The Blood on Satan's Claw

The Blood on Satan's Claw
BloodSatansClaw.jpg
U.S. theatrical release film poster
Directed byPiers Haggard
Written by
  • Robert Wynne-Simmons
  • Piers Haggard
Produced by
  • Malcolm B. Heyworth
  • Peter L. Andrews
Starring
CinematographyDick Bush
Edited byRichard Best
Music byMarc Wilkinson
Production
companies
Tigon British Film Productions
Chilton Film and Television Enterprises
Distributed byTigon Pictures
Cannon Films
Release dates
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
Budget£82,000[3]

The Blood on Satan's Claw[a] is a 1971 British supernatural horror film directed by Piers Haggard and starring Patrick Wymark, Linda Hayden, and Barry Andrews. Set in early 18th-century England, it follows the residents of a rural village whose youth fall under the influence of a demonic presence after a local farmer unearths a mysterious deformed skull buried in a field.

The screenplay for the film was originally written by Robert Wynne-Simmons as an anthology of horror stories set in a small village, and had the working title of Satan's Skin. After director Haggard was hired for the project, he and Wynne-Simmons reworked the screenplay into a singular cohesive narrative. Principal photography took place in 1970, mainly in the Chiltern Hills region of England.

The Blood on Satan's Claw premiered in New York City in April 1971, and was subsequently released in London on 16 July 1971. It was met with middling reviews from critics, and underperformed at the box office. In the intervening years, however, the film has gained a cult following, and has been cited by several film scholars as a progenitor of the folk horror genre, along with its contemporaries Witchfinder General (1968) and The Wicker Man (1973).[6]

Plot

In a rural village in early 18th-century England, farmer Ralph Gower uncovers a deformed skull with one intact eye and strange fur. He insists that the local judge looks at it, but it has vanished and the judge disregards what he sees as Ralph's superstitious fears. Meanwhile, Peter Edmonton brings his fiancee, Rosalind Barton, to meet his aunt, Mistress Banham, with whom the judge is staying. Mistress Banham and the judge disapprove of the match and arrange for Rosalind to sleep in a disused attic room. Rosalind begins screaming during the night and injures Banham when she investigates, causing her to fall mysteriously ill.

Despite Peter’s protests, the judge arranges to have Rosalind committed; as she is led out, Peter glimpses a monstrous claw in place of her hand. Meanwhile, three children find a claw, from the deformed body from which the skull presumably came, while playing next to a field. That evening, Mistress Banham disappears. Convinced that the house contains evil, Peter sneaks into the attic room at night and is attacked by a creature with a furred claw. He tries to hack it with a knife but, when the judge bursts in, he finds that Peter has severed his own hand. Though sceptical of supernatural involvement, the judge borrows a book on witchcraft. The next day, the judge departs for London, leaving the pompous and slow-witted Squire Middleton in charge, but promises to return.

Mark, one of the three children, is lured out by his classmates, who are playing truant from their scripture classes so they can play ritualistic games in a ruined church under their ringleader, Angel Blake. Mark is tricked into playing a lethal game of blind man's buff and his body is hidden in his family's woodshed. Angel Blake attempts to seduce the curate, Reverend Fallowfield. When he resists, she tells him that Mark is dead and 'had the devil in him, so we cut it out'. At Mark's funeral, Angel's father speaks to the squire, accusing the curate of attempting to molest his daughter and of potentially killing Mark.

Mark's sister, Cathy, is gathering flowers for his grave when two boys attack and bind her under the pretence of a game. Ralph, who has been courting her, hears her scream but cannot find her. The boys lead Cathy to Angel, who marches her in a procession with the other children to the ruined church, where they perform a Black Mass to the demon Behemoth, who appears as a furred beast. The children tear Cathy’s dress to reveal fur on her back. All the children have been growing these patches of fur, which have been flayed from their bodies to restore the demon’s physical form. The cult ritualistically rape and murder Cathy, and flay the fur from her back. Ralph finds her body in the church and carries her to the Squire, who releases Fallowfield but is unable to arrest Angel, who has vanished.

Ralph finds men attempting to drown a girl named Margaret, whom they suspect of witchcraft. He rescues her and finds fur on her leg. He convinces a doctor to remove it, but when Margaret wakes she proves to be a committed servant of the devil and flees. The judge returns and sets dogs to track her. Margaret seeks out Angel, but Angel abandons her when she realises she no longer bears a piece of the demon’s skin.

Margaret is caught and, interrogated by the judge, reveals that the cult will meet at the ruined church to complete the ritual to rebuild the demon’s body. The judge assembles a mob to destroy the cult and demon. Ralph, whose leg has sprouted fur, awakens in the church surrounded by the cult. He nearly flays the fur from his legs in a trance before the mob attack. In the ensuing violence, Angel is killed and the judge kills the demon with a sword, ending the curse on Ralph and returning him to normal.

