Written and directed by Christian Marnham in 1981 and set in the rural English town of Kent in 1966, The Orchard End Murder follows a pretty and very ‘mod' looking young woman from the suburbs named Pauline Cox (Tracy Hyde) who, when we met her, is making out with her cricket playing boyfriend in an apple orchard. When her boyfriend cuts the make out session short so that he can get back to the team, she wanders away from the match down the road a bit where she spies a quirky garden full of gnomes and funny little statues. The garden surrounds the house of the town's hunchbacked station master (Bill Wallis), who invites her in to have a look and then to stay for a cup of tea.
The conversation gets odd when he insists that she touch his hump for good luck, and odder still when his behemoth of a lodger, a simple-minded handyman type named Ewan (Clive Mantle), thrusts a rabbit onto the table that he then takes outside to skin. When Pauline heads back to the match to meet her boyfriend, Ewan heads her off at the pass and forcibly kisses her. She lets him get away with it at first but once it's clear he wants more than that, he kills her and hides her body amongst a massive pile of discarded apples.
From here on out, the rest of the forty-nine minute film deals with the repercussions of Pauline's murder and the local police force's attempts to solve the crime.
Nicely shot by cinematographer Peter Jessop and set to a score that can only be described as quirky, The Orchard End Murder manages to straddle the line between disturbingly macabre and blackly comedic quite effectively. The film is quickly paced and it makes very good use of the small town/apple farm locations where the bulk of the story plays out. Production values are solid across the board and the use of the apple depository to hid poor Pauline's corpse makes for a genuinely unsettling and unforgettable visual (exploited quite effectively on the cover art of this Blu-ray release from Redemption Films).
The performances are what really make this work. Beautiful Tracy Hyde is, understandably, the focus of the first half of the movie, the camera loves her and she really stands out here, her rather fashionable look contrasting nicely with the more old-fashioned tone of the town and its inhabitants. She's very good in her role. From there on out, however, it's Bill Wallis and Clive Mantle that the film focuses on and they do an excellent job. There's a strong comedic element to their interplay that suits the offbeat tone of the story really well and they're both quite a lot of fun to watch in their respective roles.The Blu-ray
The Orchard End Murder arrives on Blu-ray from Redemption Films in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and it looks quite good. The original photography for the film doesn't look like it was all that flashy or glossy but color reproduction is pretty decent and black levels are fine. The source used for the transfer was clearly in very nice shape as the image is nice and clean, free of all but very minor print damage. There are no noticeable problems with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction. Some softness inherent in the photography shows up now and then but overall, this looks fine.Sound:
The English language LPCM 2.0 track on the disc is clean, clear and well-balanced. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the dialogue comes through clearly. There are no alternate language options or subtitles provided on this Blu-ray.Extras:
Extras start off with a lengthy thirty-seven-minute interview with writer/director Christian Marnham wherein he speaks about where he got the inspiration and ideas for the story from, other film industry projects he's been involved with over the years, the different cast and crew members he collaborated with on the project and the locations that were used for the shoot. From there, spend eleven-minutes with actress Tracy Hyde as she talks about how she came to get the part and what her experiences were on set. Lastly, there's a twelve-minute interview with actor David Wilkinson included here as well, where he talks about being cast as a cricket player in the film's opening few minutes, how he landed the role and what else he's done in the film industry.
The disc also includes a twenty-six-minute-long documentary directed by Marnham entitled The Showman from 1970. The film takes a look at the life and times of Wally Shufflebottom, a sideshow worker who, along with his wife, promotes burlesque-style carnival shows at different fairs. It's pretty interesting stuff, anyone with an interesting in carnival/sideshow/burlesque culture should appreciate this. Complimenting this is a five-minute interview with Marnham on The Showman in which he talks about making the film and how it came to be.Final Thoughts:
The Orchard End Murder is an enjoyable short feature that works as both a murder mystery and a black comedy. The short running time might put some off but Redemption has included enough extra material on this release to make up for that, highlighted by the inclusion of the short documentary piece The Showman and some interesting interviews. Recommended.