Apaches (1977)

a

Director : John Mackenzie

Stars : Robbie Oubridge, Ian Scrace, Sharon Smart

IMDb

A group of children play at being “Apaches” on an English farm, ignoring all safety precautions. One by one they die a variety of gruesome deaths.

1977’s “Apaches” is a short (only 27 minutes) British ghost based slasher film set on a haunted farm. The antagonist of this film is an unseen demon that takes great pleasure in murdering children and when a group of kids decide that this particular farm will make a more than satisfactory new playground, they’re slaughtered one by one in the most horrible ways by the dark entity. This little known horror gem was the main inspiration for such films as Final Destination, and James Wan is quoted as saying that “Apaches is the reason I went into horror and every film I’ve made stems from it”.

Most of that last paragraph is false. The only truth in it is that this film is called “Apaches”, it’s short and set on a farm. It is in fact a Public Information film warning of the dangers of farmyards. However, if you watch it with the belief that a child murdering ghost is causing all of what happens, it kind of works and makes the experience that slight bit more enjoyable. I certainly recommend doing this some time.

Six little Indians.. Subtle.

Six little Indians.. Subtle.

This little shocker was shown in British schools during the late 70’s and early 80’s. Fortunately, by the time I was going to school, such things as teachers beating children with sticks was a thing of the past, and so was ruining our childhood by forcing us to sit and watch a half hour’s worth of disturbing death scenes. Plus my generation were lazier than those crazy 70’s kids, we had computers and stuff, and the thought of ruining my new Reebok shell suit on some crappy farm wasn’t that appealing to me. I believe the school board recognised this, although one time, one of my teachers decided to ruin my week by showing us “Threads” (1984) in class. Thanks Miss Roberts, now I understand that a nuclear bomb going off in the north of England would be pretty unpleasant. Anyway, that’s my life story out of the way, on we go.

After the title card, we’re soon introduced to the victims of the piece. Kim, Sharon, Michael, Danny, Tom and Robert. You get the sense that Danny might be the leader of this crew, especially as he’s the one doing the narration that’s introducing us to his posse. They’re all dressed as Apaches (well, they’ve got headbands and sticks), and they’re eyeing up the farm from a distance. As they head towards their demise, we cut to a scene where a table’s being laid and Danny tells us that his mum and dad are getting ready for the party. What party is this? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Kim vs the tractor.. Kim lost.

Kim vs the tractor.. Kim lost.

So let’s cut to the chase then. Once the gang infiltrate the farm, the first brutal death isn’t long in coming. They decide to run after a tractor and Kim makes the fatal decision to climb on to the back of the trailer and pretend to shoot the farmer who’s driving. Now, as I said before, the thought of playing on a farm never appealed to me, and one of the main reasons is that if the farmer caught you, he’d probably threaten you with a massive farmer shotgun. Well things seem to be a lot different in the late 70’s as this particular farmer decides to play along and pretend to fire back with his fingers. Kim loves this and turns to her friends and cheers, it’s at this point that she slips off and is crushed by the massive tractor wheel. Maybe the farmer broke suddenly for a laugh, or maybe it was the ghost. Who knows? I give this death 7/10. Good start.

So obviously at this point the children are upset and leave the farm, mourning their close friend.. No, actually I’m lying again. In fact, after another scene of Danny’s parents party preparations, we join the gang chatting on some hay bails as if nothing happened. Anyway, who’s next? Well they decide to play a game of “kick the can”, a can kicking based hide & seek game. I don’t know the exact rules but I guess it’s not that important. What is important is that Tom tries to climb along a fence and slips off into, well, I’m no farm expert but that looks to me like it’s a swamp full of sloppy cow manure. Lovely. The cow dung acts like quick sand and drags poor Tom down. Now that’s a creative kill, I think the ghost must have pushed him. 8/10.

What a way to go..

What a way to go..

So still the friends hang around the farm like nothing’s happened. I’m beginning to feel less sympathetic towards them now. What about the farmers though, have they reported the deaths of these children and told the kids to leave? Nah, they’re still pissing about and entertaining the kids with the odd finger gun action. So yeah, at this point I’m feeling pretty unsympathetic to all involved, that’s until the next death scene. This one is particularly harrowing and in all seriousness, I find it hard to watch, or listen to I should say.

The gang find some liquid and in the guise of Apaches, decide to drink it in celebration of taking the fort. One of them states this isn’t the best idea so they decide to mime drinking it. One by one they have a little speech and mime drinking the liquid until it finally comes round to Sharon who has a sudden brain fart and forgets to mime. She immediately spits it out but she’s already took some down. After telling the others she thinks she’s alright, they finally leave the scene of their friends’ deaths and head home, but Sharon is holding her stomach. Later that night, we see a shot of the outside of Sharon’s house and what follows is something that never ceases to disturb me. We hear Sharon screaming in pain and calling for her mummy. This really is pretty horrifying and we learn in the next scene that she died that night. 10/10, well done everyone involved… especially the ghost that followed her home.

vs weedkiller..

