Written by: John White on January 25th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: United Kingdom, 1970
Director: Piers Haggard
Cast: Linda Hayden, Patrick Wymark, Barry Andrews, Michelle Dotrice, Wendy Padbury, Anthony Ainley, Charlotte Mitchell, Tamara Ustinov, Simon Williams
DVD released: January 26, 2004
Approximate running time: 92 mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo/DD 5.1/DTS5.1
DVD Release: Anchor Bay UK
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: £12.99
Whilst ploughing a field Ralph Bower finds an unspeakable skull with an eye still in situ. He is doubted by the local Judge (Wymark) and told that it must be some kind of beast. Meanwhile the remains disappear leaving behind some animal claws which are stumbled upon by Angel Blake (Hayden). The judge’s household is thrown into chaos when a trio of disasters claim his nephew’s fiancée’s sanity, his housekeeper and finally his nephew’s hand. Angel Blake starts to neglect the parson’s teachings and leads the children into violent attacks on others and eventually the children become a cult inspired by the devil’s remains to bring him back to life. The only one who can stop them is the god fearing but brutal judge.
Blood on Satan’s Claw happened in a hurry. Tigon had studio time booked at Pinewood and wanted a horror project to build on the success of Witchfinder General and were taken by some stories sent to them by Robert Wynne-Simmons. Deciding to film the stories as a trilogy in the Amicus style, director Piers Haggard was brought on board on the strength of TV work and his role in Antonioni’s Blow Up. Haggard and Wynne-Simmons abandoned the idea of a trilogy and filmed the stories together with some inspiration from the real life case of child murderer Mary Bell. With little money and little time the picture was finished quickly and without a truly bankable star like Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing or Donald Pleasance. When it was released the film was well received by critics but died a death on a Tigon double bill with The Beast in the Cellar.
I believe this is the closest thing there is to the Great British Horror film. Satan’s Claw suffers from a cobbled together script with clear holes, no familiar genre actors and little cult reputation. It is though a truly brilliant production and an incredible piece of direction. Unlike Witchfinder General you truly believe the world the characters live in and no hero will sort it all out with his chiselled good looks. Here we are forced to rely on the pugnacious snob of Patrick Wymark whose desire to exterminate the evil is truly troubling and the film’s final frame is his obsessive eyes mixed with the inferno of his pyre.
Piers Haggard’s direction is truly wonderful and his achievement is incredible even though this was not his first movie. Every actor knows exactly what they are meant to be doing and they are all acting in the same movie rather than films of their own. This is not a great cast and scenery chewers like James Hayter and wooden clothes horses like Simon Williams are well marshalled to serve the story. Haggard brilliantly uses the camera to elegantly tell us what is happening with excellent POV shots to show both fear and evil intent. Haggard has not really directed anything else of such value other than TV’s Pennies from Heaven – that is a great shame.
The direction allows all the elements of the original three stories to appear and the themes of superstition, ignorance and religious hypocrisy battle it out with supernatural evil. The greatest thing about Blood on Satan’s Claw is that it believes evil can be spiritual. Unlike Witchfinder, evil is not wholly men’s doing ,and unlike Hammer and Amicus, evil is never ironic or camp. The evil at the heart of Satan’s Claw is one that is contagious and seductive and feeds on youth and prejudice- you can hate the evil but you understand it too. There is also a wonderful score from Marc Wilkinson.
A great film that would have been a masterpiece with more time to script edit and to shoot. Unmissable.
The Anchor Bay Uk disc is not Anamorphic but is in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The transfer is largely very good but there is a lot of wear on the original elements with damage to the print appearing throughout the film but not enough to distract most. The transfer has a large black box around the picture to avoid overscan.
The sound is provided in three choices and the DTS track is good with music effects but directional sound is a little haphazard especially in the surround channels.
The disc is loaded with great extras but doesn’t have the League of Gentlemen commentary from the version of this film found in the Tigon box set release by Anchor Bay. The extras include a commentary on the film by the writer and Lynda Hayden who genuinely appreciates the quality of the film. There is an interview with Hayden, trailers, film notes and bios on Hayden and Haggard.
Buying the Tigon Box set gets you more extras and a copy of Witchfinder General but the other Tigon discs are rather poor so unless you are a Brithorror completist the single disc of Satan’s Claw is the best way to go. A R1 release may be better if MGM ever get round to it.
For more information about Blood on Satan’s Claw visit Anchor Bay UK here.