A IS FOR ACID (2002) and THE BRIDES IN THE BATH (2003): A DOUBLE BILL OF TRUE-LIFE MURDER MOVIE REVIEWS BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
I remembering watching both of these murder movies when they were first on television- ITV, I think- back in 2002 and 2003. I remember also being utterly fascinated by them both, voyeuristic little ghoul that I am.
In particular, I never forgot Martin Kemp in THE BRIDES IN THE BATH yelling the following at one of his many bigamous ‘wives’: ‘You’re my wife, and if I want you to take a hot bath, then you’ll damn well take a hot bath!’ Crikey, take it easy, Mister Hygiene Police. Mind you, his apparent fastidiousness arose, not out of an over-riding passion for cleanliness, but out of a passion for murder…
Let’s start with THE BRIDES IN THE BATH then, as it appears we already have. Martin Kemp, the heart-throb from ‘Eighties New Romantic band Spandau Ballet, plays George Joseph Smith (1872-1915), a man who used and abused women cruelly for personal profit.
With his piercing blue eyes, handsome face, chin dimple (this is Martin Kemp I’m describing now, not George Joseph Smith!) and decent physique, he approached lonely single women in just-post-Victorian England and made them fall in love with him. He had all the charm and all the chat, so that bit was ridiculously easy for him.
It was easy too for him to bigamously marry these women, despite the fact that he had a wife sitting at home waiting for him in his unsuccessful antiques shop. He simply used aliases.
Once he’d married the women, he became the rightful owner of any money or property they had, or he’d take out life insurance policies on them, payable to him in the tragic event of the wife’s death. Then he’d make his wives take a bath with the door unlocked…
How he got away with it so often is staggering. Why were there no marks of violence on any of the bodies, when surely there must at least have been bruising round their ankles where he held them so tightly until they drowned? But no, he did this and got away with it three times before anyone thought to put two and two together.
He used the same modus operandi with each of the murdered wives. He’d marry ’em, move to a new area with them and then bring in the local doctor and tell him he was ‘worried’ about his wife, in an attempt to have a diagnosis of epilepsy or nervous hysteria or something brought in. This was so that then, when he went on to murder this wife for financial gain, he could call in the doctor and say things like, Oh my God Doctor, I was afraid of something like this! What a creep.
Martin Kemp is terrific as the cold, heartless George Joseph Smith. Mind you, he’s a great actor anyway. He was in EastEnders for several years and he also played one of the Kray twins with his real-life twin brother Gary in the superb film THE KRAYS, co-starring the magnificent Billie Whitelaw as their adoring mother.
I didn’t care much for the giant moustache he sports in THE BRIDES IN THE BATH but it was the style of the time, like wearing one of those long-legged stripy bathing costumes when you went to the seaside.
Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter’s Uncle Dursley) plays Smith’s barrister, Sir Edward Marshall-Hall, a man who seems to dislike his client and who almost certainly thinks Smith is guilty as hell of the heinous crimes of which he’s been accused. I wouldn’t say he was all that sorry to see Smith hang for his sins.
Tracey Wilkinson (yes, you DO recognise her; she was prison officer Di Barker in smashing prison drama BAD GIRLS) does a great job as Smith’s long-suffering ‘real’ wife Edith, and even then she finds out at the end that she too was married bigamously to Smith, as he’d wedded someone else before her in 1898. What a bastard!
‘Oh, but he keeps coming back to me,’ she bleats rather pitifully in the face of all the evidence of Smith’s bigamy. ‘Surely that means he loves me?’ Not necessarily, love. He needs a base, that’s all, somewhere to return to when the heat’s on or he needs to lie low or regroup his resources.
It’s a bit like running back to your Mammy when you’re tired and sick or you need to retreat from the world for a bit and you know she’ll look after you. It’s not the same as loving someone properly, not at all.
Smith, in a way, treated Edith worst of all, although he didn’t kill her. Instead, hers was the Death Of A Thousand Cuts, as she sat at home waiting for him for weeks, even months, on end while he was off marrying other women and killing them for their money and calling it his ‘work.’ This was the highly dubious ‘business’ of which she knew nothing. Was she better off not knowing? It’s hard to say.