Sharon vs weedkiller.. Sharon lost.

Well at least three of the kids survived, I mean surely they’re not going to go straight back to the farm where their friends died the next day are they?… Sooo, the next day on the farm the kids are now playing Starsky and Hutch, and as they run around frantically chasing each other with cap guns, Michael kneels right in front of a tractor and moves out of the way just before getting run over. As if nothing’s happened, he’s back in pursuit of Danny and his death wish, and just when you start thinking he may deserve what’s coming to him, he goes and kills Robert by knocking a metal gate onto him. This is a bizarre death as the gate doesn’t look too heavy, oh well, I can still hear Sharon’s death shrieks so I’ll let it go. 2/10, the ghost must have possessed Michael.

Well it’s not long after this that Michael gets his comeuppance and jumps off of a gate into a puddle and just kind of disappears. I think the puddle was deep, or he managed to jump dimensions, probably with the ghost’s help, I told you he was possessed. A second after this a tractor drives over the puddle for good measure, I think it’s safe to say he’s dead. With not long to go in the film, this death seemed a bit rushed and well, there’s puddles everywhere (especially when it’s been raining), I don’t see how this death has anything to do with the dangers of farmyards, it’s just bloody unlucky. It would have made a lot more sense if he just got hit by the tractor earlier, then maybe Robert would still be with us. 4/10.

Come on Robert, stop messing about and get up.

Come on Robert, stop messing about and get up.

So now the big finale involves a farmer, who bare in mind has just had four kids die on his farm and one die because of it, that lets Danny, who’s watched four of his best friends die on the farm, and knows another died because of it, get into his tractor and pretend to drive it. Well, it’s about two seconds before our genius hero Danny accidentally kicks the hand break and starts rolling down a hill.  Even though the tractor’s moving at about two miles per hour, he just sits there screaming for help until eventually he drives over a cliff and the dummy that represents Danny gets instantly killed. Probably give that one 6/10, the ghost paralyzed Danny when he was on the tractor or something, I dunno.

So it’s the end of the film and we find out that the party Danny’s parents were preparing for was in fact, Danny’s wake, and wait, Michael’s there! I thought he died in the puddle incident! What’s going on? Oh I don’t know, he’s the demon child now and his soul belongs to Satan. I’d say that “The Omen” totally ripped this off but a) The Omen was made a year earlier, and b) I’d be lying again. The film ends with a list of real kids that had actually died on farms in the year leading up to “Apaches” being made. This reminded me of the “Thursday” bridge segment in Der Todesking, I bet those poor children weren’t as stupid as the ones on display here.

Jump off, jump off, jump off. Honestly, just jump off.

Jump off, jump off, jump off. Honestly, just jump off.

“Apaches” is in the public domain,  so I’m going to post it right here, I’d certainly recommend you watch it. The performances are surprisingly decent for a 70’s public information film starring a bunch of children. Obviously, it’s not exactly a top rendition of Hamlet or anything, but it’s far from terrible. It also got a DVD release in 2010 on the PIF compilation “Stop! Look! Listen!” along with such gems as “Buildings Sites Bite” and “The Finishing Line“, definitely worth getting your hands on, but it’s “Apaches” that I consider to be the daddy of all public information films, and possibly all farm based ghost films too. Cheers, and remember, stay safe kids!

3h

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13 Responses to Apaches (1977)

  1. This is so bizarre. Hilarious writing – you almost (almost) make me want to watch it. 😉

    • cjodell12 says:

      I just saw this a month ago, and as an American who was born in the early 90s, I can safely say I’m SO glad I didn’t grow up in rural England during the late 70s to mid 80s. Most of it I can sort of handle. But what really did it for me was when Sharon woke up in the middle of the night and started screaming in agony from the effects of the weed killer. Those screams are absolutely gruesome, and the scariest part of that scene is the fact that we don’t even see what’s happening. More effective than almost any other horror movie I’ve ever seen.

  2. cjodell12 says:

    I can’t imagine how many children were scared shitless by this movie. But I’ve read that Apaches ended up traumatizing an entire generation of children. I’m not surprised by that. Going back to Sharon’s death scene, the actress played her did a frighteningly good job of portraying a child dying of poison. Those awful painful screams will haunt me for the rest of my life.

