1971; directed by Piers Haggard; written by Robert Wynne-Simmons; 97 mins
[Mild Spoilers, sorry.]
The lesser known of Britain’s unholy trinity of Folk Horror alongside Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man, this story of Satanic rebirth is easily up there with them. Though I enjoyed it all the way through, it’s only listlessly sitting around afterwards I realise how much more there is to this film.
Though indeterminate in it’s exact date, the film takes place some time in the mid-17th century on the cusp of the age of science. Olde magics and paganism are still very much in the ether around the small West Country hamlet where our story is situated. Whilst ploughing his field, farmer Ralph Gower (Barry Andrews) unearths a deformed skull with a still intact eyeball in it’s socket. Returning to his farmstead, he convinces The Judge (Patrick Wymark) to come and inspect this wyrd artifact but upon returning it has disappeared. Soon after, however, strange occurences begin to affect the locals. A woman is sent insane in the night by an unseen spectre and the children seem obsessed by a loose talon of unexplained origin.
Everything that occurs in Blood on Satan’s Claw seems to be as a result of people or situations in transition. The Judge, the ostensible protagonist in the ensemble, is one of the new scientific rationalists, his non-faith is questioned by the events unfolding. Not only that but that first people to succumb to the influence of the Devil are the pubescent children; their minds and bodies unwittingly susceptible to his influences. That and the young couple, newly in love, director Piers Haggard and writer Robert Wynne-Simmons seem to be exploring the idea of change as an agent for Satan to operate. The only exception being the intellectual Judge from the city, who is seemingly free from devilry but then his change comes about as a sort of reverse to everyone else: from reason to suspicion. Maybe he isn’t throwing science out of the window completely but he knows now he must remain open to the flexibility of reality.
For a cheap British horror, it is beautifully shot by the hilariously named Dick Bush using much in the way of frames within frames. The action, seen through foliage or from under a nearby eave, almost gives the feeling of the Devil watching all comings and goings from a corner. The film also has the properly damp, musty, drizzly feel of the English countryside with it’s greys, greens and browns.
The performances are all solid, although the accents do tip over into the “oo-arr”, kind-of Farmer Palmer voices every now and again. The requisite helpings of gore and nudity are in supply with the standout being an appropriately uncomfortable seduction scene between a possessed local teen and the parish priest. All in all, a terrific night in with an old horror film and further evidence that Britain really needs to have a new wave of Folk Horror to really tap the potential of this fallow field of screen terror.