Cast

  • Patrick Wymark as The Judge
  • Linda Hayden as Angel Blake
  • Barry Andrews as Ralph Gower
  • Michele Dotrice as Margaret
  • Wendy Padbury as Cathy Vespers
  • Anthony Ainley as Reverend Fallowfield
  • Charlotte Mitchell as Ellen
  • Tamara Ustinov as Rosalind Barton
  • Simon Williams as Peter Edmonton
  • James Hayter as Squire Middleton
  • Howard Goorney as The Doctor
  • Avice Landone as Isobel Banham
  • Robin Davies as Mark Vespers
  • Godfrey James as Angel's Father

Actress Roberta Tovey has an uncredited role as the coven member who lures Padbury's character to her death.

Production

Development

The film was originally envisioned by screenwriter Robert Wynne-Simmons as an anthology of three loosely connected but separate stories set in a Victorian era village, at the request of Tigon British Film Productions.[7] The disparate stories included one involving a woman locked in an attic by her abusive aunt; a group of children who uncover a monstrous carcass in a field; and a man who cuts off his own hand, which is possessed by a demon.[7] Each of the stories were connected by an overarching narrative of the pastoral village being infiltrated by various evil forces.[7] Wynne-Simmons's screenplay was inspired in part by the Manson Family and the Mary Bell child murders.[3] He later elaborated:

The central theme of the whole film was the stamping out of the old religions. Not by Christianity, but by an atheistic belief that all sorts of things must be blocked out of the mind. So the Judge represents a dogged enlightenment, if you like, who is saying "Don't let these things lurk in dark corners. Bring it out into the open and then get rid of it. When it becomes a fully-fledged cult, it will show itself."[8]

Tigon executives ultimately opted to have Wynne-Smith transpose the story to an early-eighteenth-century farming community, having felt that the Victorian Era had been exhausted by various genre films.[7] Wynne-Smith stated that he was specifically asked by the producers to include a number of elements from the studio's previous film, Witchfinder General, such as the "Book of Witches" as well as the sequence in which Margaret is ducked in a body of water by locals who suspect she is a witch.[8] "This had to be included because it had been so successful in Witchfinder General, so they wanted to repeat it," he recalled. "I didn't mind that so much, as it did show the incredible stupidity of people at the time."[8] Additionally, several other changes were mandated by Tigon, including a redraft of the ending, which originally had the Judge enlisting a militia to murder the entire village to eradicate the cult.[9] Tigon executives deemed this ending too bleak, and it was replaced with a finale in which the demon is defeated, and the villagers are spared.[10]

Director Piers Haggard was hired to direct the project, and worked with Wynne-Smith to retool the screenplay from its anthology format to a singular, cohesive narrative.[11] Summarizing the screenplay, Haggard commented in 2003:

All the powerful, imaginative sequences of horror are Robert's invention. Nothing was taken away in the credit from him for conceiving that sequence of experiences and images and the whole story. My writing contribution is entirely in the area of character, of character subtlety, trying to make family relationships resonate. Some of the non-action stuff is mine, like the kids wandering through the woods and you're haunted by fears and anxieties and so on. That stuff is mostly mine, so that was my contribution, to try and thicken the texture.[4]

By Haggard's account, the film's original working title was The Devil’s Touch, which was subsequently changed to Satan's Skin.[4]

Casting

Haggard says Linda Hayden had to be used as she was under contract to Tony Tenser. Tamara Ustinov, the daughter of actor Peter Ustinov, was cast in part because of her name. The role of the judge was originally offered to Peter Cushing, who declined it due to his wife's illness; Christopher Lee was considered, but his fee was too high for the budget so Patrick Wymark was cast instead.[3] The film was Wymark's last English language film and was released three months after his death.[12]

With the younger cast, Haggard dedicated two weeks prior to the shoot to hold rehearsals.[12]

Filming

(c) Graham Horn, CC BY-SA 2.0
The ruined Saint James Church in Bix Bottom was the setting for some of the film's most dramatic sequences

Filming began on 14 April 1970[13] on an initial budget of £75,000, which expanded to £82,000.[14] The shoot lasted approximately eight weeks, and mainly took place in the small village of Bix Bottom, Oxfordshire, located in the Chiltern Hills.[15] The ruined church that figures prominently is the old Saint James Church in Bix Bottom, which had been abandoned in 1875.[16] Prior to its appearance in The Blood on Satan's Claw, the church had been used as a location in The Witches (1966).[17]

