Criminally Insane aka Crazy Fat Ethel – USA, 1975


‘250 pounds of maniacal fury’

Criminally Insane – also known as Crazy Fat Ethel – is a 1975 American horror feature film written and directed by Nick Millard as Nick Philips (Satan’s Black Wedding; Doctor Bloodbath; Dracula in Vegas; The Turn of the Screw). Ethel was played by Priscilla Alden (also in Millard’s two Death Nurse movies).

The film was followed by a belated 1987 sequel entitled Criminally Insane 2, and a remake titled Crazy Fat Ethel has been announced several times.


The morbidly obese Ethel Janowski (institutionalised due to her bouts of paranoia, depression, and violence) is released into the care of her grandmother, despite Doctor Gerard’s unease regarding Ethel’s discharge. Upon moving into her grandmother’s San Francisco home, Ethel begins consuming massive amounts of food, and repeatedly claims that the employees of the institution were trying to starve her to death.

In an attempt to stop Ethel’s gorging, Mrs. Janowski empties the refrigerator, and locks the cupboards. Ethel and her grandmother argue, and when the elder Janowski threatens to call the sanitarium, Ethel impales her with a knife, then mutilates the old woman’s hand to get the cabinet key she was holding in a death grip.

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Ethel locks her grandmother’s corpse in a bedroom, and places an order for more food. When the delivery boy arrives with the groceries, Ethel is unable to pay for them, and stabs the deliverer with a broken bottle when he tries to leave with the order. After Ethel moves the boy’s body, her prostitute sister, Rosalie, arrives, and announces that she will staying for a while. Ethel ignores calls from her doctor, and attempts to cover up the odour of her decaying victims when Rosalie complains about the smell coming from the locked bedroom…


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‘Oh Lord, you’ve GOT to love Criminally Insane. This unfettered freak show of a fright flick, starring the world’s portliest serial killer (yes, even bigger than John Wayne Gacy and Leatherface, combined) is so downright depraved, so tantalizing in its turgid storytelling and squalid scenarios that words cannot begin to describe its baneful beauty…’ Bill Gibron, DVD Talk

‘This flick is deserving of its title—it is absolutely crazy. The plot is paper-thin, reading something like “the fat girl gets pissed and starts killing people,” but that’s part of the charm, its minimalism.’ DVD Verdict

‘To accent each mood and sinister scheme running through Ethel’s troubled mind, orchestral music plays in the background, reminding one of old Warner Brothers cartoons where violins and funky oboes foreshadows devious deeds. This choice to implement music in this way strengthened the feel of an exploitation movie. The film’s darkness yet resilience to retain a goofy mood are what make it lovable to those with a healthy appetite for B-movies and sick humor.’ Caitlins Huggins, Horror News

Criminally Insane US World Video VHS

Cast and characters:

  • Priscilla Alden as Ethel Janowski
  • Michael Flood as John
  • Jane Lambert as Mrs. Janowski
  • Robert Copple
  • George Buck Flower as Detective Sergeant McDonough
  • Ginna Martine as Mrs. Kendley
  • Cliff McDonald as Doctor Gerard
  • Charles Egan as Drunk Man
  • Sonny La Rocca
  • Sandra Shotwell as Nurse
  • Lisa Farros as Rosalie Janowski

Choice dialogue:

“Did you smell upstairs? Did grandma shit all over her bed before she left?”

“You need a good beating every once in a while a while. All women do. And you especially. Ok?”

Key words:

bacon | cleaver | crazy | doctor | fat | gore | Jewish | knife | morbidly obese | murder | overweight | prostitute| San Francisco | telephone

Image credits: Bruce Holecheck’s Cinema Arcana

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