Director: Christian Marnham
Script: Christian Marnham
Cast: Bill Wallis, Tracy Hyde, Clive Mantle, Raymond Adamson, Mark Hardy, Cyril Cross, Jessie Evans, Mollie Maureen
Running time: 50 minutes
The Orchard End Murder is loosely based on a real-life murder that director Marnham heard about some years prior to filming this supporting feature from the early eighties. He also took some of his own experiences from living in the Kent countryside and used them to ‘colour’ the story still further. The resultant film is an interesting oddity that isn’t really a horror film per se, but more of a very black comedy, with sleazy murder in mind.
Set in an idyllic Kent village one balmy summer afternoon during the 1960s, the film begins with a telephone conversation between Pauline (Tracy Hyde) and Robins (Mark Hardy) during which he invites her to come and watch him play cricket in the country. She agrees, thinking she’ll have plenty of alone time with him, but after a quick snog and grope in the nearby apple orchard he runs back to the cricket match to resume play leaving his attractive new girlfriend to twiddle her thumbs.
After sitting around watching the match for a bit, and listening to some dull gossip, courtesy of the local vicar, she wanders off back into the orchard and finally comes across a quaint railway station platform and its attendant signalman’s cottage, replete with its attractive rose (and, er, gnome) garden.
The hunchbacked railwayman (Wallis) engages her in conversation and before you can say ‘something’s fishy’ he’s invited her in for a cuppa and some cake. All goes well until the signalman’s friend, Ewen (Mantle), turns up with a big white rabbit, which he quickly kills in front of her. Understandably the young lass is a bit disturbed by this recent turn of events and makes her excuses to leave, but it’s not long before the not-so-gentle-giant Ewen catches up with her wanting a lot more than just a bit of a cuddle…
The Orchard End Murder is a violent, but darkly humorous short feature, full of quirky characters and eccentric village ways. Even the local bobby is a bit erratic! And it’s precisely this very English eccentricness which makes the film worth a look.
Bill Wallis, who plays the gnome-like railway worker, takes top acting honours here, closely followed by Clive Mantle’s many layered performance as the half-witted Ewen, who plainly doesn’t really mean to kill anyone, but things just get out of hand… Unfortunately, I found Tracy Hyde’s performance the weakest of the three leads, although after a shaky start she does improve and towards the end you are really rooting for her to make it out of the village alive.
Sadly, apart from film buffs and movie academics I’m not sure who this film will appeal to. However, I was mostly charmed by its Grimm’s fairy tale qualities, but, then again, I do quite like odd, and very English films.
The sexualised violence caused the film a few problems on its original release, (feminists blocked punters from getting into one cinema, citing it as being misogynistic), although, compared to many modern films, it’s pretty tame.
The BFI, as usual, have done a bang-up job on remastering this celluloid obscurity, and present it here in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and the audio has also been remastered using an original 35mm mono optical track. This basically means that the film looks and sounds great.
The film went on to become one of the most successful supporting short features in UK history, due to a deal that was made under the now defunct Eady Levy, which saw that a big chunk of the main feature’s profits (in this case Gary Sherman’s ex-video nasty Dead and Buried) went to the distributors (and hopefully the makers) of the supporting film.
The British Film Institute are distributing The Orchard End Murder on DVD and Blu-ray. As per usual the package includes a great range of special features including:
The Showman (26 mins) – a short documentary by director Christian Marnham about a fairground Wild West showman Wally Shufflebottom. This is an interesting short documentary which ably demonstrates the grubbier side of fairground attractions circa 1970. Wally, who was 63 years of age at the time) makes for an interesting subject, as does his regularly knitting wife who’s quite intimidating in a quiet way!
Christian Marnham on The Orchard End Murder (38 mins) – Director Marnham chats about his career and about the genesis of the project and about how they got it funded; all interesting stuff for anyone who has ever had the desire to make a film. Apparently the film was shot in 10 days for a budget of approximately £50,000.
From Melody to Orchard End Murder (11 mins) – an interview with actress Tracy Hyde, who chats amicably about her career and about freezing her tits off (quite literally) among the apples (six tons worth apparently).
An interview with David Wilkinson (12.5 mins) – an interview with the actor who played the batsman in the film. David reveals that he got the gig completely by accident after accompanying a friend of his to the audition, and even though he couldn’t actually play cricket!