Let me take you back to a movie I wrote about earlier this year and a moment within that movie I failed to mention back then, a moment that still has me scratching my head. The movie is Nick Millard’s Criminally Insane II, the 1/100th-the-budget SOV sequel to his minor cult classic Criminally Insane. The moment comes just over twenty-five minutes in.
Context: The movie takes place in a halfway house for recovering mental patients. The woman who runs the place has stepped out for some unaddressed reason and left a scummy young staff member in charge. In proving how much of a slimeball he is, this staff member serves canned dog food to the patients for dinner, then lies and tells them it’s corned beef hash.
This shot lasts for two whole minutes… Credit: Retro Shock-O-Rama Cinema DVD
Now, there are only three patients. What I hadn’t noticed my first or even second time through this affair is that the guy prepares four plates of dog food. This brings an obvious question to mind: who was the last plate of dog food for, and who ate it?
…and contains three zooms. Credit: Retro Shock-O-Rama Cinema DVD
Logic dictates the Beagle-like dog that appears in the background of (I think) two scenes. But there’s only one problem with this. The dog is never addressed, interacted with, or acknowledged in any way as existing. No one pets it or even looks at it.
In other words, the dog appears to have made the flick by sheer accident (or, more likely, out of unwillingness to re-shoot the scenes it walked in on). For this reason, I feel we can safely eliminate it from the equation. I also feel that if there were a storyline dog, the patients would have noticed its food looked and smelled exactly like theirs, and there would have been some kind of kerfuffle.
Focus then shifts to the scumbag. He was, after all, the only other person around at the time. But if he’s the culprit, this begs another obvious question: why would he serve himself dog food? Certainly not for the taste, I would hope. I admit to having tried dog kibble several times in the past out of sheer curiosity before I went vegetarian, and every time I did, it was terrible. Like asshole meat cut with sawdust (err, what I imagine that combo would taste like). I feel bad even giving it to my own dog, and he grew up in a crack house where he probably wasn’t fed very often at all.
As much as I want them to, neither possibility — the dog or the scumbag — adds up for me. This leaves me wondering: was the whole thing a production goof? To get to the bottom of this, I decided to head to the source and harass ask Nick Millard himself with a phony Facebook profile I slapped together specifically for this purpose.
Sadly, he never responded. I assume he was either put off by the not-at-all-real-sounding name or was too busy re-posting his own posts (he does this) in all-caps stream of consciousness like a true old guy. As hard as it is to believe, I must now come to grips with the fact that I’ll probably never know the answer to the very important question of who ate the fourth plate of dog food in Criminally Insane II. B-movie watchers like myself will just have to keep wondering. The mystery lives on. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
So, have you seen this? Do you have a theory, or am I making mountains out of mole hills?
UPDATE (8/31/16) — Nick Millard writes:
THERE IS THE GUY FROM KAFKA’S METAMORPHOSIS, GREGOR SAMSA, WHO THINKS THAT HE IS A ROACH… THERE IS ALBERT, A MAINSTAY IN IRMI FILMS… ALBERT ESKINAZI. HE COULD USE A LITTLE FAN SUPPORT AT THE MOMENT… THERE IS OF COURSE OUR BIGGEST STAR ON THE IRMI FILMS LOT… PRISCILLA ALDEN… AND A SMALLER ROLE… A MYSTERY ROLE… BEST, NICK
His cryptic reply doesn’t answer my question. What it does answer is why patient Greg eats dead flies and walks his hands up and down the air like he’s playing an invisible piano. Greg was apparently based upon Franz Kafka’s character from The Metamorphosis, who woke up one day as an insect-like creature. The “Irmi Films” Nick refers to is the production company he and his wife run.
A notably older, slimmer Ethel Janowski (Priscilla Alden) leans on a wall in a room at Napa State (Mental) Hospital, staring distantly off into space. Several of her kills from the previous film, Criminally Insane, play through as flashbacks. She smiles as she reminisces. Ethel is then shown frantically scraping chocolate pudding remains from a small glass bowl with a spoon. She hurls the bowl, yells, “It’s too damn little!” and flips her serving tray over in anger. This is followed by another recycled scene of her being restrained and sedated, though I get the impression this was meant to be “live”, portraying the current, older Ethel as opposed to the younger one.
The most blood you’ll see all film, excluding stock footage. Credit: Retro Shock-O-Rama Cinema DVD
Meanwhile, budget cutbacks — of a similar magnitude, no doubt, to the ones that took place between this film and the last — force the head of that mental health facility, Doctor Stevens (writer, director, actor, and all-around one-man band Nick Millard) to reduce the number of patients he keeps. “Prepare a list, and use the following criteria.” he instructs a colleague. “We will discharge or transfer to halfway houses any patient who has not violently attacked any other patient or staff member in the last five years.”
