DVD REVIEW: ANGEL MAKER: SERIAL KILLER QUEEN / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: O.H. KRILL / SCREENPLAY: O.H. KRILLL / STARRING: ANDREW CHAPMAN, M.A. NICOLS / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Amelia Dyer was one of England’s most prolific but little known serial killers. She was a ‘baby farmer’, charging young mothers a hefty fee to take in their unwanted or illegitimate new-borns and then – unbeknownst to the parent - murdering the child in various gruesome ways, at first drugging them and starving them to death but finally, when the opium and malnutrition method took too long, she resorted to strangling her victims with edging tape.
Dyer travelled the country, changed her name, and eventually brought her own daughter into the family kiddie-slaughter business. And it was a lucrative business. Over several decades, Amelia Dyer murdered more than four hundred babies.
It’s a macabre story. Especially if you’re a fan of particularly twisted crime. Dyer would make a great character in the next season of Penny Dreadful.
So disappointingly, given the sensational subject matter, Reality Films’ Angel Maker is a bit of a mixed bag: as an Idiot’s Guide to Victorian England (the period when Dyer was operating) it covers all the usual checkpoints – poverty, workhouses, disease and prostitution, laudanum, madness and Jack the Ripper - and it tells Amelia Dyer’s story in an exceptionally simple uncomplicated way using period photographs, clips from public domain films and – above it all – a slow and steady narration that sounds like it’s being read from a particularly boring textbook.
And that’s the problem. This is a story that should have us locked to the screen, horrified by what comes next, but this narration could send an insomniac to dreamland. On top of that, although the majority of vintage clips and photos are well chosen (including a great moment from The Screaming Skull), very few of them actually relate to Amelia Dyer herself. There’s a picture of her - a hawk-nosed woman with black rimmed eyes and a funereal hat, an illustration of her in a newspaper, and some examples of letters she wrote from prison – but the rest are mostly generic sepia-tinted baby photographs (there’s one of a dead infant in a cot surrounded by flowers which is particularly uncomfortable) interspersed with some awkward especially-shot filler of roses burning in CGI flames, a baby’s hand covered in blood and – the one that really doesn’t work – a sequence where a pair of hands wraps a ribbon around an obviously plastic baby’s neck (yep, you can see it’s a plastic baby) and strangles it on camera, presumably for all those viewers who are unclear what strangling a baby looks like.
But the best part is right at the end, when a bunch of text screens give us some interesting pointers about infanticide. The first one? “The title character in Oliver Twist spent his first years in a baby farm.”
So at least I’ve learned something.
Oh – but the woman on the DVD cover looks scary. It’s not Amelia Dyer though.
Now, does anyone have a copy of The Screaming Skull I can borrow?
Special Features: TBC
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