  3. Pingback: The Finishing Line (1977) | Damian Thomas Films.. Etc

  4. Tom says:

    Man I must be pretty desensitized. I actually specifically fast-forwarded to Sharon’s death scene and was more than a little disappointed in how brief that part was. The screams were pretty bad, yeah but I was actually expecting to be shocked by that Lol. This is a very interesting piece though. About to give it a full watch now. That might put the weed killer into a more. . . . killer?. . . perspective. 😉

    • Tom says:

      Hahah! Yeah, I’m a bit cold! Yeah the thing is pretty cool man, definitely an interesting bit of effective propaganda-esque marketing. Not sure if that is the intent but it seems like a fairly serious cautionary tale for young folk. Now, to find me some poison to drink…..

    • cjodell12 says:

      You can put me firmly into the former group, Damian. I can’t even gather up the courage to watch Sharon’s death scene again without the sound turned all the way off. I actually felt nauseous listening to her hysterical shrieking and crying the first time. The poor girl must have been in absolutely excruciating pain as she died and she would have certainly been panicking. And like you and I agreed on, what really makes it so terrifying is that you don’t see exactly how Sharon dies, you’re forced to use your imagination. A very clever tactic on their part. And not to mention, she was the only one who really suffered as she died, and don’t forget she was only 9 years old when she died.

      BTW, the weed killer Sharon drank was almost certainly loaded with Paraquat, an extremely toxic corrosive. As little as 15 milliliters (about ONE-HALF of an ounce) of a 20 percent solution is fatal. It could have eaten a hole through her esophagus, corroded and burned the living fuck out of her stomach, intestines and pancreas, caused her liver and kidneys to start failing, made her lungs start swelling up with fluid, and eventually, poor Sharon would have gone into shock and died from multiple organ failure.

      I wouldn’t wish that kind of agony on my worst enemy, much less a little 9-year-old girl. I still have nightmares about that scene, nearly a year after watching it on YouTube for the first time.

      • I’m totally with you. I always picture the panicking parents being helpless as Sharon writhes around in intense pain that we can’t even begin to imagine. I doubt they could have totally pulled it off if they’d shown it.

        Plus, top weed killer facts! I think you’ve made the scene even worse for me now! Haha.

  5. cjodell12 says:

    Learning about what weed killer containing paraquat can do to a human, made the scene even worse for me as well. I can’t help but imagine poor Sharon writhing and rolling around on her bedroom floor, as she suffered such unbearable pain, probably clutching her stomach as she went, with her helpless mother trying in vain to comfort and console her daughter.

    My guess is that she called an ambulance right after that scene, so Sharon probably died a few hours later at the hospital. And again, all her suffering was caused by unintentionally swallowing as little as ONE-HALF of an ounce of a 20 PERCENT solution of Paraquat. Yes, Paraquat is THAT deadly.

    As I mentioned, the other kids died quickly and relatively painlessly, but Sharon’s death was slow and agonizing. Which only adds to the ever-increasing scare factor in my book.

    • Right, I’m now convinced that this is the worst death ever filmed!

      • cjodell12 says:

        Sharon’s death scene was the scariest thing I’ve EVER seen or heard in a film. I first saw Apaches on YouTube last April (about a month before you made this article) and I STILL have nightmares about that scene at least once every week. I sure as hell would NEVER want to see my only child die in such a horrific and gruesome manner. And that’s the last thing I’m going to say about it before you and I both get screwed up for life.

      • I hope those nightmares go away soon.

  6. cjodell12 says:

    So do I.

    Now on a more positive note, the film as a whole is actually brilliant. Considering what little they had to make the film with, it turned out way better than one would think.

    By the way, this film was directed by the late great John Mackenzie, one of Scotland’s all time great filmmakers. He went on to direct the British gangster classic “The Long Good Friday”, just three years later. And he did an awesome job of directing it.

    The writer of the film was Neville Smith, who is a retired actor and writer who wrote the screenplay for the classic British detective comedy, “Gumshoe”, based on his book of the same name.

    The producers of the film, John Arnold and Leon Clore, worked on several other public information films throughout the 70s and 80s, through Leon’s production company Graphic Films, which made this film. Graphic Films also produced such films as 1961’s “They Took Us to the Sea”, 1962’s “Our School”, and 1975’s “Drive Carefully Darling”, all directed by John Krish, as well as John Mackenzie’s other public information film, “Say No to Strangers” from 1981.

    And finally, the cinematographer for this was Phil Meheux, who worked with Mackenzie several times on films like “The Long Good Friday”, “The Honorary Consul”, and “The Fourth Protocol”. Apaches was Phil’s second film credit. He’s still working as a cinematographer today, most recently on “Sponge Out of Water”. Check out his resume when you have the chance.

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