized that he could make stuff for even less than the couple-thousand-or-so-bucks he had been spending on his previous “features” by just breaking out his commercial camcorder, getting some friends and family together, and shooting everything right in the confines of his own home! As a matter of fact, making movies like this wouldn’t even cost him a dime! What’s not to love about a set-up like that, I ask you?

Oh, sure, chances are the end result wouldn’t be anything too great, but Millard still had enough industry “connections” to get these things distributed, and unlike today’s “hey look what I made!” attention-seeking backyard Spielbergs polluting YouTube by the thousands, these flicks were actually available for rent at most video stores — in other words, people were willing to pay money to watch his zero-budgeters, an accomplishment that today’s amateur auteurs could frankly never even conceive of.

Okay, fair enough —the “quality” of Millard’s product insured that it required the type of hype-filled packaging necessary to oversell what was basically a home movie and effectively relied on hoodwinking people into thinking they were getting an actual, professionally-made horror film rather than, you know, something shot over an afternoon or two in a guy’s Monterey condo that starred his mother, but whatever — that’s just carrying on the old “carny” tradition of the great exploitation moviemakers like Herschell Gordon Lewis or the Mishkins, and if you’ve got a problem with that sort of thing you’re probably not the kind of person that reads my reviews in the first place.

And so, my friends, with that little bit of background info in place, let’s go back to that decidedly un-magical year of 1987, and take a look at a little something our guy Nick came up with called, depending on which video store you found it at and what title the management there purchased it under, either Criminally Insane 2 or Crazy Fat Ethel 2

In case you hadn’t guessed, this particular slice of entirely-accidental Millard (working here under his frequently-used pseudonym of Nick Philips) genius is a sequel to the closest thing he ever had to an actual hit, namely 1975’s Criminally Insane or Crazy Fat Ethel, which we’ve reviewed on these pages previously, but if you’ve never seen that film (and yes, that is an actual film), don’t worry — just over 20 minutes of this barely-sixty-minute movie is comprised of footage — presented in the form of “flashbacks,” of course — directly taken from the first one, so you won’t be too lost for too long. So, with just over a third of his “new” movie’s runtime taken up with stuff he’d already shot 12 years previously, what’s Millard got left for the other 4o minutes?

Well, as it turns out — not much. The wonderfully deadpan Priscilla Alden is back as plus-size homicidal maniac Ethel Janowski,  who’s been released from the funny farm, along with everyone else who hasn’t committed an infraction within the past ten years, due to state budget cutbacks and finds herself transferred to a halfway house out in the “real” world (actually it’s Millard’s condo) that’s run by — Millard’s mom. Not that the credits will tell you any of this, of course, because Nick just re-uses the opening titles from the first Criminally Insane flick which tells me that either the (very few) people “starring” in this one either didn’t get paid, or just got cash on the barrel-head at the end of the day (and I’m thinking it was one day, since everything here appears to have gone “in the can,” so to speak, after one take — hey, videotape’s expensive, ya know?) for their “work.”

Anyway, there are two other patients/residents at the halfway house (one of whom is played by Millard regular Albert Eskinazi), and there’s some orderly-type guy who runs the place while Nick’s mom is away and feeds his charges canned dog food, but Ethel kills ’em all when they stand between her and her snack food. Then she kills poor old Mrs. Millard and takes over the house for herself. The end.

If you’re thinking I’m giving short shrift to the proceedings here, I assure you I’m not — okay, she hangs one of the guys over the stairwell and stabs her other victims, but honestly, that’s it. The entire film is more or less just an exercise in padding. We’ve got extended shots of Ethel sleeping on the couch, sitting in front of her TV, and walking around the house, but seriously — more or less nothing happens in the 2/3 of this movie that isn’t just recycled material from the first go-round.

And that’s the beauty of Criminally Insane 2, my friends. This is a flick that got made for the purest and most noble reason of all — simply because Nick Millard could. The new material features no soundtrack music and the “flashback” scenes aren’t faded into and out of at all which leads me to believe this sucker was probably edited in the same place it was shot, namely right in Millard’s house, on two VCRs, and once he was done he packaged up the tape, sent it in to Z-grade distribution outlet Video City Productions, and the rest is history. 25 years later here we are, still talking about the most upfront and honest complete time-waster in the history of all cinema (not that Millard himself didn’t come awfully close to “winning” that “award” all over again with his next couple of efforts, Death Nurse and Death Nurse 2, but we’ll get to those over the course of the next several days).

