It’s one of the UK’s spookiest unsolved crimes, and a legendary folk horror tale; the story of a woman found dead inside a tree in rural England.
The independent Midlands phantasmagoria lovingly crafted by film-makers with a passion for the bizarre and the macabre romanticism of real-life folklore in the cinema. Fans of traditional ghost stories as well as silent terrors such as Haxan and the films of Guy Maddin will delight in this spooky journey through the 1940’s darkest undercurrents that merges documentary with quaint occult horror.
The film closely follows the true life events, while giving them a nightmarish visual style and ramping up the creep factor in the naration. On 18 April 1943, four children were poaching in Hagley Wood, part of the Hagley estate belonging to Lord Cobhamnear and they came across a large wych elm. One of the children climbed the tree, and peering into the hollow trunk he discovered a skull. At first he believed it to be that of an animal, but after seeing human hair and teeth, he realized that he had found a human skull. As they were on the land illegally, the children initially said nothing about the grim discovery. However, on returning home, the youngest was haunted by the event and decided to report the find to his parents.
When police checked the trunk of the tree they found an almost complete skeleton, with a shoe, a gold wedding ring, and some clothing. The skull still had some tufts of hair. The victim’s hand was found severed from the body and buried nearby, leading to speculation of occult motives.
Then came the graffiti in Upper Dean Street, Birmingham, reading Who put Bella down the Wych Elm – Hagley Wood. Since then, the words have appeared scrawled on many more surfaces – and the writer or writers have never been identified. Even more bizarrely, the skull itself disappeared from police custody, never to be found.
Born and raised in the Black Country, West Midlands, director Tom Lee Rutter has been passionate about films and film-making from as far back as he can remember and continues to this day in crafting films of a horror, fantastical and bizarre kind. With a very DIY approach to film-making Tom Lee Rutter’s aim is to create fantastical worlds with very little money and to attempt to immerse the viewer into an experience that transcends it’s very limited budget.
Faithfully chronicling the fateful day of the discovery of the unidentified skeleton to the folkloric theories that followed and of the lasting legacy today. This indie film will awash you with a ghostly kaleidoscope encapsulating a most celebrated strain of spooky Midlands heritage.
Folk Horror Revival praised the film, saying “It’s a smart, clever, beautifully constructed piece that reminds you that the mundane, the horrible and the numinous are often very close together and that the modern world still produces folklore.”
Popcorn Horror have a fondness for UK folk horror tales, with the winner of the top award at their previous festival being the fantastic Wicker Man influenced Dogged.
Rutter explains “I was able to honour the older generations of my background and convey a quaintness you will rarely see in films today. Not without it’s dark heart however I was very attracted by it’s fascinating array of supernatural and occult strands, as well as the challenge of creating a world set in the 1940’s with little to no money. I also wanted to create textures of silent films to create a very claustrophobic and eerie experience without having it revert to just a typical genre piece with faux-film damage. It is a pseudo-doc horror mystery but I like to call it a Midlands Phantasmagoria.”
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Glasgow Horror Festival: BITE SIZE tickets are available here.