Bella In The Wych Elm (2017) Short Film Review

rsz_bellaBELLA IN THE WYCH ELM (2017) – Short

Directed by Thomas Lee Rutter
Cast: Lee Mark Jones, James Underwood, Traci Templer, James Taylor
Running time: 36 minutes
Distributed by Carnie Film Production.

In 1943 four young boys were out poaching illegally on the Hagley Hall estate in Worcestershire when they discovered a human skull hidden inside a wych elm tree trunk. Initially reluctant to tell anyone, one of the boys was too shocked by their discovery and confessed all to his parents. Upon police investigation, an almost complete human skeleton was found forced inside the trunk of the tree, with a hand discovered some distance away.

Bella in the Wych Elm is a black and white documentary short which tells the tale of the skeleton from discovery to her presumed identification. It was two years in the making and is clearly a labour of love for all those involved with two versions of the film existing, the original and a special silent movie edition with intertitles. I watched the original version which is narrated by ‘Tatty’ Dave Jones, who has a very broad Birmingham accent and he relays the tale as if chatting to you over a pint in your local pub. The film is made to look old and damaged with the filmmakers citing influences ranging from early silent films such as Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922), the works of Guy Maddin, the book and film of Wisconsin Death Trip and exploitation pseudo-documentaries such as Legend of the Witches (1969).

rsz_bella_2It was deduced from forensic examination that the body was forced into the trunk whilst still warm as it could not have been achieved once rigor mortis had set in. However, the discovery did not really come into public conscience until three years later in 1944 when the first graffiti message relating to the mystery appeared on a wall in Upper Dean Street, Birmingham, reading “Who put Bella down the Wych Elm – Hagley Wood”. Since the 1970s the Hagley Obelisk near to where her remains were discovered has also been sporadically defaced with graffiti asking “Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?”

Rutter’s short places the story in the realms of witchcraft and ritualistic murder, although the reality of her death is shown to be far less fantastical. He drops in a couple of very effective scares, what appears to be an original score and his influences, in particular Haxan, are definitely apparent.

Bella_SkullHowever, the short is also strongly tied to its geographical roots and it would be hard to imagine it having the same provincial tone if made by a non-local film crew. Although limited by a low budget at times, this creepy little tale lingers after the closing credits and comes recommended. 6/10

Bella in the Wych Elm has its premiere at Kidderminster Town Hall on 19th July 2017. More information can be found on Facebook (@BellaInTheWychElm) and Twitter (@Bella_Wych_Elm).

New UK Horror/Drama/Head-Trip Western ‘STRANGER’ from Carnie Features


Freely adapted from the classic Mark Twain novella THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER; British independent director Thomas Lee Rutter aims to revive the acid-western with a vengeance with STRANGER.

strangerThe short-lived genre term was coined by American critic Jonathan Rosenblaum when reviewing Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man and would recognise the primest examples beginning with Monte Hellman’s The Shooting (1968) through to Jodorowsky’s ground-breaking El Topo (1970) in the wake of the counter-cultural explosion. STRANGER carries a respectful lament on these classics whilst withholding it’s own identity in revivalist indie cinema, owing just as much to the satanic trance-films of Kenneth Anger.

The film follows a hardened gunslinger who is hired to retrieve a man of extraordinary power who is hiding out in the hills with a substantial amount of successful businessman’s money. As the two meet however, nothing is as it seems as the gunslinger is thrown into an existential crisis and his identity and his reality begins to slip away as the stranger’s grip tightens in a hellish pandemonium.


Gary Shail

The film stars Dale Sheppard, Gypsy Lee Pistolero (Rock musician and star of the upcoming Spidarlings) Maryam Forouhandeh, Richard Rowbotham, James Taylor and a special guest star appearance from Gary Shail who you’d remember from cult classic Quadrophenia (1979), Shock Treatment (1981) and the Michael Caine led Jack the Ripper (1988).

On board to do the film’s official poster art is the legendary horror artist Graham Humphreys; famous for the UK poster art of The Evil Dead, Santa Sangre, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Creeps.

The film is still in production and have just launched a Kickstarter to raise completion funds to see the film completed as it truly should be and generous contributors can land themselves with some limited edition poster
prints and t-shirts by Graham Humphreys. To visit the Kickstarter page to lend your support click HERE –

The film hopes to see completion late 2015 and we expect to be hitting festivals before seeking domestic distribution after our initial limited edition run of DVD’s exclusive to Kickstarter contributors!

For more updates visit

View the early teaser trailer for the film HERE.