Friday, 21 July 2017

The Orchard End Murder (1981)

“Obscure British Short Nicely Preserved”

The BFI continues its valuable work of restoring and preserving obscure British films those of us obsessed with this sort of thing thought we would never get the chance to see.

Of course, therein lies part of the problem with releasing something like THE ORCHARD END MURDER, a 50 minute short film that originally played in the UK as the B feature to Gary Sherman’s DEAD & BURIED. It’s unlikely anyone other than said obsessives are going to be overly bowled over by this one getting a dual format DVD & Blu-ray release.

It’s not that THE ORCHARD END MURDER is bad - in fact there are a few shots in here that are positively inspired - but nevertheless there’s not an awful lot of meat here in terms or either plot or performances to attract the casual disc buyer. It might be of interest to those who want to know what Clive (CASUALTY / GAME OF THRONES) Mantle and Bill (Ploppy the Gaoler from BLACKADDER II) Wallis were up to before they found greater fame on TV, but otherwise it will be fans of Pete Walker’s DP Peter Jessop, or those interested in the terminal decline of an era of the British film industry who will want to give this a watch.

We’re in Kent in 1966. Pretty Pauline (sexy but slightly wooden Tracy Hyde - sorry, Tracy) agrees to meet up with a chap she met a few nights before to watch him play cricket and ‘get up to some fun after’. She gets bored during the match and wanders off to the local railway cottage where a hunchbacked gatekeeper (Wallis) shows her his garden full of gnomes before plying her with tea and cake.

Ewen the handyman (Mantle) shows up and promptly strangles and skins a rabbit (this all looks real by the way so watch out rabbit fans). Pauline runs off but gets stopped by Ewen in the orchard. Driven to lust he kills her and covers her body in apples. The rest of the story details how the body is hidden and eventually discovered.

THE ORCHARD END MURDER opens with a breathtaking crane shot that, if nothing else, makes you wonder what writer-director Christian Marnham might have managed had his career been allowed to progress to features. The murder is both gruesome and fascinatingly shot and it makes for uneasy (in a good way) viewing. There’s also a creepy moment later as Ewen keeps Pauline’s body in his shed and talks to her. 

The BFI’s disc comes with 43 minutes of interviews with Marnham and a 12 minute interview with Hyde, as well as Marnham’s 25 minute short THE SHOWMAN from 1970. It’s a documentary about UK fairground Wild West entertainer Wally Shufflebottom. You also get a booklet with new writing from Josephine Bitting and Vic Pratt. All very much recommended for those interested in late 1970s / early 1980s British cinema. 

The BFI are releasing Christian Marnham's THE ORCHARD END MURDER on dual format DVD & Blu-ray on Monday 24th July 2017

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