22nd May2018

‘Bella in the Wych Elm’ Review

by Philip Rogers

Stars: Barry Anscomb-Moon, Matias Barnes, Peter Grail, Jim Heal, ‘Tatty’ Dave Jones, Lee Mark Jones, Sarah L. Page, Ria Parfitt, Richard Quarterman, James Taylor, Traci Templer, James Underwood | Written and Directed by Thomas Lee Rutter


In 1943 a group of boys wondering the woodland of Hagley Hall discovered the remains of an unknown woman stuffed inside a hollowed-out Wych Elm tree. To this day her identity is still unknown. In 1944 however, mysterious graffiti began to adorn the walls of the Midlands: Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm. Somebody knew but who? This curious phantasmagoria investigates the known possibilities which takes us from the mystical realms of witchcraft to sinister WW2 espionage. Will her soul ever be set free?

Bella in the Wych Elm is a fascinating documentary film which gives the viewer an impartial insight into the theories surrounding the story and the ongoing events which have ensured that the question regarding the death is not soon forgotten.

I was previously unaware of the original story when I first watched the film, so I found it fascinating to learn about the mysteries and the theories surrounding the original events. But thanks to the dreamlike and often experimental delivery of the film from writer-director Thomas Lee Rutter, even those who may be familiar with the story will find something to enjoy here. If its new information or a different take on the story, they can still enjoy the visual execution.

The film recreates the look of the silent film and despite the events took place in 1943 (after the silent era), it still works well to give age to the events of the past. Admittedly a black and white silent movie may not be appealing to everyone, but it really helps to develop the atmosphere in the story which wouldn’t have worked as well had it been in colour.  Not dissimilar to the recent grindhouse look, the film also has a worn look, as if the film has been transferred from an original reel of footage which has been damaged over time. This really works during the tenser scenes and helps recreate some of the darker and genuinely chilling moments.

As with all silent movies the music plays an important part in the film, with a string orchestra changing tone between, a melancholy and somewhat calming to a more menacing or scathing sound. It works effectively in unison with the film to build up the tense atmosphere, without distracting too much from the events that are happening on the screen.

In addition to the music the film is narrated by ‘Tatty’ Dave Jones has to be one of my favourite elements. His natural delivery of the supporting narrative works well to maintain your interest, as he describes the events and gives a further background to the scene. Spoken as if the words could originally have been his own, you can imagine him being a regular in the local pub who could spin many a yarn about the local folklore and fables.

You can see that Thomas put a lot of effort into researching the subject thoroughly and developed a unique execution to bring the events to life. With a running time of 36 minutes, it still covers the mysteries surrounding the original body and subsequent haunting events that followed in detail. Even now the locals are unable to forget as graffiti writing continues to appear in neighbouring towns and beyond with the words with “Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm”.

Bella in the Wych Elm delivers a fascinating story which will not only appeal to horror fans, but anyone who is interested in local history or true-life crimes. Espionage, murder and satanic rituals are all areas which were investigated over the years, with the facts are presented equally in the film. This allows the viewer an oppurtunity to come to their own conclusions as to what could be the real story behind the found body.

Many towns will have their own folk laws and stories which are passed down through generations, but I don’t think there will be as many who have such an ongoing presence as Bella in the Wych Elm. And as along as the words continue to appear and stories continue to spread, people will continue to ask, “Who put Bella in Wych Elm?”


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