‘You have a date… with death!’
The Orphan is a 1979 American horror film about a ten-year-old boy who doesn’t know the difference between a boarding school and an orphanage. The trouble begins when his aunt informs him that he will be going to the former. Mistaking it for the latter, he finds himself turned into a vengeful killer…
Written and directed by John Ballard. The movie stars Peggy Feury, Joanna Miles, Donn Whyte, Stanley Church, Eleanor Stewart, Afolabi Ajayi, Jane House, David Foreman and Mark Owens.
The movie was originally known as Friday the 13th… The Orphan and the film was reviewed under that title by Boxoffice and Variety in December 1979. However, it seems that the producers of a certain Friday the 13th (1980) negotiated a deal so that the film was released as just The Orphan.
“It was filmed over a decade, 30 minutes got cut and only a poor-quality print is available. It’s a strange, dream-like, arty psychological horror, where the tone shifts too often, the plot veers wildly and the acting is not expert.” Down Among the “Z” Movies
“Some murders happen in The Orphan, but they’re presented so cryptically that it’s hard to tell which events are meant to be figments of David’s imagination. Nonetheless, someone must have thought that writer/producer/director John Ballard was onto something, seeing as how ace cutter Ralph Rosenblum was brought in as “editorial consultant” and Janis Ian was hired to write and perform a theme song. Ian’s song is pretty, and one assumes Rosenblum helped strengthen a few moments, but the sum effect of The Orphan is bewildering.” Every ’70s Movie
“It’s a nicely shot film (including some really cool fish eye lens stuff reinforcing a sense of perversity), presented with the kind of vibe and trajectory that gives the feel of a personal odyssey for the filmmaker, and with it being a period piece (with the boy’s parents revealed in flashback as swinging hepcats of the roaring 20s – that is until everyone would go home, and the boy would witness the fragmented, less pleasant reality of their relationship)…” Off Screen
“There are a couple of good murders, but you’re going to have to wait until literally almost the very end to see them. The plot is also heavy-handed as it’s obvious that there’s going to be an ultimate clash between the kid and the aunt and endlessly dragging it out to where the viewer knows where it’s headed, but takes its sweet time to get there, gets a bit frustrating.” Scopophilia
“This okay horror has too few distinguishing moments: Owens is pleasant enough as David, while Feury holds the occasionally muddled action together with an aloof calmness. David’s ‘vision’ of an orphanage is interesting; there’s also a nice scene of the stabbing murder of Mary the cook. And the apt ending goes well with the Janis Ian theme song.” The Terror Trap
“The Orphan is a mixed bag to be sure. Some scenes are more weird than effective, the atmosphere is offbeat rather than scary, and the ending is more WTF than effective. Sure, it doesn’t work as a whole, but it does have its moments. (Like the tongue scene.) Ultimately, the scariest thing about it is the awful love song by Janis Ian.” The Video Vacuum
“Yeah, this is a snoozer all right with just enough surreal and interesting moments to keep this one going. If only there was enough payoff after waiting through the whole film. Yes, it’s safe to say that even though Ballard’s sole film aims higher and tries to become more than it is, it will never be quite as exciting as the other Friday the 13th films. (David’s dog Henry is pretty cool, though!)” World’s Greatest Film Critic
“There is a nightmarish/surreal sequence of an orphanage from hell, possible murders that may or may not be real, and a mental breakdown where he dresses up as his aunt. It is slow-going, and the acting isn’t particularly good, but it has several points of interest and is not as bad as reviews make it out to be.” The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre
Cast and characters:
Peggy Feury … Aunt Martha
Joanna Miles … David’s Mother
Donn Whyte … David’s Father
Stanley Church … Doctor Thompson
Eleanor Stewart … Mary
Afolabi Ajayi … Akin
Jane House … Jean Ford
David Foreman … Percy Ford
Mark Owens … David
The movie bears a 1977 copyright. According to a July 10, 1978 Hollywood Reporter snippet, Betrayal was a working title during production. The same news item announced that filming had recently completed with a budget just over $800,000.