Saturday, August 19, 2017

Criminally Insane (1975) & Satan’s Black Wedding (1976)

          Had its creator been able to express irony onscreen, the trash-cinema oddity Criminally Insane might have become a whimsical shocker bridging, say, the grotesque gore of Tobe Hooper and the wicked wit of John Waters. After all, the story concerns a morbidly obese killer whose victims’ only crime is getting between the killer and food—call it the ultimate snack attack. Despite warnings that Ethel (Priscilla Alden) still isn’t right in the head, her mother brings Ethel home to a small apartment after a stretch inside a mental institution. Then Mom makes the mistake of locking a pantry, the better to curb Ethel’s bingeing. To get the key to the pantry, Ethel stabs her mother to death with a kitchen knife. And so it goes from there. By the end of the story, Ethel has a guest room filled with rotting corpses, and in between murders she gorges herself on whole cakes and other huge servings of food. Considering he spent most of his career making porn, writer-director Nick Millard (billed here as “Nick Phillps”) does a fairly competent job of storytelling, even though his camerawork is ghastly and the performances by his no-name cast are mostly terrible. That said, Alden is so completely bereft of affect that she’s believable as a mindless eating/killing machine. Criminally Insane is cheap and and dull and short (running just 61 minutes), but the perverse premise helps explain why the movie has attracted a small cult following. Director and star reunited for Criminally Insane 2 (1987), and a new team generated the remake Crazy Fat Ethel (2016).
          Alas, any promise Millard showed of becoming a quirky schlock auteur dissipated with his next project after Criminal Insane, the wretched Satan’s Black Wedding. An incoherent supernatural thriller featuring exactly one passable scene, Satan’s Black Wedding follows Mark (Greg Braddock) through a quest to determine whether his sister committed suicide, as authorities suggest. We, the audience, know that she was compelled to slash her own wrists by a creepy priest, Father Daken (Ray Myles), who is also a Satanist and a vampire. As the movie progresses, Daken and those in his sway commit various gruesome murders while Mark learns that his late sister and a friend were writing a book about Satanism. How all the pieces hang together is never especially clear, since Millard’s discombobulated storytelling resembles a sleep-deprived stream of consciousness, and the way composer Roger Stein randomly plays piano, as if his hands intermittently spasm near the keyboard, doesn’t help. Eventually things resolve to that one competent scene, a finale during which Daken explains his twisted master plan. Too little, too late.
          FYI, Millard’s last ’70s effort, .357 Magnum, is purported to be a crime thriller; although the movie couldn’t be tracked down for this survey, reviews suggest it’s incrementally more palatable than the director’s other ’70s fare.

Criminally Insane: LAME
Satan’s Black Wedding: SQUARE

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