This blog is devoted to all those pieces of 20th century culture too often pooh-pooh'ed by the so called 'high brow' crowd. The stuff that conjoures words like 'vibrant', 'garish' and 'lurid'. Cheap paperbacks, b-movies, exploitation, fantasy, horror and hokey sci-fi - all have a place on this blog where the trash of yesterday is recognised as the classics of today.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Movie Review: The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971)

I'm getting quite a kick out of satanically-themed movies of the 70s at the moment. This one from British studio Tigon fits into an even smaller genre known as 'folk horror' which includes the likes of Witchfinder General (1968 - also Tigon) and The Wicker Man (1973). These films explore the pagan traditions of the countryside (often set in past eras) and the brutality of religion (both pagan and Christian).

But where Witchfinder concentrates on the abuse of power by religious bigots and Wicker Man shows the horrific effects of pagan superstitions gone mad The/Blood on Satan's Claw (the film was released under both titles) differs in that its religious authorities and lawmen are in fact, no matter how brutal their methods, largely in the right. There genuinely is something nasty and supernatural going on in the simple country lives of these 17th century English folk.

The film gets off to a cracking start with several different story lines linked by the discovery of a deformed skeleton by local plowman Ralph. Believing the remains to be some sort of demon, Ralph's tale is met with skepticism by Judge Wymark who is staying with Mrs Banham. The widow Banham's nephew has also come to visit, bringing with him his betrothed. But the unfortunate girl meets an icy reception and during the night suffers some sort of fit accompanied by nasty visions before being carted off to Bedlam, sporting a nasty-looking claw where her hand used to be. Then there is the case of Angel Blake (played by the absolutely stunning Linda Hayden) who has found a claw in the field and seemingly succumbs to its power. All these intertwining story lines are evidence of an early version of the script that was set out like one of Amicus' horror anthologies. I'm glad they went with keeping it whole as it all makes for a very interesting first act.

Things soon take a turn for the seriously nasty with local children sprouting patches of scaly, hairy skin on their bodies and following the increasingly bitchy Angel Blake with all the fanaticism of a murderous cult. In a surprisingly gruesome and harrowing scene, Widow Banham's nephew suffers a similar trauma to his ex-fiance when he is attacked in bed by a clawed hand. After cutting the demonic hand off with a knife, he is distraught to discover that the hand was in fact, his own.

I was pleasantly surprised by the gritty and downright creepiness of the film. Most British horror films from this era are more than a little campy, playing up on the sex and blood. But this film made me feel genuinely uneasy, aided no doubt, by an extremely creepy musical score and eerie cinematography. While Blood on Satan's Claw certainly does not shy away from the gore and also includes, as one might expect, the almost obligatory rape/sacrifice scene, none of it feels gratuitous.