FiLM REViEW: The Blood On Satan’s Claw, 1971

Another October evening in half-term, another Hammer-esque horror movie. This is actually another from Tigon (as was Curse of the Crimson Altar). Fortunately this is a much better than film.

It’s still far from top-notch, frankly, despite having garnered a cult following thanks to the ‘folk horror’ aulde Englande atmos’, very pleasingly conjured by director Piers Haggard. This evocation of a vanished England is my favourite aspect of the film.

What a fantastic shot!

Also worthy of note are some of the camera angles, from a crow, rook or raven or summat similar, viewed from below against a lowering sky, in the opening credits, to similarly vertiginous close in views at other moments, both the look of this film and it’s overall direction are great.

What is ultimately most shocking is the fact that the evil-doers, the ‘possessed’ are children. There are several scenes, all of which are quite shockingly graphic, not in necessarily typically explicit or gory ways, but rather in an old-school suggestive pre-cgi manner.

Childhood innocence corrupted is at the heart of this P. D. James style story.

The twin ‘daemons’ of sex and death rear their horny hairy heads, as paganism returns to haunt Olde Englande. As the film progresses I think I grow to like it more and more. The denouement, however, brings everything rather clunkily back down to earth.

We start with Ralph (rugged, handsome, tousle-haired Barry Andrews), a ploughman, turning up something rather oddly disturbing, as he goes about his work. He reports his find to the local justice of the peace (Patrick Wymark), who is sceptical of Ralph’s country bumpkin superstitions. But it turns out Ralph’s right, and has unwittingly unleashed a formerly dormant demonic force.

The judge questions Margaret (Michele Dotrice).

I won’t synopsise the whole plot. Watch the movie to find out what happens. The chief attractions are the evocation of ye Olde Englande, and a gorgeous vision of rural 17th C. life, plus (un?)healthy doses of pagan sex and death.

Unlike most films of this ilk/era, this is actually a little bit scary in places, in the way The Whicker Man is (although this is not as good a film as that genuine ‘folk horror’ classic), because, as mentioned before, it’s chiefly kids that become ‘possessed’ and act out the evils of their demonic master.

Angel and Cathy during a climactic scene.

Linda Hayden is Angel Blake, who becomes the leader of the devilish coven, and Wendy Padbury plays Cathy Vespers, whose fate is one of the film’s darkest moments. Characters are well named in this movie!

The Blood On Satan’s Claw touches upon one particular area that is potentially very fraught, especially in our current climate, child sexuality. And it does so in two surprisingly shocking scenes: Angel’s attempt to seduce Rev. Fallowfield (Anthony Ainley, perfectly cast), and the ritual rape and murder of Cathy.

Rural England is beautifully evoked.

Taken as a whole, this is a beautifully filmed work, with some great turns from actors who aren’t giants of their art. I can certainly see why The Blood On Satan’s Claw has attained a cult status. Not quite a classic of the same order as The Whicker Man , but definitely amongst the best of its kind, I did really enjoy this, as silly as it is at its core.

Ralph’s fate is key to the plot arc.
Ralph battles with boobies and a blade, for his eternal soul.

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