The scene in which the villagers hold a funeral for Mark Vespers was shot in the village of Hurley, while portions of the woodland sequences were filmed in the Warburg Nature Reserve and Black Park near Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire.[15] Additionally, some filming took place at Pinewood Film Studios.[15]

Several of the younger cast members, particularly Hayden, Ustinov, and Richard Williams, recalled that Haggard's direction was concise and that the shoot operated smoothly.[18]

The film was shot by cinematographer Dick Bush.[19] When devising the film's visual elements, Haggard was influenced by the works of Ingmar Bergman, particularly The Seventh Seal (1957) and The Virgin Spring (1960).[20] Haggard adopted a "painterly" style for the film, marked by low camera angles that cast the actors on high landscapes against open skies.[21]

Anthony Ainley, who plays a preacher seduced by Linda Hayden's character, once said in an interview, "When it came to doing the nude scene where Angel comes into the rectory at night and disrobes this was done at least three times and Linda was spot on with every take...she was a total professional with a refined sense of the erotic unusual for her age...I believe she was only 17 at the time."[22]

Musical score

The film's score was composed by Marc Wilkinson, an Australian composer who had previously worked alongside Haggard at the National Theatre.[23] "[He] had a wonderful command of strange sounds," said the director. "He wasn't somebody who would ever give you a stock sound. And I think he absolutely excelled himself. It's certainly one of the best scores I've ever had for a film."[4]

Release

Distribution and box office

The Blood on Satan's Claw was acquired by the American distribution company, Cannon Films, who released it theatrically in the United States in the spring of 1971, with a New York City opening taking place on 15 April 1971.[1] It went on to screen frequently in the American drive-in theater circuit throughout the remainder of 1971.[b]

In its native England, the film was passed by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) with an X rating,[10] and premiered in London on 16 July 1971.[2] Under ten seconds of cuts were mandated by the BBFC, though some sequences were optically darkened, including the scene in which a nude Angel attempts to seduce the Curate.[10] According to screenwriter Wynne-Simmons, a shot of Angel performing oral sex on the demon was also significantly truncated and darkened, though a brief portion of it appears in the final cut of the film.[27] For its release in England, Tigon British Film Distributors secured the New Victoria Cinema to screen the film, which accommodated 2,600 guests.[28] However, following low ticket sales, the film was pulled from the theatre after showing for only one week.[28]

Critical response

Upon its theatrical release, The Blood on Satan's Claw, reviews from film critics ranged from favourable to middling.[28] Vincent Canby of The New York Times praised the performances in the film, adding that it has "a good deal of the quality of an H. P. Lovecraft work, in the vulnerability of even its heroic characters, as well as in its pastoral landscape that contains the threat of "eeveel" within every sun-dappled glade. Most particularly, it contains Lovecraft's perfectly straightfaced acceptance of a universe whose natural order may, at any time, be overturned by supernatural disorder."[29]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 70% based on 10 reviews, with an average rating of 6.3/10.[30]

Home media

The Blood on Satan's Claw first received a VHS release in the United States in 1985 by Paragon Video Productions.[31] It was re-released in this format in 1993 by MGM Home Entertainment.[32][33] In 2005, it was released by Anchor Bay Entertainment in a Region 2 box set along with several other Tigon British Film Distributors films, including Witchfinder General, The Beast in the Cellar, and others.[32]

The British label Odeon Entertainment released The Blood on Satan's Claw on Blu-ray in 2013.[34] In May 2019, the England-based Screenbound Pictures issued a DVD and limited edition Blu-ray featuring a new restoration of the film.[35] In November 2019, Severin Films followed with another limited edition Blu-ray, along with a bonus CD of the original score, limited to 3,000 units.[36]

Legacy

In the years since its release, The Blood on Satan's Claw has earned a small cult following.[6] In his 2010 BBC documentary series A History of Horror, writer and actor Mark Gatiss referred to the film as a prime example of the subgenre of "folk horror", grouping it with 1968's Witchfinder General and 1973's The Wicker Man,[37][38] each films that revolve around superstitions and folklore of Britain.[39] Gatiss was featured in a spoken-word adaptation of the film, alongside Linda Hayden (playing a different role to the one she played in the film), released by Audible.com in 2018.[40]

Notes

  1. ^ According to director Piers Haggard, the film's original working title was The Devil's Touch, which later became Satan's Skin.[4] However, the film premiered in both the United States[1] and United Kingdom[2] as The Blood on Satan's Claw. The film's French theatrical poster, however, bears the English-language Satan's Skin title.[5]
  2. ^ Newspaper sources show the film screened at various drive-ins throughout the United States from June[24] through December 1971.[25][26]

