Blood on Satan’s Claw, The (1971)

The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971)

A CHILL-FILLED Festival of HORROR!

In a small English town in the 17th century, a farmer uncovers some strange fur-covered remains and decides to get the local judge to have a look at it. When they return, the remains have gone and the judge dismisses the farmer’s fears. Soon afterwards, strange patches of fur start to grow on some of the town’s children. Slowly but surely the children begin performing satanic rituals in an abandoned church in the woods in an attempt to resurrect the Devil, built with the body parts of their victims.

 

In 1968, British company Tigon had attempted to muscle in on the Hammer-dominated horror market with a handful of releases, including The Blood Beast Terror and Witchfinder General. Now commonly heralded as an unsung classic, Witchfinder General originally met with disgust by critics and was heavily censored. But Tigon didn’t let that put them off and they returned to the same themes for The Blood on Satan’s Claw, another nasty little piece of work but not as good.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw shares many similarities with Witchfinder General and has been labelled somewhat of a spiritual successor. Though the difference being that the witchcraft in this one is real and not just an excuse to persecute and pillage. But the level of nastiness which runs through both films is still high: here you’ve got child abduction, rape, some unnecessary surgery, some limb-hacking and much more. When people think of the waves that something like The Human Centipede create today, one can only imagine what sort of shock and outrage The Blood on Satan’s Claw would have caused back in the 70s.

Overall though, the film is a mixed bag and suffers from a confusing mix of ideas, especially during the first half. But all will be revealed at the end so the film can be forgiven for taking some liberties with plot threads when everything comes together later on. The English countryside is used brilliantly as the backdrop to this supernatural mayhem and, with the beautiful setting, you really get a sense of 17th century time and place. The film has been shot under grey skies and this adds to the film’s atmosphere. Right from the opening shots, there is something ominous attempting to break free and the lifeless, subdued colour scheme really enhances the bleak tone. Of course it helps that the woods themselves are rather eerie looking and you wouldn’t want to go anywhere near them. The finale also lets the film down in a big way as the nearly-resurrected monster is seen in the woods. The film had run out of budget by this point but for the majority of the film, the less-is-more approach had worked so well so we didn’t really need to see ‘Behemoth’ in all of its glory.

Patrick Wymark drops in and out of the film too much which is a shame as his character was being set up well as the good-natured judge, determined to get to the bottom of what is going on but not resorting to the tried-and-tested methods of witch hunting. Linda Hayden, as Angel, is his opposite in the film. The young actress, barely an adult herself, is the embodiment of Satan for the film, doing his evil bidding whilst he rebuilds himself with the limbs of sacrificed victims. She starts the film as a plain peasant girl but as the film progresses, she transforms herself into a sexually-aware seductress, using her body to corrupt others and do the Devil’s bidding. With a couple of scenes of full frontal nudity, credit must go to Hadyen for wanting to go through with it at such an age but the character is all the better for it as the contrast between her obviously-young age and her overtly mature sexuality is startlingly effective. I must add that as pretty as Hayden is, it’s not ‘titillating’ nudity to get worked up in a lather over! These scenes will make you feel really dirty as they’re not presented in an erotic manner. Ditto the child rape scene. You’ll need a take a shower after watching but not a cold shower – the grime and dirt of the film will get under your skin. Anthony Ainley, who would go on to play The Master in Doctor Who, gets a rare chance to play a good guy for once, as the unfortunate local vicar who gets seduced by Angel after she strips naked in front of him.

 

The Blood on Satan’s Claw is bloody enough, disturbing enough and acted well enough to make it one of British horror’s most underrated gems. Hardly a classic but a strong effort which will leave a nasty taste in your mouth afterwards.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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