Column: The Vault of Secrets: The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)


The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971). Directed by: Piers Haggard. Starring: Patrick Wymark, Linda Hayden, Barry Andrews.


[dropcap]W[/dropcap]elcome back to the Vault of Secrets, where we’ll be unearthing another classic (or not-so-classic) vintage horror film for your delectation. Tonight’s movie is probably the most obscure entry into the sub-genre of films that Mark Gatiss called “folk horror” and is not available on any Region 1 DVD from Amazon, or anyplace else that I know of. This sub-genre includes movies like Witchfinder General, The Witches and The Wicker Man. (Also, arguably the “Baby” episode of Nigel Kneale’s TV series Beasts.) It was produced by Tigon British Film Productions, who also had a hand in Witchfinder General, as well as a host of other, similar movies like The Creeping Flesh, Curse of the Crimson Altar and Blood Beast Terror. As such, it shares a certain semi-sleazy vibe with many of those films, as well as previous Vault of Secrets alum The Oblong Box.

Fortunately, The Blood on Satan’s Claw, while not reaching the classic status of some of its “folk horror” compatriots, is worlds better than The Oblong Box. Before watching it for this column, I had mostly known it from pictures of the monster in old magazines and its wonderfully lurid title. It also went by the equally lurid Satan’s Skin, and producer Tony Tenser supposedly wanted the working title to be The Ghouls Are Amongst Us, which doesn’t make any sense, but would be a great title for some other movie.

The story, such as it is, concerns a mysterious and inhuman corpse that’s plowed up in a field, which prompts the beginning of a series of odd supernatural events. A guy’s fiancĂ© goes crazy in an attic room and then disappears from the movie forever. That same guy sees something horrible coming up through the floor of said room and then chops his own hand off after dreaming that it’s a demon’s hand strangling him. The local young people form a fetishistic cult around a claw from the strange corpse. They begin doing things like raping and killing the other young people, and trying to seduce the minister. Patches of “devil’s skin” appear on people, seemingly at random.

Apparently, the film was originally intended to be an anthology of unrelated stories tied together only by the discovery of the strange corpse. This is apparent in the finished product, which feels discordant and filled with almost causeless events. But rather than damaging the integrity of the movie, this actually becomes its greatest strength, giving the proceedings a real sense that some unseen, incomprehensible evil is slowly and inexplicably decaying everything around it.

It’s an admittedly cheap production, helmed by Piers Haggard, who mostly did TV work and is the grandson of Allan Quartermain creator H. Rider Haggard. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were both discussed as potential leads for the film (to the extent that it has a lead at all), a role that eventually went to Patrick Wymark (Repulsion, Witchfinder General). Wymark does a great job as the unnamed Judge (His delivery of the line, “I shall use undreamed-of measures,” is particularly chilling), but it’s impossible to watch the movie and not think of what Cushing or Lee would have done with the role.

Probably the meatiest role in the film, though, goes to Linda Hayden (Madhouse, Taste the Blood of Dracula), who plays the seductive leader of the cult with gusto and who bares it all in her attempt to seduce the Reverend, a scene that was censored in its U.S. release by darkening the film.

That’s it for tonight’s program, but join us next time when we watch a somewhat less abstract monster threaten England, this time on a much larger scale.