Thursday, February 23, 2012

1970 - The Blood On Satan's Claw

One bright, warm afternoon, in the days when Cromwell’s Roundheads ruled the green rolling pastures of England young Ralph Grower was on the farm of Mistress Banham, working the dark, rich soil, when his plough turned over something that looked not so much like a human, and yet not so much like a beast, the only obvious thing about the remains was that whatever they were from was something dark and terrible.

Not just another dead vole, The Blood On Satan's Claw, Tigon (1970)

Horrified by his discovery, Ralph runs off to inform the authorities of his horrible discovery. As he runs toward the farmhouse a happy piping tune from composer Marc Wilkinson begins to play and the opening credits roll for Tigon Pictures deceptively jolly film of lust, murder, possession and the Devil in rural England, The Blood On Satan’s Claw (1970). Directed by Piers Haggard, who would go on a few years later to direct the seminal British television series, Pennies From Heaven, The Blood on Satan’s Claw is a horror film that happily embraces some of the most obviously glaring clichés of life during the Interregnum and reworks them in ways that are unexpected and that work to move “Satan’s Claw” from the standard evening’s horror fair to something just a bit above the crowd.

Title Card for The Blood On Satan's Claw, Tigon (1970)

Established in 1966 by Toney Tenser, the producer of Roman Polanski’s classic film, Repulsion, Tigon British Film Productions was created as both a direct rival to the British powerhouse Hammer Pictures and as a place for the creation for a British audience of low budget fare in the same vein as Samuel Arkoff and James Nicholson’s American International Pictures.  Over the 10 years Tigon was in existence they made a series of movies from the lowest budget horror films, such as the Frankie Avalon vehicle The Haunted House of Horror, to decent budgeted mainstream westerns like, Raquel Welch’s, Hannie Caulder and adaptation of popular family tales like Black Beauty.  Still despite some excellent films in their catalog, the one film that Tigon is the most famous for is 1968’s The Witchfinder General.

Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins, The Witchfinder  General, Tigon (1968)

As so-called witch hunter, Matthew Hopkins, Vincent Price is the very portrait of restrained evil. As he and his associate travel the countryside filling their pockets while leaving scores of innocent people hanging from trees or in the fire. Although listed as a horror film, The Witchfinder General takes place very much in the real world, where people are consigned to the fire by  ignorance, superstition and the evil of small men, where the only devil to be found is in the heart. The Blood On Satan’s Claw shares the same 17th century rural village setting, but is in most ways the opposite side of Witchfinders coin.

An idyllic country setting, with the Devil lurking around the corner, The Blood On Satan's Claw, Tigon (1973) 

Making his way to Mistress Banham’s (Avice Landon) home, Ralph (Barry Andrews) attempts to convince the newly appointed local magistrate (Patrick Wymark), who is visiting of what he’s seen, but being a man of the Enlightenment, the judge is highly skeptical of Ralph’s claim of having found a demons corpse, but after some prodding by the younger man, he agrees to accompany Ralph back to his field so that he can see for himself if Ralph has seen something more than a dead animal rotting in the field.

Barry Andrews and Patrick Wymark, The Blood On Satan's Claw, Tigon (1970)

Now of course as anyone who has ever seen a horror film can tell you, when the two men arrive back at the field, they find nothing but dirt in the hole where Ralph had found the corpse, leading the Judge to kindly try to convince Ralph that all he saw was some kind of dead animal that gave him a fright and while he was gone, scavengers had come and carried what was left to the woods.

As the men begin to leave the pair stumble upon the Reverend Fallowfield (Anthony Ainley), the local religious proctor, a decent enough but distracted sort, with an interest in the natural sciences. Asking if the reverend had seen anything, the Reverend tells the duo that the only thing he’d seen of interest so far in his walk was a tiny snake crawling through the field.

The Reverend Fallowfield finds a serpent in the fields, The Blood On Satan's Claw, Tigon (1970)

The two village leaders return to the town while Ralph returns to his field, placated that he probably saw nothing, but deep down, still knowing that he did.

Back at Mistress Banham’s home her nephew Peter (Simon Williams) has arrived with his new finance, a pretty young girl from the lower classes. Scandalized, Banham at first rejects her, but after some cajoling from her nephew and the Judge she decides to give the girl a (small) chance.

A sudden change, The Blood On Satan's Claw, Tigon (1970)
But with-in days the girl falls ill having some kind of metal breakdown, where one moment she is calm and innocent and the next acting like an out of control wanton. When her affliction doesn’t go away, the girl is sent off in bonds to a asylum. But it is only as she is taken away that Peter notices that her right hand has somehow changed into some kind of animal claw.

The Blood On Satan's Claw, Tigon (1970)

If this isn’t odd enough, suddenly the local children are spending all together too much time in the woods, dancing around and playing, all under the direction of the young, beautiful and undoubtedly wicked Angel Blake (Linda Hayden), who has stopped playing children’s games and has begun to preach to her new found congregation about the pleasures of the flesh, and the power of the dark.

Linda Hayden as Angel Blake, The Blood On Satan's Claw, Tigon (1970)

Soon several children are murdered by Angel’s band, and after each is killed a small patch of hairy skin that was growing somewhere on their bodies is cut off and collected as the coven attempt to bring a demon back to life by regrowing it a piece at a time on the bodies of the innocent.

The Devil Returns One Piece At A Time, The Blood On Satan's Claw, Tigon (1970)

As Angel and her band of followers progress on their wicked plan they soon abandon any pretense of being normal and Angel herself goes through a physical change that leaves the beautiful girl with a huge unibrow across her face and not a pair of tweezers to be found.

Satan Wears a Uni-Brow, The Blood On Satan's Claw, Tigon (1970)

In an attempt to bring the local parson over to their side, Angel creeps into the home of the Reverand Fallowfield one night and attempts to seduce the shy religious leader, but showing what is surprising strength of character for what had seemed such a shallow little man, Fallowfall flatly rejects Angel’s seduction attempt and swears that he will do whatever he can to stop her.

Fallowfall and Angel, The Blood On Satan's Claw, Tigon (1970)

With the Reverend now aware of the evil in his village, and with the help of the now convinced Judge, a hunt begins to find the Angel and her coven and to save the town before the beast that they are building can come to life.

Angel Pretending Innocence, Accuses the Good Reverend of Trying to Rape Her,
The Blood On Satan's Claw, Tigon (1970)

The Blood On Satan’s Claw is a uncomfortable movie in some ways because it takes our modern conventions and throws them on their ear. Unlike the Witchfinder General where the authorities are corrupt men gaining wealth and power at the expense of innocent victims, here the judges and religious leaders are heroic figures doing whatever they can to stamp out a real and visceral evil that threatens the lives and more importantly the souls of every person that it comes into contact with.

Linda Hayden as Angel Blake, The Blood On Satan's Claw, Tigon (1970)

Angel and her followers are dammed and there is nothing to be done to save them, the only thing left to do is to protect whoever is left and to kill Angel and all of her followers.

It’s an unusual position to take in a modern horror film, but director and screenwriter, Piers Haggard manages to completely pull the viewer in, and making a film that convincingly gives the “other” side of the argument on witch burning.

The Blood On Satan's Claw, Tigon 1970

Creepy, effective and disturbing not only in its story, but also in how it brings the viewer along for the story, The Blood On Satan’s Claw remains to this day one of the best British horror films I've ever seen., and one that you should see too.

1 comment:

  1. I'm ashamed to say that I've seen the DVD but had the title mixed up with a much worse movie with "Satan" in the title. I'm going to keep my eye out for this one (I just wish I knew what the other movie's title really is).