THE BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW (OCTOBER 29TH)


YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...

Tonight I watched one of the films that has been on my radar for a number of years but has somehow eluded me – although this is probably partly because it isn't the easiest film to get your hands on nowadays. I am talking about the brilliantly named The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971), a film that I have seen bits and pieces of down the year's, usually on those TV shows that have titles like 'the 100 best horror scenes ever' etc. Although, I'm not entirely sure why anything from The Blood on Satan's Claw would have made it on that list...

Made a couple of years before the superior The Wicker Man, but a couple of year's after The Witchfinder General, TBOSC (Yeah, I'm abbreviating it to this from now on) is part of that whole folky British horror thing that happened in the late 60's/early 70's. Directed by Piers Haggard (best known for his work in television). It barely registered with audiences at the time, but like other titles such as Let's Scare Jessica To Death, it has since found a new appreciation and respect amongst some sections of horror fans.

Set in the early 18th century, TBOSC begins with a guy discovering a deformed skull, complete with eye and fur, in the middle of a field. He manages to convince a local judge (played by Patrick Whymark) to come and inspect the discovery but the skulls is nowhere to be seen and the judge dismisses the claim as bogus. Meanwhile, one of the locals in the village brings home his fiancee to meet his family for the first time. During the night however, she becomes hysterical and she is boarded up inside the room. The next morning she is escorted away and is shipped off to the nearest mental institution, but not before we see that she appears to have grown a rather terrifying looking claw from one of her hands. Then the young people in the village start acting strangely and led by a beguiling young woman named Angel Blake, they begin to rape and murder unsuspecting villagers in an effort to appease forces of darkness.

There are things to admire about TBOSC and also quite a lot to dislike as well. The premise is great. A discovery of the remains of a demonic creature wreaks havoc on a small farming community in rural Cornwall when all the young people in the village form a murderous cult. However the potential of that story is never fully realised. There are several reasons for that. The fragmented structure and lack of focus doesn't help for a start. We switch from one character to the next, never really knowing who it is we are supposed to be following or whose story this really is. Part of the problem is that there are no really interesting characters on offer here. Whymark's pompous judge is the closest thing we get to an interesting protagonist but on the flip-side, the ethereal Linda Hayden is captivating as the satanic temptress who is responsible for so much of the death and mayhem that occurs in the movie. She plays the Brit Ekland role, the femme fatale, and she's hypnotic at times. Unfortunately the rest of the ensemble cast are pretty much a mixture of cowards, reprobates and uninteresting fodder. It's hard to root for most of the villagers and when you find yourself wishing the 'bad guys' would just hurry up and kill everyone, you know that's not a good sign.

The score is also as annoying as hell too. I always think that when a film-maker uses a constant and distracting score, they are trying to build mood and atmosphere but ultimately, those things are done by good writing and good direction, although admittedly, a good score can really enhance these elements. Tonally it seemed off too though, and although I understand and appreciate that the film is the best part of fifty years old, I still think it's a warranted criticism. It seems tonally out of whack too at times.

The film does occasionally succeed in achieving that sense of nightmare like hysteria and there are a few decent scenes scattered in amongst all the muddled other stuff. The infamous 'orgy' scene is deservedly renowned. The 'big bad' is only seen fleetingly (until the rather mad third act) and this decision not to reveal too much of it too soon does work in the film's favour. The climax is a bit of a shambles though, with the villagers doing the whole 'angry pitchfork mob' bit and searching through the woods looking for possessed teenagers to kill. And when the devil himself is confronted, he doesn't really put up a fight. In fact he just pathetically throws the towel in. Come on man, you're the Anti-Christ, surely you know ninja or some shit?! Anyway, all in all, whilst I cannot fully recommend TBOSC as a genuinely good movie, there just about enough interesting things in there for you to check it out if you haven't done so already. Just don't expect anything as good as The Wicker Man...

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