Thursday, February 28, 2019

Apaches (1977) / The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water (1973)

Directed by:
Jeff Grant
John Mackenzie

Having spent a lot of time on my grandpa's farm growing up, I still have vivid memories of many afternoons and evenings in the fields doing things like staking tobacco, pulling weeds and digging up potatoes. But the absolute worst farm chore by a landslide was dealing with the hay, which had to be baled, loaded on a flatbed wagon, taken up a steep hill by tractor to the barn, unloaded (thrown out) and then carried and stacked. As a kid, this was basically the worst thing ever. For starters, we were always doing it in 100 degree heat. And then you'd cough your throat raw because of the constant dust and dry grass in the air. The bales were heavy, especially for a kid, and the rope used to tie them together would frequently get loosened or break and you'd get loose hay all over the place. That hay had to be raked to the side and then fed through the baler again later on. But the absolute worst part was that any exposed flesh on your body was later covered with itchy red welts where the hay had irritated your skin. They weren't quite scratches and were gone the next day but they made for a pretty uncomfortable evening. But, hey, at least I never had it as bad as the kids in John Mackenzie's Apaches!

This is a well-made / shot warning-of-the-dangers-of-[fill in the blank] "educational" short running 27 minutes and produced by the Central Office of Information, maker of thousands of public information videos since the 1940s, and the Health & Safety Executive. The subject of today's class? The dangers of farm equipment and goofing around on farms and in old barns!

Six young children - Danny (who prefers to be called Chief Geronimo), Kim, Sharon, Michael, Tom and Robert - are playing "Apaches" and decide to make a raid on their small farming village. They ambush a tractor, Kim jumps on the back of a flatbed, it slams on its brakes and she ends up falling off and getting crushed under the tires. Next, a game of kick the can leads to Tom accidentally falling in a pile of manure and drowning. Yes, this is basically little more than a bunch of children accidentally getting killed. After each death, we get to see a sticker by the child's coat hook in their school being removed, their desk being cleared out and their dresser drawers emptied. While all of that's going on, oblivious adults just go about their business. Workers wave back and mock shoot at the kid's plastic cap guns and adult hands prepare for a dinner party where the child narrator muses that they'll no doubt be getting drunk.

There's also accidental ingestion of poison, being crushed by a falling metal gate and a runaway tractor going over a hill. The end credits give us a list of (first) names and the ages of children who've died the previous year on farms and the ways in which they died, some of which match what we've see here and some of which (electrocution, suffocating in grain pit, explosion...) we don't.

I was one of these kids playing on the farm around all of the same equipment featured here, and the adults around me paid about as much attention as the adults featured in this short, but I guess I'm one of the lucky ones who somehow managed not to get mangled or killed. But it's nice to know British kids got fed the same exact stuff we did here in the U.S.! This reminded me a lot of a bus safety scare video we had to watch in elementary school where a kid drops his books and climbs under a bus to retrieve them, followed by the shot of a wheel moving and then a loud *crunch* sound.

This is available on a 2 disc set distributed by BFI titled The COI Collection Volume Four: Stop! Look! Listen!, which was released in 2011 and contains 268 minutes of similar public safety videos. The other short of interest on the set is the 1 1/2 minute The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water (1973; aka Lonely Water), directed by Jeff Clark, which is one of the most famous British PIFs of all time.

Donald Pleasence contributes the sinister voice of the cloaked, ever-looming "Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water" a Grim Reaper-like death figure who just can't wait for careless, foolish kids to fall into the water and drown themselves. Among his victims are a boy showing off in front of his friends, a boy grabbing onto a rotten branch trying to retrieve a ball and another kid who ignores a no swimming sign and doesn't take into consideration all of the junk at the bottom of ponds that he can snag himself on. I'm sure this creepy little short probably kept a lot of kids out of potentially dangerous waters, so mission accomplished!

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