“Some criteria.” comes the reply.
Bingo bango. Ethel is farmed out to Bartholomew House, a residence with a focus on societal reintegration run by a Hope Bartholomew (Millard’s own mother, Frances Millard in a dizzying zebra-print dress). Stevens discloses to Hope over the phone that Ethel killed six people thirteen years back (including her own family) for withholding food from her, but Hope takes the clunky hunk of exposition in good stride, reminding the doctor of her life’s motto: “We must never lose (you guessed it) hope!”
While touring the residence, Ethel mistakes fellow patient Edgar Stanley (Albert Eskinazi, the Death Nurse duology, Butcher Knife) for the not-so-crack detective who locked her away (prompting three near-identical utterances of the line, “He’s the one who put me here!”). She also mistakes Ms. Bartholomew for her long-deceased grandmother. It’s worth noting that these plot points seem forced for the sake of including more stock footage. Which they do. In spades.
That afternoon over lunch, Ethel observes her only other roommate, a man named Greg, eating flies and compulsively walking his fingers up and down the air and various surfaces as if he were playing an invisible piano. I don’t know either.
Later, a scummy, weasel-like orderly (according to IMDb, he’s a pornographic actor — funny how most of them look like weasels) is left in charge for a bit. He feeds the patients canned dog food and tells them it’s corned beef hash. Then, in adding insult to injury, he taunts Ethel by eating a chocolate bar, savoring its every bite whilst contemptuously maintaining eye contact. This moment sends Ethel spiraling back to her murdering ways, and murder she does by dangling a pulley cord from a set of drapes over the upstairs handrail and cinching it expertly round the guy’s neck as he walks up the steps.
“I don’t want to hear any complaints about the corned beef hash.” Credit: Retro Shock-O-Rama Cinema DVD
Will Ethel be able to hide the guy’s body or perhaps cannibalize it before she’s found out, allowing her to continue eating everything in the house unimpeded?
Thoughts (Possible Spoilers)
No, not exactly. Edgar observes the asphyxiation and tries to extort Ethel out of desserts for a month. Well, as we know full well by this point, nothing stands between Ethel and pudding. Needless to say, the arrangement goes South in a hurry. Ethel first tries to poison the man by mixing three heaping spoonfuls of no brand rat poison into his tea, but Edgar is too wise to fall for it, as, he explains, his wife pulled the same trick before. Ethel finally says fuck it and stabs the guy in the back with four different knives while he washes dishes.
That’ll learn him.
One of the genre’s customarily ineffective detectives shows up, but fails quite predictably to arrest or even question anyone (especially not the woman with six confirmed homicides to her name) in regards to the two violent murders. “Hell, I might as well set up shop right here.” Detective Fuck-all says in direct contrast to his next action: leaving the crime scene. Ethel supplies an airtight alibi anyway. “I didn’t see anything. I was watching Gunsmoke on TV.” This is also a reference to a line of dialogue from the last film.
Hope’s trusting brains are eventually bashed in with a rinky-dink candle holder for confiscating a bagful of pretzels from Ethel’s room, and Dr. Stevens drops in for a knifing. That’s about it. Roll credits.
Director Millard suffers for his art. Credit: Retro Shock-O-Rama Cinema DVD
Nick Millard started out shooting sexploitation fare in the 1960s. Some of his more well-known— scratch that, less obscure would be closer to the mark — titles from this era include Brigitta, Pleasures of a Woman, and Sappho ’68 (these are the ones that pop up when you type his name into Amazon). In 1975, he went “straight”, directing a pair of low-budget horror movies that have attracted cult followings over the years, Criminally Insane and Satan’s Black Wedding. In ’77, he tried his hand at the action game with .357 Magnum. Then came a nine-year hiatus. And everything was silent.
Millard experienced a brief, yet prolific resurgence from 1986 to 1988 at the height of the shot-on-video horror boom, releasing a staggering seven shot-on-video flicks of his own in that time. Of the seven, five are horror — Criminally Insane II, released on VHS as the incongruously titled Crazy Fat Ethel 2, Death Nurse, its sequel Death Nurse 2, The Cemetery Sisters, and Butcher Knife, released on VHS as Doctor Bloodbath. These were photographed in his then Pacifica, California home — the very same two-story drive-under eyesore from Satan’s Black Wedding — on budgets of exactly nothing, starring himself, his mother, his wife, his dog, and a short list of regulars.
Millard Studios, Circa 1987. Credit: Retro Shock-O-Rama Cinema DVD
Side note: I was able to locate the home using Google and Google Street View. It’s currently done up in a lovely pastel yellow (below), looking much nicer, I’d say, than it did in the previous Florida coral, or whatever the Hell color that was. Sadly, Millard has moved on. He was Eastbound to Las Vegas by 1999 at the latest where he lensed at least two more movies — Dracula in Vegas, about which very little info is readily available (message me, please, if you have any), and the made-for-TV documentary Howard Hughes: The Man and the Madness, which apparently won some awards. According to Millard’s Facebook profile, he now lives in France.