There’s a funny bit- well, it’s funny in a gruesome way- when Smith’s boarding-house landlady is reading in her newspaper about the execution of infamous wife-murderer Doctor Crippen. At that exact moment she’s reading the news article, water from the on-going murder of Smith’s then-wife is actually dripping down onto the newspaper from the bathroom above. The irony is rather delicious.
Another Martin takes centre-stage now, Martin Clunes, as we take a look at A IS FOR ACID. Clunes plays John George Haigh (1909-1949), the ‘Acid Bath Murderer’ who killed people by dissolving them in a bath of acid because he’d heard that acid removed all traces that there’d even been a person there in the first place.
Without a body, he’d heard, there could be no conviction for murder. Corpus delicti, right? Well, not exactly. In fact, it was the remains of the people he killed that convicted him, the remains that the acid didn’t dissolve: the body fat, the gallstones (eeuw!), the dentures, the bit of a foot. So much for acid, anyway.
Just like our old friend George Joseph Smith’s case was trail-blazing in that it allowed evidence from other similar deaths to be heard during the prosecution of one particular murder, so was Haigh’s case ground-breaking.
It was one of the first in which forensics played a huge part. Forensics was all the police had to go on, pretty much, so Haigh might even have been the first murderer to have been convicted on the basis of forensic evidence alone.
Smith and Haigh were similar in other ways too. Smith quoted poetry at his women and he had a fondness for Tennyson. Haigh was very cultured also. He played classical piano well and performed pieces by such musical luminaries as Bach when he was asked for his party piece.
Haigh killed for love. Love of money and love of self, that is. In the film A IS FOR ACID, he kills six people for his own financial advancement. He was a born conman with several convictions for petty fraud.
He murdered his old chum Donald McSwann to gain control of McSwann’s properties and lucrative business, and then he killed Donald’s gentle elderly parents to avoid detection. What a cowardly weasel.
His modus operandi was probably a little less finessed than Smith’s. He claimed to be an inventor and an engineer and, in fact, he did tinker about with a few ideas. He’d invite the person he wanted to kill round to his workshop, then he’d either shoot them or bash them over the crown with a crowbar. Then into the vat of acid they’d go, maybe still alive for all we know. What a grisly, miserable end to meet.
After the McSwann family massacre, he murdered Archie and Rose Henderson (The awful Rose is played by Celia Imrie), a doctor and his wife, so that he could take charge of their financial affairs.
But Rose’s brother is deeply suspicious of Haigh. When he is able to connect Haigh to the disappearance and possible murder of an elderly rich woman living where Haigh does, at the Onslow Hotel, he contacts the police. They pay a long-overdue visit to Haigh’s workshop…
Haigh is quiet, polite and charming. But his mind has been somewhat of a gory bent since childhood, and he tells the cops that he thinks he’s a vampire. His wacko parents, members of a religious sect known as ‘the Plymouth Brethren,’ have been telling him since he was born that the three of them are part of something called ‘God’s Elect.’ No wonder Haigh feels like he has the power of life and death over the people he meets.
His devoted girlfriend Gillian (Keeley Hawes) is so smitten with the tall, amiable Haigh that she goes round to Haigh’s parents’ house after Haigh has been hanged and spouts mealy-mouthed platitudes like: ‘Oh no, he didn’t suffer at all at the end!’ Well, that’s a blessing, at any rate. We’d sure hate for the man they called the Acid Bath Murderer to suffer when he was facing Albert Pierrepoint, Britain’s last hangman…!
Anyway, these are two top-notch British crime dramas that you’d hugely enjoy if you’re into serial killers, which most of us horror movie fans probably are. There’s a glamour and excitement about serial killers that draws us to them but, when you watch films like this, you do get to see the killers as they really were.
And what were they really? Just small-minded, petty little men who killed defenceless women and pensioners for a few measly quid and thought they were great big men for so doing. Anyway, kudos to The Two Martins. A job well done there, lads. A job well done.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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