Criminally Insane 2, against all odds, is actually available on DVD as part of the Nick Millard triple-bill from Shock-O-Rama that also features the original Criminally Insane as well as Satan’s Black Wedding. The disc has plenty of extras, but since none of them specifically relate to this movie I’m not going to spend any time dwelling on them. Suffice to say that it’s worth purchasing simply for this alone — even though the other two films are, by any and every stretch of the imagination, better than this one in all respects, they don’t achieve the almost zen-like quality of complete and utter nonexistence that Crazy Fat Ethel’s second “adventure” does. It’s complete and utter nothingness that plays out before our eyes. I honestly don’t think it took much more time to make than it does to watch. You might call that half-assed, or incompetent, or worthless, but I call it fucking poetic, man. This is a movie that has no actual reason to exist, and in fact can barely be said to actually exist  on its own at all given that nearly half of it is composed of “archival” material taken from another film, yet exist it does, and said existence is proof of — nothing other than its existence.

Godard, Jodoroworsky, Antonioni, Bergman, etc. spent their entire careers laboring to come up with something this deep. Nick Millard did it without even trying. How galling must that  be to every Euro-film art snob out there?


"Criminally Insane" Movie Poster

And so we come to the end of our little Halloween recommended viewing list, and while I’ve stressed time and again that it’s not really a “countdown” in the strictest (or any) sense (which begs the question of why I even called it one in the first place, and I’m afraid I don’t have a good — or again, any — answer), I assure you that I have indeed saved the best for last. If you’re going to take the easy (and entirely understandable) way out and only see one movie from this list, make it this one.

Why, you may ask? Is it the best flick on the list? No, of course not. It’s not even particularly “good” by any commonly understood definition of the term.

Is it, then, the scariest or most frightening? Good heavens no, it’s not even close to being scary at all.

Is it the most competent or well-executed? Are you kidding? It’s absolutely ludicrous, and down there with anything in the Ed Wood or Coleman Francis oeuvre in terms of technical accomplishment.

Then for the love of God, you may ask (again), why?????????????

That’s easy. Because this 1975 ultra-shot (61 minutes) “feature” from legendary bargain-basement auteur Nick Millard (billed here as Nick Philips — he has, according to the IMDB, no fewer than 21 aliases he worked under during his anything-but-illustrious career, seemingly changing names as often as the rest of us do underwear, usually depending on whether he was working on soft-core or on horror cheapies) is — pun absolutely intended this time — two tons of fun.

Billed as “250 Pounds of Maniacal Fury,” our protagonist here, one Ethel Jankowski (Priscilla Alder in a delicious role she really sinks her teeth into—again, both puns fully intended), actually tops the scales at well over (how much over I couldn’t say) 300, and she’s just been released from a mental institution where she was given a steady regimen of electroshock “treatment”(I’ve never understood why attaching electrodes to someone’s genitals qualifies as torture while attaching them to their temples is considered “therapy”) entirely against her will, and now she’s supposedly calm and rational enough to go back into the “care” of the community and so moves into her grandmother’s rather quaint San Francisco (Millard made almost all his films in his home Bay Area environs) Victorian.

It doesn’t take long for tensions to arise, though, as after one day of watching Ethel eat her out of house and home (and garage and shed and summer cottage and detached fallout shelter and you get the metaphor here before I strain it any further, I’m sure) Grandma decides to lock up the kitchen cabinets to prevent Ethel from gorging herself to death.

Our girl Ethel already has a damn unpleasant disposition to start with (and a nasty racist, or at least ethnocentric, streak, as evidenced by lines like “That Jew doctor tried to starve me to death” when she’s telling granny about her stay in the bughouse), and having her supply of consumables padlocked (with grandma holding the only key, of course) really sets her off. So she does what any morbidly obese and fanatically determined psychopath would do, I suppose — hack her to death with a meat cleaver, takes her key, unlocks the cabinets, and stuffs her face.

The food runs out pretty quickly, though, and it isn’t long before Ethel needs to call in a grocery order. There’s just one problem : she owes the market $80 and she won’t get more food from them until she pays up. No problem, she tells the store’s owner, just send the delivery boy over and she’ll pay up her past due balance as well as pay for the current order.The kid gets there and tells Ethel she can’t have more food until she pays the $80 she owes, to which she replies “But I don;t have $80, I only have $4.50.”

What happens next? You guessed it, the kid gets killed and Ethel takes the box of groceries he brought over. She hides his body in grandma’s bedroom (where the corpse of the elder Jankowski is rotting away) just in time, it turns out, as her good-for-very-little (alright, nothing) prostitute sister, Rosalie, drops by unannounced and informs Ethel she had to get away from her old man who’s been beating the shit out of her and has to crash with her and grandma for awhile.

In short order, Rosalie and her guy get back together (making for some truly OTT politically incorrect “relationship dynamics” in the scenes they share — I’ll say no more), but their happy reunion really starts to cramp Ethel’s style when they start bitching about the nasty smell coming from behind the locked door to grandma’s room. You’ve probably already guessed who this little scenario is going to play itself out.

