Blood On Satan’s Claw (1971) [31 Days of British Horror Review]

Hot on the heels of his “31 Days of Hammer” in January, Jules is at it again in March, treating us to a chronological run through the classic era of British Horror, from the late ’50s to the end of the ’70s, with one review every day for the entire month.

You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of British Horror” by CLICKING HERE.

Starring: Patrick Wymark, Linda Hayden, Anthony Ainley, Simon Williams
Director: Piers Haggard

For its second foray into what would later be called Folk Horror, Tigon Films eschewed the brutal realism of Witchfinder General in favour of portraying a much more subtle, beguiling form of evil.

Blood On Satan’s Claw is a lush, unsettling and often-times perverse tale that started off as an anthology of three stories that was later merged into one single narrative, where the Devil himself builds himself an earthly body using the living skin of children.

In early 18th century England, young Ralph Gower (Barry Andrews) uncovers an inhuman-looking skull with one eye and strange fur on it while ploughing a field. By the time he brings the local judge (Patrick Wymark) to investigate though, it has disappeared.

Slowly, the presence of evil begins to be felt in the town. A young woman (Tamara Ustinov) goes insane with no warning and sprouts a claw, a demonic hand rises up out of a floor, and children who find a strange claw start to behave weirdly, while growing strange patches of fur on their bodies.

The ringleader of the cult is Angel Blake, a seductive teenager who draws more and more children and young people into her games, removing growths of skin or even hands or feet from them to help assemble her master’s body.

Peter Edmonton (Simon Williams) rides to a neighbouring town to find the judge and bring him back to eradicate the evil, but is he too late?

From the very first moments, Blood On Satan’s Claw is a remarkably intense and oppressive film. The raw, muddy field where the skull will be found is blanketed by a dull, overcast sky that adds a layer of claustrophobic pressure that never really lets up.

From the off, the presence of Satan is keenly felt, breaking some minds, seducing others, warping and twisting their bodies for his own ends. There’s no ambiguity here, the Devil is real and he’s working through the children.

Even with old hands like Patrick Wymark and Anthony Ainley on hand, the entire film rests on the 17 year-old shoulders of Linda Hayden as the temptress and high priestess Angel Blake and what a performance she gives. Considering her young age, she’s unbelievably commanding and handles everything the script throws at her like a seasoned pro.

Her fully-naked seduction of the wonderfully-named Reverend Fallowfield (Ainley) is powerfully erotic, but with a deliciously malevolent undercurrent as she revels in challenging the holy man’s resolve, while her physical joy at the (deeply upsetting) rape of Sarah (Wendy Padbury) borders on the disturbing. It’s her hidden cat-like smile in her father’s embrace after accusing the Reverend of rape that really chills though. The one man who could stop her is taken off the board and she did it with only a few words.

Like it’s Folk Horror predecessor Witchfinder General, the English countryside is as much of a character as any of the cast, but in subtly different ways. Matthew Hopkins’ world was cold and bleak, all windy hilltops and blasted heaths, the very colour drained out of the landscape.

The England of Blood On Satan’s Claw is one of lush greenery and deep forests, with the centrepiece being the abandoned, ruined church, overgrown and reclaimed by nature itself, which is then reflected in the primal nature that takes root in and gradually takes over the young people.

This Green and Pleasant Land is wild and the children who inhabit it are equally feral, the very antithesis of the Christian ideals of order, chastity and morality.

Beautifully shot by Dick Bush, Piers Haggard’s film doesn’t look or feel quite like anything else, even now. It draws you into a world that is as seductive as it is terrifying and for that, it stands alone, even in the folk horror cycle. It’s a masterpiece and a high point of British cinema that few horror films have ever come close to.

Rating: 5/5.

JULESAVThe Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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