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Kino Lorber, in conjunction with Redemption Films, has released British crime flick "The Orchard End Murder" as a Blu-ray special edition. Never heard of it? Don't feel bad- neither had I, but the film's obscurity makes this release all the more interesting when one learns the story behind it. The film was shot in the lovely countryside in Kent in 1981 by writer/director Christian Marnham. With only a small budget to work with, Marnham had to restrict his running time to a mere 48 minutes, which precluded the movie from ever being shown as a main feature in theaters. Consequently, it plays out like a TV episode, albeit a very good one. The film opens with a young woman, Pauline (Tracy Hyde), making a phone date to meet up with Robins (Mark Hardy), a young man she met the previous night in a pub. Pauline is clearly a modern woman. She's attractive, dresses stylishly and wants some excitement and, presumably, sex. However, she is frustrated when Robins insists that she first accompany him to his local cricket match, where he is scheduled to play with his team. She becomes bored and decides to take a walk through a large apple orchard, emerging onto the street of a bucolic country village with a small train station. She stops to admire an attractive cottage with a large collection of garden gnomes. She is greeted by the owner (Bill Wallis), who happens to be the local station master. She accepts the kindly eccentric's invitation to come in for a cup of tea but things get disturbing with the abrupt arrival of his lodger, Ewan (Clive Mantle), a tall, mentally disturbed man who brutally slaughters a rabbit in front of Pauline without saying a word. Understandably, she cuts her visit short and walks back through the apple orchard to the cricket match. Along the way, she is intercepted by Ewan who now shows a kinder, more sensitive disposition. Tracy humors him by giving him a kiss but it proves to be a fatal mistake. He lures her deeper into the orchard and when she resists his sexual advances, he strips and strangles her. When evening falls, Robins, informs the police she has gone missing and before long a major search is launched. The station master discovers the murder when he sees Ewan stroking and kissing Pauline's dead body. Knowing there will be a house-to-house search of the neighborhood, he puts into motion a plan to bury the body in an area the police have already searched.
"The Orchard End Murder" is a slick, well-made mini thriller that is very ably directed by Christian Marnham. Best of all are the performances, with every actor hitting the right note, including well-known character actor Raymond Adamson as a village businessman who may play a crucial role in solving the crime. It must be said that the scene-stealing performance is provided by Bill Walllis, who plays the frumpy station master with a disarming sense of friendliness and gentleness. Nothing riles him, including having to bury a nude woman in the dead of night. His attachment to Ewan is never quite explained, as to whether its based on a fraternal relationship or a sexual attraction. Tracy Hyde gives a brave performance, with much of her screen time being displayed and abused as a nude dead body.
There are several extras included pertaining to the film. Director Marhham gives a thorough review of its production history, stating that the film was released in 1981 as the second feature along with a major hit, "Dead and Buried". However, because second features didn't share in the theater revenues, everyone involved never saw any compensation beyond the pittance they were paid as a flat salary. There are also informative interviews with star Tracy Hyde, who was a flash-in-the-pan childhood star in the 1970s. Sadly, adult stardom never followed and she retired from the industry. Also interviewed is David Wilkinson, who had a small part in the film before quitting acting and becoming a successful film producer.
"The Orchard End Murder" is a remarkably accomplished work. It's a pity that a director as talented as Marnham didn't find greater success in the film industry.