To make matters even worse for our bloated psycho, the cops have come around and started to ask questions, too, since it seems the grocery delivery boy never came back from work and Ethel’s explanation that he must have taken the 80 bucks and split town isn’t going to buy her too much time. And her doctor would like to know where her grandmother is since only Ethel seems to answer the phone.

There are no surprises here. Millard/Philips displays nothing like any sort of creative directorial flourish (although in fairness, what do you want for $30,00? — and Millard claims that’s the biggest budget he’s ever hard to work with!). the gore is plentiful, but also plenty cheap (it’s generally of the “go down to the hardware store and get me some red paint” variety). What saves this movie, then, from being just another entirely-unmemorable shot-in-a-week piece of throwaway celluloid pablum?

In a word, it’s Alden. She’s so deliriously deadpan and morbidly monotonous throughout — whether she’s eating, hacking up a body, eating some more, lying to the cops, eating even more, dealing with cheap insults from Rosalie’s boyfriend, eating still even more or — well, hell, eating still even more than that, she’s so coolly detached and matter-of-fact that you’d almost swear she was, in fact, cool — even though I guess she can’t be since she’s so fat, and Hollywood has taught us for years than fat people absolutely can’t be cool under any circumstances.

There’s no flustering Ethel, though — corner her and she’ll make some shit up. Don’t believe her lies and she’ll kill you. It’s as simple as that, really. Nothing comes between her and her food.

There’s something here to offend everyone, and you’ve gotta love it for that. There’s nothing even remotely subtle or, for that matter, tasteful about “Criminally Insane.” It’s pure dreck that embraces its status as cinematic filth and absolutely wallows in it. There’s no pretense — Philips couldn’t afford any and didn’t have the time. It’s trash — pure, unadulterated, unvarnished, and unashamed, and as such, it’s one of the most refreshingly honest movies you’re ever likely to see.


Ethel in action ---

A final note about the (even by grindhouse standards absurdly) short run time — somehow, even though you wouldn’t mind if it went on longer, you don’t feel cheated, and it feels right. It’s not like this is a particularly complex story, anyway. Again, this is part and parcel of the absolute self-assuredness of this film. Granted, it’s self-assuredness borne of the fact that it had no other choice, but how damn great is that in a world where most movies spend at least half their run time trying to pretend to be more important than they really are?

“Criminally Insane,” unlike most of the uninspired navel-gazing that passes for “entertainment” these days, knows exactly what it is, and not only doesn’t care that you know, too, it states it proudly.  Quite frankly, if you’re going to crank out a $30,000 exploitation quickie about a 300-lb. female serial killer, this is the only way to do it.


--- and Ethel inaction.

The good folks at Shock-O-Rama, under their Retro Shock-O-Rama banner,  have released “Criminally Insane” on DVD as part of their “Nick Philips Horror Trilogy Collection,” triple-feature, single-disc set, along with another bizarre 1975 Millard/Philips cheapie, “Satan’s Black Wedding,”  and the shot-on-video 1987 sequel, “Criminally Insane 2,” (also known, wouldn’t’cha know it, as “Crazy Fat Ethel 2” — and we’ll note in passing that Millard made another “sequel” of sorts starring Alden called “Death Nurse,” also in 1987, and a proper sequel to that, “Death Nurse 2,” in 1988 — both of which were also shot on video). The picture boasts a nice 1.33:1 aspect ratio and is supposedly “mastered from the original 35mm film elements, but still looks pretty crummy, it must be said — which probably can’t be avoided,  and is also quite fitting given the film itself, so I’m not really complaining even though it might sound like it — and let’s be honest, you probably wouldn’t expect anything better anyway. The mono sound is fine, if occasionally muffled — again, as you’d probably expect.


The "Nick Philips Horror Trilogy Collection" from Shock-O-Rama featuring "Criminally Insane"

What I will complain about a bit is the commentaries for all three films, featuring Philips and moderator 42nd Street Pete. These are dull, uninspired, and feature interminably lengthy stretches of absolute nothingness. Old Pete should have done a much better job of having some engaging lines of questioning ready for Philips, since he’s got a lot to say, as the three making-of featurettes (one for each movie) included on the disc attest to. He’s got a sharp memory and is an interesting guy, too bad these commentaries are such a snooze.

All in all, though, it’s a packed-to-the-rafters little package that delivers great value for money, and it’s worth owning just for the presence of “Criminally Insane” alone. The other stuff is just icing on the cake — pun, again, completely intended.

So that’s a wrap on our non-countdown Halloween countdown that I probably shouldn’t have called a countdown. I hope you’ll give some, or all, of these movies a try.  Hell, even one of them.  If I can convert one person somewhere over to one movie they otherwise wouldn’t have known about, much less seen, then all my harrowing struggle will have been worth it.