Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) – Piers Haggard

The next film in the chapter on Devil’s Works in DK Canada’s highly enjoyable Monsters in the Movies is a small UK film that very much falls into the under-explored sub genre of folk horror.

Set in the 17th century, things start to go badly for a tiny English village when a young farmer working in the field, Ralph (Barry Andrews) unearths a strange misshapen skull with one eye, and some strange fur on it.

No sooner has the skull been unearthed, but it vanishes, leaving Ralph unable to prove his discovery to the landowner, The Judge (Patrick Wymark), who dismisses it completely. But its dark powers are already at work, affecting the young at first, as some characters begin to sport malformed clawed hands, and have a propensity for rape and violence, all hidden behind ritualistic chants, and games.

Selected as the demon’s (?) public face, is Angel (Linda Hayden), who slowly has her physicality disrupted even as she leads the youth and others in the way of the being’s beliefs and needs. All of it races to a conclusion as the face of the law, and the right, The Judge (though to be clear, he is just as flawed, but in different ways as the demon) confronts the creature, and his growing coven, even as allies fall to the infection, in the form of a spreading patch of scaly, hairy skin that appears on their body.

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It sounds kind of spooky, and sounds like it has a lot going on it, but honestly, it was a little too slow for me, and didn’t quite engage me as much as I had hoped it would, as I find the idea of the narrative quite captivating.

Admittedly, the film had to work within the confines of its budget as well as what could be accomplished with its cast, effects, locations and more. But I think it could have been darker, more unnerving. I watched this one, and then as I finished it, I thought to myself, I should really watch The Witch again, because that one felt like it got it right.

The production value is solid, though we aren’t afforded a good look at the demon (?) even when its in the midst of a scene, and we aren’t even given enough of a glimpse to let our imagination to fill in the rest (though film stills reveal more of it, and then I just feel like it’s a poorly created muppet). Still, there is something spooky at the core of the film, the idea is really cool, and the idea of older religions and beliefs coming into conflict with more recent religious beliefs is one that truly fires my imagination.

And there are so many more of these stories to come as I explore more of DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies. Pick one up tonight, and find something monstrous to watch tonight!

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