Twitter Plot Summary: Strange goings on in rural England lead to a small village going a little bit mad.
A strange deformed skull in the soil is the first odd discovery in a chilling series of events set in 17th century England. Shortly thereafter everyone starts to go a little bit crazy, hacking off their own limbs, being apparently possessed by the devil, and getting naked for the local priest (no change there then). It is potentially a Satanic influence being exerted over the locals, so it’s understandable that the visiting Judge is soon returning to London to get the hell out dodge, as it were. It soon transpires that it’s primarily the youngsters in the village who are falling under Satan’s influence, and bear his mark with patches of Satan’s skin (a far more appropriate title as well, it has to be said) on their bodies – these are surprisingly hairy, it has to be said. After much violence and puzzlement, this all leads to a finale that is heavy in pagan imagery and a final battle between good and evil. Although as both sides are representative of the Christian faith, perhaps we all lose. The Judge and his almost secular stance on everything is clearly the chap we should be rooting for.
Among all the screaming and people being slapped round the face, the creepy goings on are well directed and portrayed in the typically serious tone of the era, although there isn’t any hint of Hammer Horror style camp here. There is clear intent to shock the audience as frequently as possible, be it random nudity, bloodletting or just through an unsettling smile from one or more of the characters. The sheer number of different shock tactics is impressive, although in hindsight it could have perhaps done with focusing a bit more on one or two elements and then expanding on them instead of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what stuck.
But then this multitude of shocks and scares no doubt stems from the film’s originally proposed anthology format. If you look closely you can see that the story is clearly split into three sections, later combined into one narrative. At times this proves to be a problem as it detracts from what would otherwise be clear storytelling.
There aren’t many big names in the cast, but we do have Robert Wymark as The Judge, a man whose most notable performance elsewhere is as the traitorous general in Where Eagles Dare. Linda Hayden is also a notable presence as Angel Blake, although she’s mostly known for her good looks and nudity in other horror films of the era. It goes without saying that gender equality was never a consideration at this point in history, so the only nudity comes from naive young women who probably didn’t know any better. It may shock, but it ultimately serves no purpose.
The Blood on Satan’s Claw has oft been described in conjunction with The Wicker Man thanks to its folk horror style, although the latter is clearly the better of the two. With that said, the folk scares and performances in this particular film are on par with The Wicker Man, however by revealing its hand too early The Blood on Satan’s Claw lacks the gut punch of its folk horror relation. In any case, it does at least represent a thoroughly British interpretation of horror, and is all the better for it.