References

  1. ^ a b c Guarino, Ann (15 April 1971). "Horror Duo Lacks Chills". New York Daily News. p. 39 – via Newspapers.com.
  2. ^ a b c "Showtimes: New Victoria". Evening Standard. 16 July 1971. p. 17 – via Newpsapers.com.
  3. ^ a b c Hamilton 2005, pp. 181–185.
  4. ^ a b c d Simpson, Michael (2003). "Piers Haggard interview". MJSimpson.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2 May 2013.
  5. ^ "The Blood on Satan's Claw French Movie Poster". Mauvais Genres. Archived from the original on 23 September 2021.
  6. ^ a b Evans-Powell 2021, p. 9.
  7. ^ a b c d Evans-Powell 2021, p. 15.
  8. ^ a b c Stafford, Jeff. "Blood on Satan's Claw". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on 10 April 2014.
  9. ^ Evans-Powell 2021, pp. 18–19.
  10. ^ a b c Evans-Powell 2021, p. 19.
  11. ^ Evans-Powell 2021, pp. 16–17.
  12. ^ a b Evans-Powell 2021, p. 18.
  13. ^ Rigby 2004, p. 200.
  14. ^ Evans-Powell 2021, p. 17.
  15. ^ a b c Evans-Powell 2021, p. 20.
  16. ^ Rigby 2004, p. 199.
  17. ^ Evans-Powell 2021, p. 21.
  18. ^ Evans-Powell 2021, pp. 17–19.
  19. ^ Evans-Powell 2021, p. 13.
  20. ^ Evans-Powell 2021, pp. 24–25.
  21. ^ Evans-Powell 2021, p. 25.
  22. ^ "Blood on Satan's Claw and the Devil films of the 1970s". www.acidemic.com. Retrieved 28 January 2022.
  23. ^ Evans-Powell 2021, p. 14.
  24. ^ "Movie Timetable". The Berkshire Eagle. 19 June 1971. p. 20 – via Newspapers.com.
  25. ^ "Drive-In Theatre Guide". Philadelphia Daily News. 21 December 1971. p. 33 – via Newspapers.com.
  26. ^ "Double Bill of Horror Films". San Francisco Examiner. 31 December 1971. p. 18 – via Newspapers.com.
  27. ^ Evans-Powell 2021, pp. 19–20.
  28. ^ a b c Evans-Powell 2021, p. 22.
  29. ^ Canby, Vincent (15 April 1971). "Screen: Rural Diabolism:' Satan's Claw' Opens in Horror Double Bill". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 20 September 2021.
  30. ^ "Blood on Satan's Claw (1970)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 19 September 2021.
  31. ^ The Blood on Satan's Claw (VHS). Paragon Video Productions. 1985. M 204524.
  32. ^ a b Evans-Powell 2021, p. 23.
  33. ^ The Blood on Satan's Claw (VHS). MGM Home Entertainment. 1993. M 204524.
  34. ^ Deighan, Samm (3 June 2013). "Blood on Satan's Claw (Blu-ray Review)". Diabolique Magazine. Archived from the original on 19 September 2021.
  35. ^ "The Blood on Satan's Claw Limited Edition Blu-ray". Blu-ray.com. 27 March 2019. Archived from the original on 19 September 2021.
  36. ^ "The Blood on Satan's Claw (Severin Films Exclusive)". Blu-ray.com. Archived from the original on 19 September 2021.
  37. ^ Clarke, Donald. "Mark Gatiss's History of Horror". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2 November 2010.
  38. ^ "A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss – Home Counties Horror Ep 2/3". BBC. 18 October 2010.
  39. ^ Evans-Powell, David (29 April 2021). "Reviving forgotten horrors: celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Blood on Satan's Claw". Liverpool University Press. Archived from the original on 29 April 2021.
  40. ^ Evans-Powell 2021, pp. 23–24.

Sources

  • Evans-Powell, David (2021). The Blood on Satan's Claw. Devils Advocates. Liverpool: Auteur Publishing. ISBN 978-1-800-34806-6.
  • Hamilton, John (2005). Beasts in the Cellar: The Exploitation Film Career of Tony Tenser. London: FAB Press. ISBN 978-1-903-25426-4.
  • Rigby, Jonathan (2004). English Gothic: a Century of Horror Cinema (3rd ed.). London: Reynolds & Hearn. ISBN 978-1-903-11179-6.

External links

Media files used on this page

St James Church, Bix Bottom - geograph.org.uk - 557771.jpg
(c) Graham Horn, CC BY-SA 2.0
Bix, South Oxfordshire, England: ruins of the old St James's parish church, abandoned in 1875
BloodSatansClaw.jpg

This is a poster for Blood on Satan's Claw.
The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, The Cannon Group, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist.