Good practical effects are not enough ingredients to make Crazy Fat Ethel a fulfilling dish
If you've ever eaten hash, you most likely know that there is no specific recipe for it. Typically, the meal is constructed by taking the leftover meat entrées from a meal and mixing it with potatoes and other ingredients to create an entirely new dish. The use of a hash as a solution to leftovers is meant to eliminate the boring from reheating the remains of a previous night's meal as well as reduce wastefulness. Unfortunately, the concept of hash is something that does not typically translate to art forms outside of dinner.
When I sat down to watch Crazy Fat Ethel (2016, reel EPIC entertainment), I wasn’t sure what I was in for. The title and general premise indicated horror comedy, so I was expecting to be both horrified and, at times, amused. I later discovered that this film is a remake of a 1975 movie titled Criminally Insane. The horror element is there, especially in the practical special effects. However, there was nothing about the film that I found funny enough to make me laugh. Moreover, outside of a couple of creative kills, this effort comes off as an amalgam of events and activities we've seen many times before.
Ethel (Dixie Gers) is an overweight psychiatric inmate who, after enduring an extended amount of abuse at the hands of orderlies and other patients, is ultimately released to her mother’s care. Once home, Ethel succumbs to her insanely ravenous appetite and begins to murder anyone who gets in her way. Unless you’re curious about the on-screen sex and violence in this movie, the synopsis alone is enough to provide the entire story of Crazy Fat Ethel, and that’s its main problem. There’s a dash of plot and a splash of story, but not enough to give it the spice it needs to make it entertaining. Retelling a story in new ways is possible. Crazy Fat Ethel doesn’t do that so much as it tries to showcase creative kills.
Gers as Ethel comes off as the most capable actor of the group. However, the majority of the dialogue in this film is delivered flat, as if it’s being recited directly from the page rather than enacted by a professional. None of the characters seem motivated to say or do anything they say and do. In fact, much of the vocal interactions between characters on screen aren't interactions at all. They're just sentences the characters say out loud in response to nothing the other character has said. The dialogue isn't dialogue so much as it is the thoughts of individual characters spoken aloud.
The IMDB trivia for this film indicates that it suffered from budget setbacks, which forced director Brian Dorton to use actors local to him instead of the talent he initially wanted. I should confess at this point to not having seen any of Crazy Fat Ethel’s actors in any other performances, and it’s not a good idea to judge an actor’s abilities on one project alone. The flat performances in this movie could be as simple as a slashed budget or a bad script. In addition to the lack of dialogue, the script suffers from character development and point of view problems, occasionally sidelining Ethel to provide unnecessary insight into the backstories of her soon-to-be victims. For example, the character John (Shannon Ray Morris) and his relationship to Ethel's cousin could have been revealed with a simple exchange between Ethel and the cousin at the door when she comes to stay with her. The character's only other purpose seems to be to serve as the male half of a couple of irrelevant sex scenes; although one of those scenes does lead Ethel to take on what feels like an entirely out-of-character moral high ground at one point. There’s also an incredibly random Ethel dream sequence that reveals nothing about the character and seems to have been invented just to fill time and show off the filmmaker’s ability to create a dream-like experience.
There are two enjoyable aspects of Crazy Fat Ethel: the practical special effects and the cinematography. Dorton, Gers, and Nikki Swiss are credited with the special effects and makeup for this movie and, on that front, they deserve applause. There is one particular scene in which Ethel’s mother attempts to prevent her from overeating by swallowing the key to the pantry. Without going into too much detail about how, Ethel manages to get the key back in a visceral way that will make you cringe. The cinematography for Crazy Fat Ethel is credited to Douglas Conner, who also serves as producer along with Dorton and Gers. In this respect, the film does have a professional and polished look and feel.
Overall, I think a good screenplay with plenty of meat would have served a better dish for Dorton, Conner, and company. Alas, lousy dialogue, flat acting, overuse of music, and lack of a compelling story make this one hard to digest.
By Isaac Thorne