Millard Studios, circa 2015. Credit: Google Street View
With little more than friends, family, a camcorder, and things he had laying around the house to slap his productions together with, Nick Millard’s shot-on-video horror efforts are essentially home movies. To say that he scraped the bottom of the barrel those two years from ’87 to ’88 would be putting it rather politely. He broke the damn thing apart, used it for kindling and melted the scoop down for metal as well. I’d describe the results of his “labors” as rough around the edges, but rough edges everywhere would be up in arms about it. I mean, goddamn. The knives were made of tinfoil. The blood looked like paint.
Resources were so scarce, in fact, that Nick Millard the director couldn’t even afford to pay Nick Millard the writer enough to belch out entire screenplays.
A quote comes to mind: “My life is monotonous, never-ending routine, which I don’t like.”
The words are Brigitta’s, a character from an earlier work of Millard’s — the above mentioned Brigitta, to be more specific — but they could just as easily belong to any of his 80s horror characters, as they all appear to exist in the same forever-echoing Groundhog Day kind of microcosm, plagued by recurring visions of an overweight woman who kills people with cleavers. And sometimes rats.
Allow me to elaborate. Criminally Insane II and the four flicks that followed it — again, those are Death Nurse, Death Nurse 2, The Cemetery Sisters, and Butcher Knife — are padded so far out the ass with stock kills from Criminally Insane and repeat shots of the rats from Satan’s Black Wedding, as well as pointlessly protracted takes, and generous amounts of pausing before and after dialogue is delivered, it’s stupefying. Even cheating as much as they do, they rarely sneak past the one-hour feature-length finish line.
In this respect, Criminally Insane II takes the cake. Roughly sixteen minutes and fifty-six seconds (I counted), or 27.46% of its barely-feature-length runtime is comprised of recycled material, including the opening credits, meaning most of the cast and crew from the last go-around is erroneously credited for this one (an attribution they probably weren’t too thrilled about, to be honest).
What’s that about cake? Credit: Retro Shock-O-Rama Cinema DVD
Not to be outdone — by himself, I guess? — director Millard ensured the remaining 72.54% of this gem was as equally arduous to sit through as the sixteen minutes of replays. One of Criminally Insane II’s biggest blitzkriegs on patience is the candy bar scene mentioned twice already. The brutally protracted back-and-forth game of eye daggers showcased therein clocks an astonishing two minutes thirty-three seconds, and is comprised of eleven shots of Ethel, eleven shots of the orderly, and seven zooms. For Chrissake, seven zooms! Let that sink in for a second.
I’ve never seen anything like it. The only thing I can think of that even comes close to rivaling said scene in terms of sheer pointlessness would be one of those drawn-out Family Guy segments that seems to exist for no other reason than to fill time. Here’s an example of what I’m referring to:
I’d love to sit down with Millard and ask him just why in the Hell it took seven zooms to convey this part of the story. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe knowing the reasoning behind his madness would tarnish its genius. Nick Millard’s films are just so obnoxious, monotonous, repetitious, and taxing they skirt the unwatchable — and to that end, they work. His films subvert expectation and standard Hollywood “excellence” to such an extreme that some, like myself, can’t help but interpret them as humorously anti-humorous, ironically wry in the same sort of way the films of other delusional visionaries like Ed Wood, Ray Dennis Steckler, and Andy Milligan are, only more so.
Like another Andy before him with Empire — an eight-hour film of the Empire State Building — Nick Millard managed to metamorphose time wasting into an art form. And Criminally Insane II is his pièce de résistance. His Mona Lisa. His Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
You’ve got to applaud the man for continuing to pump out flick after flick, year after year, despite lacking two of the most crucial components for doing so: money and a clue. Think about it. The guy’s been making movies without money and without a clue for a half a century. And he does it his way, on his terms, and with no regrets, no matter how bad the outcome. The sheer audacity of it all is inspiring.
I, for one, salute you, Mr. Millard, and this godawful, surprisingly watchable abomination of a movie. Keep up the good work.
Extra features for the Retro Shock-O-Rama Cinema horror trilogy DVD include a pair of commentary tracks with director Millard that were “moderated” by 42nd Street Pete but contain more dead air than talking, a pair of interviews with Mr. Millard (4:57, 7:14), the featurette Criminally Insane: A Look Back with Priscilla Alden (9:40), and trailers for Satan’s Black Wedding, Criminally Insane, and Slime City. Criminally Insane II is itself a “special feature”.
3 cans of dog food out of 5.
Where I Got It
these other clip shows:
Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987) Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor (2012)