Blast from the Past: Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

 

This curious 1971 film is often grouped with The Witchfinder General (1968) and The Wickerman (1973) to form an unofficial trilogy of films frequently linked together as folk horror.

However I think perhaps the film has more in common with such movies as the ‘The Devil Rides Out’, ‘Too the Devil a Daughter’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ with it’s stories of Cult goings on , even if they are set in a English rural idyll.

To address the perfunctories of plot, essentially an ancient evil is accidentally uncovered. Strange goings on ensue with the sinister force gaining a grip on youngsters in the parish. This effect is initially seen to be psychological but later starts to show physically and it’s implied will be involved with the resurrection of the threat.   The changes in the children in the village are foreshadowed by an instance of insanity then accelerate from mischievousness and obsession with uncovered artefacts to the grim realties of ritual rape and murder.  One scene in particular it is very well done with obvious terror on the face on victim avoiding the uncomfortable ambiguity of such contemporaneous films as Straw Dogs.  Alongside this a sceptical Justice gradually comes to understand the level of danger and alongside an inept Squire comes to confront the evil with what I’ll term ‘the D&D solution.”

The film is shot to generate a lot of atmosphere. Mark Gatiss in his history of horror mentioned the low camera angles. There is also a great use of long shots with character retreating away from camera into some sort of threat which adds to the level of danger. The earlier effects, especially where there is a psychological element of the threat work well with an ‘imply but don’t show’ approach. Latter on we see a little too much and I would have liked to have seen less lighting and more fleeting angles.

 There is also great use of such motifs as Ravens, worms and other rural imagery to add an sinister air to the proceedings.

There is some fairly broad acting here – the Squire and a drunken Geoffrey Hughes (Keeping up Appearances “Onslow”) add an element of humour. However a mix of sitcom and Doctor Who Alumni put in good performances with a special mention to Wendy Padbury.

The sound score is a little robust but is successfully unsettling and it manages to not to be become as intrusive as some of the crimes against ear drums you get around this time (say the score to ‘Doctor Who: The Sea Devils’ comes to mind.)

All in all I find myself reacting to this in a similar way to how I reacted to the first of Peter F Hamilton’s Nightfall Trilogy. I loved the sinister cult goings on but when the supernatural part comes more to fore in the last act it was ultimately disappointing. With its psychological first act and the physical transformations of the second perhaps this would be the perfect film for David Cronenberg to make a come back to horror by remaking?

Overall I enjoyed the film, but I’m predisposed to like hammer/Amicus/Tigon horror and rural pastoral horror as well.  For a student of cinema and a viewer you enjoys atmosphere I’d strongly recommend it. If you’re a fan of the Saw’ franchise there is nothing to see here I expect.

But for my personal marks I’d say 3.5 out of 5 stars

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One comment

  1. A fair review Clarkey. As a big fan of the film, I would add that it repays repeat viewings and growing in power each time. What the UK has done well (and continues to do wuth films such as Wake Wood – ok its set in Ireland, but Hammer are responsible) is to contrast the rural idyll with evil. this film manages to be both earthy – the plough strains over the field, a villager rummages amongst the hedgerow and ethereal – the blossom bursting from the bough, the bird song rippling through the woods; also, there is an ambiguity about the ‘devil’, there is a sense of a pagan revival rather than a true Satanic menace.

    certainly the final act seems anti-climatic, however it does grow with power in my opinion and it echoes the opening scenes (spolier alert!)with the eye of the devil regarding the Justice, almost defiantly. certainly his enlightenment ideas have been overthrown! mention should also be made of the compelling and sinister portrayal of Angel Blake.

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