CRIMINALLY INSANE: Millard’s Macabre Masterstroke

Nick Millard is a grindhouse auteur who was truly born into the profession: his father, S.S. Millard, was a producer of sexploitation-themed films in the late ’20s and ’30s and one of the early proponents of the “roadshow” approach to releasing exploitation flicks in theaters.  Millard picked up the gauntlet as director in the mid-’60s.  At first, he specialized in sexploitation but would eventually move into horror fare in the ’70s.  Along the way, he produced a genuine trash classic in Criminally Insane.

The film starts with overweight, perpetually snacking Ethel Janowski (the unforgettable Priscilla Alden) returning home after a spell of shock-therapy intended to cure her overeating.  Unfortunately, Ethel ain’t giving up the snacks and is ready to fight for them using any sharp instrument at hand.  Her return coincides with a visit from hooker sister(!), who starts turning tricks in the house and thus opens a new array of victims for the snack-happy slasher.

Criminally Insane has a story designed to plug right into the pleasure center of exploitation film fan brain, packing itself to the brim with oddball characters, dark humor and at least one killing every reel.  Millard maximizes the grotesque feel of his storyline by offsetting the shocks with bizarre bits of humor – like the scenes of Ethel obsessively snacking between kills – and never allows the pace to slacken once Ethel picks up her knife.  Better yet, the film ends with a fantastic ‘sick joke’ parting shot that shows Millard’s humorous style was intentional.

Alden’s performance is the glue that holds the production together, balancing deadpan wit and brute menace with skill.  Combine Divine at her most ill-tempered with the murdering skills of Shirley Stoler in The Honeymoon Killers and you’ll have an idea of what Alden’s work is like in this film. There’s also some solid support from exploitation regular Buck Flower as a nosey cop.

The results achieved enough cult cachet that Millard would bring Alden in back in the late ’80s for a shot-on-video sequel as well as a pair of additional quickies (Death Nurse and its sequel) that capitalized on Alden’s gift for deadpan menace.  However, their first teaming is the alternative-taste classic that you need to see.  Simply put, Criminally Insane delivers the goods and does so in record time (it runs a lean and mean 61 minutes).  It’s Millard’s apex as a shockmeister, a snappily-paced sickie that would make his papa proud.

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