Blood on Satan’s Claw
AKA Satan’s Skin; Satan’s Claw
1970 UK, director/co screenwriter Piers Haggard, co screenwriter Robert Wynne-
Simmons, starring Patrick Wymark, Linda Hayden, Barry Andrews, Michele Dotrice
Blood on Satan's Claw (released as Satan's Skin in the US) is a 1970 British horror
movie made by Tigon British Productions and directed by Piers Haggard. The film was
written by Robert Wynne-Simmons, with additions by Piers Haggard. It is set in 17th
century England, and tells the story of a village taken over by demonic possession.
In his 2010 BBC documentary A HISTORY OF HORROR, writer/actor Marc Gattis
referred to the film as a prime example of a short-lived sub-genre he called "folk horror",
grouping it with 1968’s Witchfinder General and 1973’s The Wicker Man.
The film opens in 17th century England with Ralph Gower (Barry Andrews) uncovering a
deformed skull with one eye and strange fur upon it while ploughing a field.
When he returns with a judge to inspect the find, it has gone, but the nubile local
temptress Angel Blake finds part of it and leads some of the other youths into pagan
rituals as they attempt to raise a demon.
The farmer who first found the skull rides to a neighbouring town to find the local judge
and bring him back to try to eradicate the evil. The judge does come back after having
done some research in a book about witchcraft. After getting some information about a
future cult gathering of the evil children in the village, the judge takes some men to the
spot, and they kill the satanic beast, whose remains had been dug up by the farmer at the
start of the film, and who is responsible for the evil infecting the populace.
Tigon’s follow up to Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General shares little with Reeves’s
film except a superbly realized period setting and a distrust of authority. Supernatural
forces are at work here and the film correspondingly explores its world with earthy
lyricism far removed from Reeves’s rage. Wynne-Simmons debut script had to be altered
from its original conception of three interlinked tales to one story at the last minute,
accounting for some of the films’ uneven , confused narrative - characters occasionally
seem magically transported from one place to the next, and one simply disappears
altogether - and some scenes, particularly those involving the titular claw, are simply too
ludicrous to work. Yet the film is still powerfully effective, ranking with Reeve’s film and
the Wicker Man in the pagan horror stakes. Wymark’s judge is far from a simple force
for good, being a prim, self righteous man who se tyrannical conception of the world
demands the unleashing of the “evil” .
The youth’s pagan revels are by contrast energetic, openly sexual and shot through with a
pastoral beauty, the characters crowning each other with hawthorn blossoms, yet they
are also unambiguously evil, the children’s games chillingly transforming into ritual murder
and rape. Hayden’s diabolic nymphet steals the show with a striptease before a bemused
clergyman, but even the smallest supporting characters heighten the sense of time and
place. The folk inflected soundtrack repeats a haunting central them, although its stings
occasionally lapse into horror cliché, and Haggard’s direction anchors the film’s
metaphysical concerns in a palpable rural reality, interspersing ground level outdoor shots
with dizzying hand held sequences conveying the delirious energy of the pagan rituals.