Nick Philips Horror Trilogy
U.S.A. | 1975, 1987
Directed by Nick Philips
(AKA Philip Miller, AKA Nick Millard)
Greg Braddock, Lisa Milano
Priscilla Alden, Michael Flood
George 'Buck' Flower, Jane Lambert
| R

Format: DVD
Triple Feature Disc
| R1 - NTSC
E.I./Retro Shock-O-Rama
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Satan's Black Wedding
Criminally Insane 2
Guest Review by Troy Howarth
East coast based filmmaker Nick Philips (real name, Nick Millard), a specialist in hardcore sex romps, made an attempt at mainstream success in the mid-1970s with his two horror pictures, Criminally Insane and Satan's Black Wedding. Neither film translated into the kind of hit he was aiming for, though they've achieved a certain level of cult acclaim from '70s exploitation fanatics.
    Satan's Black Wedding: Following the mysterious, grisly death of his sister, a young man uncovers a cult of vampires in San Francisco...
    The first of Philips' forays into the horror genre, Satan's Black Wedding is a film of Ed Woodian ineptitude that nevertheless contains some points of interest. On the plus side, the film manages to be legitimately creepy during some but certainly not all of its horror-based sequences. The crudity of the filmmaking actually adds a raw texture to the film that elevates it beyond its basic amateurishness. Though by no means a 'good' movie, it seems to accidentally stumble onto images of surprising power that stick with the viewer long after the rest of the film has faded from memory. Philips' conceit of a "renegade priest" who turns to Satanism and becomes a vampire is also of interest. The concept of a priest as a force of evil anticipates later efforts by Lucio Fulci (City of the Living Dead, 1980) and John Carpenter (Vampires, 1998), thus standing out as an imaginative variation on a standard genre theme. Philips doesn't do much with the idea, of course, but least there is an attempt at something different.
    Nevertheless, the film is an absolute mess. The sound recording is disastrous, with dialogue sometimes drowned out by background noise (planes flying over head, gusts of wind, etc.) and failing to match from one shot to the next. The acting is atrocious. Dialogue is laughably unnatural and exposition-driven. Staging is amateurish in the extreme the actors often seem to be looking in the wrong direction while addressing their off-screen scene partners, and camera setups are frequently awkward. While good films have been made on the fly under adverse conditions think no further than George A. Romero's landmark Night of the Living Dead (1968) this is not one of them. Genuine talent and creativity can go a long way, but to be brutally critical, there's simply very little of said qualities on display here.
    Criminally Insane: Ethel (Priscilla Alden), a voracious eater and closet psychopath, goes on a murderous rampage...
    Also known as Crazy Fat Ethel, Criminally Insane continues the trend started by Satan's Black Wedding: the film has the slightest trace of an original idea, seems to occasionally stumble onto some mildly effective imagery, and is ultimately undone by incompetence at every level of production.
    On the plus side, it's obvious that Philips is aiming for dark comedy this time around and, as such, it's difficult to find the central idea of a voracious over-eater who turns to murder and cannibalism when concerned relatives try to put her on a diet at all offensive. In its use of a remarkably homely cast of actors, incredibly tacky art direction and garish fashion sensibilities, the film almost attains a trash aesthetic worthy of Paul Morrissey's early classics Flesh (1968), Trash (1970) and Heat (1972). Emphasis on the "almost", however, since Philips doesn't seem to be consciously evoking such a style as Morrissey did rather, it seems a natural outgrowth of the cut rate materials at hand. The film often plays like a twisted home movie, but like so many home movies it proves trying to sit through. Nevertheless, in its tacky visualization of rotting suburbia, the film occasionally evokes superior fare like Romero's Martin (1976) and the aforementioned Morrissey films to interesting effect.
    Once again, the pluses are less evident than the minuses, however. Acting is again on the level of a high school play, including an early appearance from John Carpenter mainstay George 'Buck' Flower (Escape from New York, They Live). The staging is every bit as stiff and unconvincing as it was in Satan's Black Wedding, though the use of interiors help to mask the atrocious sound recording issues to some extent. Philips' staging of the various murders has to be seen to be disbelieved Alden, as Ethel, is clearly pulling her blows and the editing makes no attempt to cover up the awkward pauses from one shot to the next. Gore effects are amateurish at best, but in terms of unintended laughs nothing but nothing can possibly top the hopelessly awkward scene in which a brutal boyfriend bitch-slaps his girlfriend: the actor clearly fakes the gesture, an effect that plays badly enough as it is, but which Philips compounds by needlessly replaying the shot immediately afterwards in slow motion! While there is a lot to be said for films with a rough-edged aesthetic the best films of Jess Franco definitely come to mind here there's little sense that this is an aesthetic decision here, rather than flat out inept filmmaking.
    Criminally Insane 2:. Ethel is released from an asylum on good behavior, and goes to work on the inmates of a halfway house...
    "Why, Nick Philips why?" This would seem to be the ideal subtitle for this belated sequel to his 'cult classic', Criminally Insane. With about a third of the running time comprised of 'highlights' from the original film, and the new footage shot in a hopelessly reckless and amateurish manner on a camcorder, Criminally Insane 2 does the unthinkable it makes the original look like skillful filmmaking even the titles sequence is lifted from the first film, with a new title card crudely inserted at the beginning.
    There's really nothing positive to say about this sequel. Even viewers of the "so bad it's good" school of thinking will surely be hard pressed to make it through such a phenomenal waste of time. The new footage is so horrendously shot, with much of the direct sound thrown off by the acoustics of the locations, that it's virtually impossible to believe that anybody was willing to distribute the film, even on a straight-to-video basis. The use of clips from the old film points to a poverty of imagination not knowing what to do with the central character, Philips simply uses the story as a springboard for a half-hearted 'celebration' of the original film. The acting is every bit as wooden as in the original, though it's hard to imagine any actor rising above such material.
    With absolutely nothing to recommend it, Criminally Insane 2 merely serves the function of making the first two Philips horror titles look better.

Retro Shock-O-Rama's special edition presentation of Philips' horror trilogy is a mixed bag. The fullscreen transfers leave a lot to be desired, but it's unlikely that these films could look much better. Print damage is particularly evident in Satan's Black Wedding, but Criminally Insane also has its share of bumps and bruises. The shot-on-video Criminally Insane 2 doesn't suffer from print damage, obviously, but it's a terribly photographed film and looks every bit as rough in its own way. The fullscreen framing looks appropriate for all three titles even Philips admits to overdoing the very tight close-ups, and these shots would look even worse with matting. The films would appear to be uncut. The mono audio for all three films is a disaster zone the use of raw production tracks results in all manner of awkwardly edited background noise, but this is the way the films were shot. Extras include commentaries by Philips and grindhouse authority "42nd Street Pete", interview segments with Philips and Ethel herself, Priscilla Alden, and trailers for the films and other Shock-O-Rama releases.
    The commentaries are about as tedious as the films themselves. Philips isn't the most articulate of filmmakers, but the real fault is with 42nd Street Pete, who does a dismal job of prompting Philips for information and imparting much in the way of background information. 1/20/06