|Starring:||Patrick Wymark, Linda Hayden, Barry Andrews, James Hayter|
|Video codec:||MPEG-4 AVC|
|Audio:||English: Dolby Digital Mono|
Tigon Studios, a competitor of Hammer and Amicus, released a relatively small number of films, some of which include the most interesting cult horror of the period. Before he created Tigon, studio head Tony Tenser produced Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, and with Tigon went on to release The Sorcerers, the incredible Witchfinder General, and Curse of the Crimson Altar. Next to Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) is their best film and is an example of some of the strongest satanic horror from that, or any, period. A blend of horror, exploitation, satanic cults, killer kids, religious repression, and Gothic moodiness, Blood on Satan’s Claw deserves far more recognition than it’s gotten. Fortunately British company Odeon Entertainment has pulled out all the stops for their recent Blu-ray release, including some wonderful new special features.
In 17th century England, a young farmer accidentally digs up a strange skull in a field. He informs a local judge, but by the time they investigate, the skull has disappeared and the village is beset by a number of strange occurrences. A young woman goes mad, people begin sprouting claws, and many of the local children begin to behave very oddly, turning away from the pastor and his Christian teachings. Their group, led by a lovely young woman named Angel, begins targeting and killing non-believers. The judge is called back to deal with the supernatural evil that has gripped the town.
This is an excellent collaboration between first time director Piers Haggard (Venom and the Quatermass mini-series) and prolific cinematographer Dick Bush, who regularly worked with Hammer studios and director Ken Russell. Though Blood on Satan’s Claw has some silly and campy moments, it is a genuinely creepy film. The tense, rapid pace, claustrophobic shots of the lovely English countryside, and careful mix of sex, scares, and violence make this one of the best examples of the British pagan horror subgenre of the ‘70s. The utter weirdness—weirdness in the definition “relating to, or suggestive of the preternatural or supernatural”—is one of the film’s strongest points and it thankfully doesn’t fall back on a rational explanation. Marc Wilkinson’s eerie score does a fantastic job of evoking the period flavor of English pastures, as well as the strangeness of the film.
Linda Hayden (Taste the Blood of Dracula, Madhouse) absolutely steals the film and gives a wonderful, sexy performance as the ringleader of the satanic gang. Aside from Hayden, there are a number of other familiar faces here: Patrick Wymark (Repulsion, The Skull), James Hayter (The Horror of Frankenstein, Are You Being Served), Michele Dotrice (And Soon the Darkness), Barry Andrews (Dracula Has Risen From The Grave), Tamara Ustinov (Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb), and others, with many of the actors appearing in Hammer and Amicus horror films and episodes of Doctor Who.
There are some issues with the plot, due to the fact that this was originally intended to be an anthology film. The stories were woven together seemingly at the last minute and some of the characters can be difficult to keep track of. The weakest link is the final confrontation with the judge, who deserved to be a more developed character. After the careful subtlety exercised throughout most of the film, the conclusion that involves sword fighting and what appears to be a papier-mâché demon is unfortunate at best. The dialogue and accents are often annoying and overwrought, but the powerful atmosphere and eeriness often overcome this. Though the film is occasionally over the top, there are some genuinely terrifying scenes that push taboo lines much harder than other horror films from the period, such as scenes of a young girl’s ritualized rape and murder.
In Odeon Entertainment’s new Blu-ray release, Blood on Satan’s Claw looks better than it ever has. The digitally remastered print is presented in 1080p resolution and in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The transfer has a slight amount of grain, but the lush countryside looks wonderful and Dick Bush’s cinematography really shines. Some of the muddiness in the darker scenes is cleaned up and background detail is much clearer than in previous transfers.
Though there is only one basic English audio track, the sound is clear with only a minimal hiss. Dialogue is a little on the quiet side, but is still easily understood, even though the attempt at 17th century-affected dialogue can be a little annoying to follow with all the “thees” and “thous” and anachronistic verbs. Mark Wilkinson’s haunting score certainly sounds better and clearer than it ever has and it’s a shame this didn’t include a separate CD release of the score.
There are a number of very nice extras that make this Blu-ray superior to previous releases. There’s a brand new 2012 interview with director Piers Haggard, a featurette about Linda Hayden, An Angel for Satan, and also included is the excellent 2004 making-of documentary, Touching the Devil, which came with the previous DVD release. The two audio commentary tracks are well worth listening to and make this release worth picking up for all fans of ‘70s horror. The first track is with director Haggard, star Hayden, and write Robert Wynne-Simmons. The second track, (my favorite thing about this release), includes commentary from horror lover, Doctor Who writer, and Sherlock creator Mark Gatiss, along with Jeremy Dyson and Reece Sheersmith, his co-stars from League of Gentlemen. Gatiss previously discussed Blood on Satan’s Claw alongside Wicker Man and Witchfinder General in his excellent documentary A History of Horror. Finally, there’s a theatrical trailer and a stills gallery.
The Bottom Line
Though it has some flaws, Blood on Satan’s Claw is one of the finest rural/satanic horror films of the ‘70s and deserves to be seen by a much wider audience. I’m not sure why it mostly faded into obscurity, but it should be known alongside the only slightly superior Wicker Man and Tigon’s other masterpiece of witchcraft and pastoral repression, Witchfinder General. Odeon Entertainment has put out a nice looking Blu-ray of the film that makes earlier editions irrelevant, though U.S. fans should be forewarned that this is a region B release and will only work on region B or multi-region Blu-ray players.
~ By Samm Deighan