‘Gore Orphanage’s writer and producer Cody Knotts had already told me the movie was a mixture of a local legend and the story of British schoolgirl-turned-murderess Mary Bell, so I had a very good idea who the killer was going to be before the film even started. But, having said that, ‘Gore Orphanage’ only draws very loosely upon those inspirations.

Set (apart from a very brief framing story) in the summer of 1934, we see a little girl called Nellie (Emma Leigh Smith) being rescued from a house where all the other occupants are dead. And none of those deaths look particularly pleasant. Nellie is immediately taken to the gothic pile known as Francis Gore Memorial Orphanage where she is greeted by two creepy twin girls (who sadly don’t appear again) and ushered into the office of orphanage director Mrs Pryor (Maria Olsen) who, we will soon discover, not only enjoys meting out harsh punishments on the children but also has some disturbing daddy issues.

Nellie and her teddy bear are quickly befriended by Esther (Nora Hoyle) and Buddy (Brandon Mangin), who proudly shows Nellie the stash of baseball cards his father left him that he hides under the window seat. Ernst (William Townsend) is a German-born Janitor who likes to play with the little girls, luring them to his room after dark with the promise of cookies. Their teacher Miss Lillian (Keri Maletto) is the only ray of sunshine in this place, a ‘strong modern woman’ who believes that love is more effective than discipline.

It isn’t long before one of the children dies mysteriously and Nellie, Esther and Buddy spy on Ernst burying the child’s body in the garden. When Buddy is bullied by an older boy called Harmon (Jeremy Kaluza), Nellie promises Buddy that he will “never have to cry again” but Nellie has her own problems to deal with – Mrs. Pryor has singled her out for some especially violent disciplining.

As more children die, and Ernst attempts to lure Nellie with his cookie game, Nellie only has Miss Lillian to confide in. Miss Lillian has seen enough and reassures Nellie that the police will be here tomorrow and that with their new method of fingerprinting they’ll quickly discover the killer.

But before tomorrow comes, Nellie and the other children will have to survive the night…

When ‘Gore Orphanage’ started with a very creative take on its opening titles, I really had high hopes for what was to follow. But as soon as the story began, the limitations of the film’s micro-budget took their toll. The cinematography has that flat too-brightly-lit home video look, and most of the dialogue has that distractingly dull echo you always hear when the track is recorded live without any subsequent ADR. Sometimes both these problems (which, let’s face it, are inherent in so much low budget filmmaking) can be overcome by inventive direction and smart screenwriting but Emily Lapisardi’s direction was uninspired (it reminded me of watching a school play) and Cody Knotts’ script – although littered with some interesting ideas and one or two great pieces of dialogue – didn’t have the crackle a low-budget screenplay needs to stop us from caring about all the other flaws. The acting was problematic also, with only Maria Olsen and Keri Maletto really shining, and William Townsend doing what he could with a pretty thankless role. As for the children, Nora Hoyle and Brandon Mangin were the stand-outs. Emma Leigh Smith is appropriately serious and furrowed-browed as Nellie, with her hair in bunches and her large eyes always watching, but she is let down by a screenplay that should have given her more to do which, to be honest, is true for all the actors. Before you can really immerse yourself in a movie like ‘Gore Orphanage’ you have to believe in what is happening to its core cast and Cody Knotts’ screenplay doesn’t do that. At its best (most of the Mrs Pryor scenes) it is big and melodramatic, at its worst (the framing story, and most of the scenes with the children) it limps along, turning everybody into cardboard. As for the scenes with Miss Lillian, whose husband abandoned her because Spanish flu made her barren (as one of the children tells Nellie), so much more could have been done to give that character three-dimensions and really give the few moments between her and Mrs Pryor some bite, but the screenplay leaves Keri Maletto in free-fall.

On a plus note, the musical score by Ben Cornelius-Bates is worth some attention. Check out the organ composition that accompanies the scene where the children are playing.

Despite the title and the odd splash of blood and puke, ‘Gore Orphanage’ isn’t a horror movie. Nor is it a psychological drama. In fact, sometimes it feels like the cast of ‘Annie’ decided to kick back for the night, throw out all their songs and celebrate Halloween. ‘Gore Orphanage’ is a first draft of a film. With more time to develop it, more creative care and attention and a slightly bigger budget, it could have been so much better than it turned out to be.

Movie Review: Gore Orphanage
2.5Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)

About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white

  • Cody Knotts

    Thank you for reviewing our film. Though I disagree with your review of the dialogue in particular, I always enjoying reading an honest review.