It was the summer of 1966 in Kent, and Pauline Cox (Tracy Hyde) had been invited over to a rural location by a young man who had caught her eye, all so they could enjoy a cricket match he was playing in as well as one another's company. Once they were there, her new boyfriend almost missed his chance to play thanks to him being more wrapped up with Pauline in the nearby orchard, but she suddenly sat up and complained that she believed they were being watched from the bushes. He told her not to worry, and went off to the match leaving her wandering around the surroundings until she happened upon a railway station which had a selection of gnomes and garden ornaments decorating it. The station master (Bill Wallis) noticed her there and invited her in for a cup of tea... a fateful meeting.
There was a time when British cinemas regularly showed short films before the main feature, though by the time of the nineteen-eighties this practice was dying out. The Orchard End Murder was one such short, supporting the American horror movie Dead & Buried, and stuck in the minds of many who caught it thanks to its vivid, uneasy atmosphere and frequently jarring imagery, especially once the murder itself was underway. The director was also the writer, Christian Markham, and based his tale on a true life crime though loosely, apparently so as not to offend any sensibilities of those who were connected to the victim. Star Hyde had been best known as a child actress for the romantic cult favourite Melody, where she essayed the title schoolgirl, and this would likely be her second most prominent role.
She believed it was important because she felt young women her age would see it and realise that they could get into the same position that Pauline does if they were not careful, so in effect this was a plea to potential victims to keep their wits about them in unfamiliar circumstances and not allow what happened to the lead female here happen to them. Markham certainly demonstrated a stark approach to the incident that gave this fifty-minute film its name, and its brutality can still be disturbing today, though you would hesitate to call this a straightforward horror movie as there were too many other factors involved. Indeed, from some angles it resembled a drama or even the sort of thing public information films of a recent vintage were broadcasting on the nation's television screens.
If The Orchard End Murder had a precedent, it may have been Take an Easy Ride, that more notorious cautionary tale about the dangers to young women brought by hitchhiking, a work that had started life as a proper information film yet had morphed into this curious hybrid between that and sexploitation effort. Though there were no overt documentary stylings here, it had the same feeling of a recreation of actual events that you would see in a police reconstruction, had they been captured on film, yet there were inclusions of eccentric touches, none more so than at the very end where you see which part of the buried body is poking up out of the soil; quite why Markham though that was a good idea when it was more likely to have audiences laughing at the unintentional humour, or at least confused about how seriously to take what they had just watched, was a mystery the actual plot lacked. There was no enigma here, we knew the soon to be more famous Clive Mantle was the wrong 'un from the way he attacked a rabbit (looking alarmingly unstaged). An oddity, but not without worth. Music by Sam Sklair.