Killer UK Short Film has a Brutal Core



Based upon a true incident, director Christian Marnham’s 1981 short film The Orchard End Murder managed to become a thing of notoriety in its native England.  Theatrically hitched to popular films such as Stephen Frears’ The Hit and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, found more than one mass audience, lodging itself into cultural memory.

There’s a hideous terror to the first half of the film, as young lady Pauline (Tracy Hyde) wanders off from her boyfriend’s cricket match in Charthurst Green, Kent, 1966.  Soon she comes upon a most interesting house.  A creepy friendly Bill Wallis plays the homeowner, who is also the local Railway Keeper; befriending Pauline as she becomes enamored with his quaint yard decorations.  

The Railway Keeper is a pinkish-plump man in drab blue, a knit cap and wire frame glasses with lenses smaller than his eyes.  No sooner does the slightest shred of lust break through his polite and generous demeanor than his slow-minded assistant, Ewen (Clive Mantle), pops in and jarringly slaughters a cute white bunny right in front of them.  Pauline’s day does not improve from this point.

Although not without lurid aspects, The Orchard End Murder seems like a rather refined title for Redemption Films, a small label known for extreme horror and the Jess Franco back catalog.

It is, in fact, her last day.  The murder itself is actually quite brutal, playing out perhaps symbolically on a mountain of discarded apples at the end of the town orchard.  Ewen, turned on by Pauline but casually refused by her, proceeds to strangle her when she struggles to much in his failed attempt to rape her.  Once she’s dead, he strips her and keeps her body.  The second half of the film becomes a dodgy farce of Ewen and the Railway Keeper scrambling to get rid of the body while a flurry of constables flood the countryside in search of the missing person.

In moments, the most subtle implication of a black and white color motif crop up.  As Pauline arrives at the Railway Keeper’s secluded farmhouse, the exterior is black and white, weirdly complimenting her minidress, which is white with a giant ink splotch design.  The sky hangs white, blown out and lonely.  To say the least, there is a terminal air about things.

Although director Marnham mentions in his recent interview (included on the disc) that his goal for The Orchard End Murder was to make it a kind of dark comedy, he also aimed to make the murder scene as visceral, as unpleasant as possible.  Check on the latter, not so much on the former.  At no point does this film read as any kind of comedy, dark or otherwise.

Although not without lurid aspects, The Orchard End Murder seems like a rather refined title for Redemption Films, a small label known for extreme horror and the Jess Franco back catalog.  Nevertheless, this UK obscurity has made it to Blu-ray in North America, looking and sounding remarkably well.  If anything, it might appear too nice, as The Orchard End Murder is something one could imagine more at home as a weathered 16mm print.  

Looking like that is The Showman, a supplementary twenty-five minute documentary about an aged carnival knife thrower who’s seen fit to parlay his skills into a strip tease act.  With his supportive wife at his side, the titular marksman ultimately chucks his knives at a nude female assistant, much to the gawking amazement of the crowd he’s huckstered into his tent.  There’s a dark vibe to The Showman, brought out in the joyless interviews with the star and his wife, as well as the demeanor of the two female assistants, who’s expressions read as though they just joined the #MeToo movement ten minutes before the camera rolled.  

In his short interview looking back on The Showman, Marnham recalls how the actual show’s strippers had disappeared the day before shooting, so the girls we see are complete newbies who had to be convinced on short notice to strip nude on stage while having knives thrown at them, in a film.  No wonder, then, that they appear dazed.

Marnham’s interview about the whole of his career and The Orchard End Murder, by comparison, runs over a half-hour, and leaves virtually no stone unturned.  Along with this contemporary interview, there’s also such recent chats with lead actress Tracy Hyde and actor Clive Mantle about their experiences with the film.  

For those who may remember the film and would like to revisit it, or newcomers to this apple field of dread, Redemption’s The Orchard End Murder is worth picking out.