Blood on Satan's Claw (1971)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2010-10-22 06:27

Written by: Robert Wynne-Simmons and Piers Haggard
Directed by: Piers Haggard
Starring: Patrick Wymark, Linda Hayden, and Barry Andrews

Reviewed by: Brett G.

ďWitchcraft is dead and discredited. Are you bent on reviving forgotten horrors?Ē

British Horror during the 60s and 70s was largely dominated by two pretty well known companies: Hammer Films and Amicus Productions. Any horror fan is well acquainted with their body of work, as they churned out some of the genreís most beloved films. A little bit lesser known, however, was Tigon British Film Productions, a production company whose output was much smaller (numbering only around 15 films over a 4 year period). Perhaps their most well known offering was the Vincent Price vehicle, Witchfinder General. Beyond that, they produced a few cult hits that are fairly well known among enthusiasts, but lost on many general viewers. One such film is Blood on Satanís Claw, a title that is certainly evocative enough and seems to promise plenty of shocks and chills.

Set in a 17th century English village, the film opens with Ralph Gower hard at work plowing the fields. He stumbles upon something buried down in the grass--a deformed skull with some strange features. He pleas to the local judge to have a look at it, but when they get back to the field, itís vanished. Ralph suspects something supernatural is at work, but the judge brushes it off. Before long, Ralphís fears are confirmed, as a number of strange things begin to happen: a woman goes insane and sprouts a claw in place of her hand, and the local children all begin to behave in homicidal fashion after theyíve grown patches of strange fur on their bodies. It seems as though the devil himself has come to claim this tiny village, and heíll require a blood sacrifice or two on the way to doing so!

Blood on Satanís Claw was a film that had been on my radar for a while (and with a title like that, how could it not be?), and it didnít disappoint. Itís a solid little chiller that relies one genuine tension, build-up, and atmosphere. If I were to describe it, Iíd say itís a hybrid of The Crucible, Children of the Damned, and Rosemaryís Baby, with a dash of the pagan aesthetic seen in The Wicker Man (which actually came out after this film). For some reason, religious and Satanic horror still manages to be a bit unsettling for me, even though Iím not the least bit religious. Thereís something very sinister and primal about the evil found in the subject matter, particularly when it descends on innocence and youth.

This film captures that especially well because the children are at the center of the demonic carnage. Most of them are taken over by Satanís power and become minions of the dark lord; those that donít are sacrificed in his name. Thereís one particularly disturbing scene where the children gather as a mob to rape and murder one of their own as Satan himself overlooks the proceedings (this marks the first time we get a very brief glimpse of the beast). Itís not very explicit, but the performances are all very convincing, especially the one given by the girl, whose expressions of abject terror sell the seen better than more overt visuals would. The ring-leader here is the ironically-named Angel Blake, portrayed by Linda Hayden. Sheís the most memorable character, mostly because Haydenís performance transforms her from an innocent school girl into a lusty harlot as the film progresses.

Blood on Satanís Claw is a blueprint pot boiler because itís built on small, terrifying moments that build up to a climax that finally reveals just what the hell is going on. Bigger scenes like the one mentioned above are preceded by small, yet disturbing moments that slowly reveal that something is just a little bit off in the village. It doesnít reveal too much too soon, and thereís something to be said about a film that can pull that off and still remain interesting. Itís a bit dialogue heavy at times, but thereís just enough in the way of creepy visuals to keep things moving quickly enough. Of course, the whole thing is building up to the reveal of the titular character, and visually, he doesnít disappoint. Heís a strange, inhuman beast, and the only disappointment is that his final showdown with the judge isnít climactic or epic at all. Itís a shame that the film peters out a bit, because if it hadnít, we might have had a true classic on our hands.

Thatís just about the only major flaw with this one. Everything else is solid enough--performances are very convincing all the way down the line, and the direction is well done, particularly in the way the film is able to capture a sense of desolation. The village is tucked away and isolated, surrounded by the woods, and the film doesnít let us forget this too often with its numerous shots of the landscape. Thereís a menace that hangs in the air from the moment Ralph Gower digs up that weird skull, and the film rarely eases up once it gets going. Despite the filmís exploitation-tinged title, there isnít a whole lot in the way of explicit schlock here--thereís a few stabbings and a scene where a girlís patch of skin is excised--but this is mostly a film that works because it doesnít show a whole lot and leaves you imagining the true nature of the beast for most of its run-time. Even the score is pretty sparse at times, but it gives the film a classic-horror feel when it fully kicks in.

Unfortunately, Blood on Satanís Claw is likely to maintain its cult status for a while. MGM owns the home video rights in Region 1, and with the company in disarray at the moment, thereís a good chance the film wonít find its way to DVD anytime soon. Itís a shame because itíd be a perfect addition to the studioís Midnite Movies line. The filmís gothic leanings and creepy premise lend itself to that type of classification because I could see this one working really well on a dark, cool fall night. The film has played on TCM, which will no doubt be the best presentation the film will get until it hits a digital medium. Iíd certainly like to see a nice restoration because itíd no doubt do wonders for the filmís visuals and overall look if the colors and details were allowed to shine. At any rate, this is a must-see for fans of British Horror and those viewers who enjoy a creepy demonic possession film. Dig this one up any way you can--but just hope you donít dig up more than you bargain for like poor Ralph Gower did! Buy it!

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