Monday, October 8, 2018

"Accident? Lady, That Man Was Hung!" - Criminally Insane II (1987)

Having just reviewed Nick Millard's masterwork Criminally Insane (1975), it is time to move on to its sequel, the slightly different though no less brilliant Criminally Insane 2 (1987), aka Crazy Fat Ethel II.

Some writers have trouble understanding the nuances of this film. Reviewer udar55 writes, "HOLY MOLY! Does this movie suck! You know you are in trouble when the open credits start up and they are just the credits from the first film, apparently filmed off a TV screen." Reviewer Hammett writes, rather cleverly though incorrectly, "This film was poorly made with cheap effects and even worse acting. The characters are so wooden when delivering their lines that they should be standing out in front of a cigar store." And reviewer Kastore writes, "This is the most boring worthless piece of crap I've ever wasted an hour of my life on."

Needless to say, these opinions are not worth the paper they are printed on. Please continue reading so that you may fully appreciate Nick Millard's Criminally Insane II...

The film begins with a title sequence that looks very similar to that of the first film, Criminally Insane (1975). The story opens in the same small row house/medical clinic as the first film. We see Ethel, back in the clinic, flashing back to some (i.e., many) of the events of the first film. Ethel has gray hair again, as she did in the beginning of Criminally Insane—though her hair was red for the majority of that film.

In the clinic, Ethel eats everything on her plate, then cleans her plate with a napkin, then eats the napkin.

Elsewhere, two administrators at the clinic complain about their budget. “The bureaucrats and politicians in Sacramento have used Prop 13 as an excuse to cut our budget,” says one of them in a realistic, flat, uninterested manner. “In the meantime, they increase their own salaries and pension plans.”

His cohort nods silently.

“We have no choice. We must reduce patient load and staff.”

His cohort holds his chin pensively.

They decide to discharge patients who have not attacked anyone for at least five years. Of course, this includes Ethel. She is transferred to a halfway house run by Mrs. Bartholomew. Speaking with the doctor on the phone, Mrs. Bartholomew says, “You know my motto. We must never lose hope.” (In fact, Mrs. Bartholomew’s first name is Hope.)

In the halfway house, Ethel meets another patient named Edgar who looks a bit like John Astin, but Ethel seems to believe he is the detective who found her trying to dispose of her victims (via cannibalism) in the first film, though he looks nothing like the detective.

In her room, Ethel flashes back to her first murder, that of her grandmother. Then she says to nobody, “I knew you weren’t really dead, Granny.”

When Ethel goes downstairs, she sees a man with his back to the camera acting crazy by attempting to crawl up a wall a la Spider-Man.

This behavior lasts a long time, as the actor playing the lunatic Greg (possibly named Cliff McDonald or Charles Egan or Sonny La Rocca) milks his spidery performance for all its considerable comic potential. (His comedic pantomime rivals that of Jacque Tati, or even one or perhaps two of the various Three Stooges.) He even brings a chair into his act, though his goal is not clear and none of the characters reference his behavior.

Ethel begins calling Mrs. Bartholomew “Granny,” which the woman fails to correct. At dinner, Ethel eats soup and crackers, drawing the ire of Edgar, who says nothing. However, Edgar does give Greg the “special seasoning” he likes in his soup—flies for the spider—though when Edgar pours the seasoning into the bowl from a baggie the flies are invisible.

Later, Ethel lashes out when Mrs. Bartholomew tries to give her medication. “I’ll have to report this to Dr. Stevens, and it may affect your stay here.” Mrs. Bartholomew immediately heads to the phone, whose cord, for unexplained reasons, is not plugged into anything.

She tells the doctor, “Ethel refused to take her medication and there was a terrible scene.” (The scene was actually simply Ethel refusing to take her medicine, and knocking over the tray, though perhaps Mrs. Bartholomew was breaking the fourth wall and commenting on the “scene” in the film.)

Greg continues to act like a spider in different contexts for several minutes at a time.

Later, Mrs. Bartholomew leaves and a man with big hair is in charge of the halfway house. He serves the patients what he calls corned beef hash, which turns out to be beef flavored dog food in bright yellow cans (perhaps from the same company as the chicken flavored dog food in Open House).

The patients eat the dog food, after which Ethel laughs hysterically. Later, the man in charge taunts Ethel by eating a candy bar in front of her. She gets her revenge by rigging a trap, using the cord from the curtains to fashion a noose, which she drops onto his neck from upstairs to choke him. After several minutes of hanging from the cord, the man dies.

Cleverly, Ethel gets rid of the evidence by tying it back to the curtains.

Later, Mrs. Bartholomew speaks to a detective. “I’m sure it must have been an accident,” she says.

The detective says, “Accident? Lady, that man was hung.” (It is a testament to the actor's line delivery here that it is impossible to tell whether the line is intended to be a double entendre or not.)

Ethel gives the detective an airtight alibi (she was watching Gunsmoke), but later Edgar reveals he saw what happened. He says that he too has committed murder. Then he blackmails Ethel in the most horrible way possible: He forces her to give him her desserts for the next month. Her delicious, delicious desserts.

There are more full-length flashbacks to the murders in Criminally Insane.

In a clever twist, the film cuts to a shot of a tea kettle screaming—not from a murder or tense scene, but from a shot of Edgar eating Ethel’s dessert. Ethel uses the tea kettle to prepare tea for her blackmailer, tea loaded with a generous helping of nicely labeled rat poison.

She serves Edgar the tea but he won’t drink it because it’s cold. “Thanks anyway, Ethel,” he says.

Frustrated, Ethel simply stabs Edgar in the back with four knives while eating an apple.

When the detective sees Edgar’s body, he says, “I might as well set up shop right here.” Instead of investigating, however, he sends Mrs. Bartholomew up to Ethel’s room. She sympathizes with Ethel, reminding her of her motto (“We must never lose hope”) until she finds Ethel’s stash of pretzels, which causes Ethel to murder Mrs. Bartholomew. Ethel quips, “I guess I just lost hope.” She laughs and laughs because Mrs. Bartholomew’s first name was Hope.

Next, the doctor from the clinic arrives. Therefore, Ethel chases him with a knife. “Ethel,” he says, “put that God damn knife down now! Put that knife down!” She chases him around the couch a few times and finally catches him, stabbing him in the back.

Once the doctor is dead, Ethel joyously prances around in the backyard. She is finally free to eat to her heart’s content.

In the end, while she is sleeping on the couch remembering the events of Criminally Insane, she hears a knock on the door. She opens it and greets the detective with, “Welcome to Bartholomew House. I’m hope Bartholomew, and I hope you’ll be very happy here.” Then she laughs maniacally.

The End

The primary aspect of Criminally Insane 2 that its detractors harp on is its liberal use of footage from the first film in the franchise. Such a criticism is unwarranted, foolish, and ridiculous. Why, if this were a valid criticism, we would have to consider the sequels to The Boogeyman (1980)--such as Return of the Boogeyman (1994)--to be inferior films, which is absurd on its face.

Additionally, Criminally Insane 2 is a big step forward for the franchise because it depicts Ethel branching out in the instruments of murder she uses. Instead of simply using cleavers and knives as in the first film, Ethel uses curtain cords and poison, in addition to knives.

Finally, it is clear that Nick Millard intended to make a more ambitious film with the sequel, as its running time is a whopping 70 minutes, compared to the more modest 61 minutes of the original film.

All in all, Criminally Insane 2 is an effective transition between Nick Millard's Criminally Insane franchise, in which the great Priscilla Alden plays the murderous Ethel, and Nick Millard's Death Nurse franchise, in which the great Priscilla Alden plays the murderous Edith.