You’d be forgiven for thinking you were going to be watching a bone-fide slasher flick as the opening scene of MURDER ELITE plays out. In time-honoured tradition, a woman is chased through the dark woods; the camera panning up to a flashing blade as her mystery attacker pursues her (in classic POV naturally). Weary from her ordeal she falls to the ground; the killer pounces and repeatedly stabs her ...
|You could be forgiven for thinking you were about to watch a slasher movie after the first five minutes of MURDER ELITE|
After this dramatic – if a little dog-eared – beginning the action abruptly cuts to: breakfast making at an English country stables. Owner Margaret (Billie Whitelaw) munches on toast with her two farmhands Ron (Ray Lonnen) and Jimmy (Hywell Bennett). They are belatedly joined by her sister Diane (Ali MacGraw), who it transpires has returned to the family home after blowing her inheritance after a series of disastrous relationships in the United States. Not so pulse-pounding action continues when Diane is seemingly shamed out of her lazy ways into cleaning a static caravan on the grounds; only to fall into the arms of Ron. However, their romantic tryst is interrupted when the police turn up to ask questions about the murder of the local girl we saw at the beginning of the film.
All four main characters are set up as possible killers. The murders (of which we are told there has now been three) only started when Diane returned from the States. Margaret has a habit of taking lonely walks on her own. Whilst Ron poaches the woods at night and Jimmy is something of a Jack the lad.
However, this is where the film comes unstuck. The murder mystery angle plays faintly in the background, whilst the bulk of the film is taken up with endless scenes of dialogue between the two sisters about caravan cleaning, Diane being a trollop and whether they should sell the stables and split the profits.
It doesn’t help that Ali MacGraw is wholly unconvincing in her role as the would-be scheming seductress. Best known for LOVE STORY (1970) and her stormy real-life relationship with Steve McQueen, she looks tired and drawn and is unable to compete with Billie Whitelaw in the acting department. So much so that some scenes that should be dramatic become unintentionally funny, including the moment Diane confides in her sister that she had an abortion – only to get a slap round the face as a response. Lumbered with an unrealistically melodramatic script Whitelaw (best known to genre fans for her turn as the sinister nanny in THE OMEN (1976)) also fumbles – and veers wildly between giving her all and obvious embarrassment.
|Ali McGraw wonders where she left her career and that bucket of suds for the caravan|
The hackneyed melodrama isn’t helped by a score that would sound more at home in a 1930s serial. Surprisingly, it was recorded by the London Philharmonic, but sounds like it was checked out of the library.
It’s topped off with the kind of ending Brian Clemens could have written in his sleep. Although mildly clever, by that point the damage will have been done and will fail to rouse most viewers from their boredom induced coma.
It also comes as no great surprise that this film sunk into utter obscurity (it didn’t even get a video release in Britain until 1997). The way that the camera fades to black and then back again might suggest that it was filmed for TV – although it was evidently shot on film. Director Claude Whatman’s output was mostly for TV, and it shows.
MURDER ELITE was produced by Tyburn Films, who briefly tried to rejuvenate the British gothic horror film by wrestling it from Hammer’s cold dead hands with the likes of THE GHOUL (1975). Sadly they had little success, and this film could have only have been one of the final nails in the coffin.
Incidentally, Whitelaw appeared with Hywell Bennett in 1968’s TWISTED NERVE – which caused significant controversy on its release by seemingly equating Downs Syndrome with psychotic behaviour.
female:4 / male:2
1) Female stabbed to death
2) Female killed in a fall
3) Female trampled to death
4) Male shot with shotgun
5) Female dies from stab wounds
6) Male loses will to live whilst watching MURDER ELITE