This past week, I attended a private screening of the hard-to-find British folk horror, Blood on Satan’s Claw. This film has become the stuff of legend. Though it is a well-known horror film in the United Kingdom, it never had a DVD release stateside and was only privy to a very limited VHS run. Once every few years, it will play at off-hours on MGM’s movie channel. But unless you happen to be aimlessly flipping channels at 2a.m. on a random Tuesday, this film is hard to see, making it the perfect inclusion for this week’s The Unseen.
Tigon Film Productions never got quite the attention that Hammer or Amicus garnered, but they produced some greats in their own right, most notably Witchfinder General and Blood on Satan’s Claw. Both of these fall under the small sub-genre of “folk horror,” a group of films united by the common themes of Christian religion and its rampant fear and paranoia of all things witchy or Pagan. Most of these films were set centuries prior when witch hunts were still commonplace. However some folk horror gems, like The Wicker Man, found a way to weave the fear of potential Pagans into a modern day setting.
A farmer unearths a strange looking corpse when plowing his field. Though the corpse quickly vanishes, people in town begin acting strangely, especially the children. They have taken to teenage antics like satanic chanting, unbridled sex, and human sacrifices. But never fear! The judge is here to shake some sense back into this evil lot before Satan is released to once again walk the earth.
Blood on Satan’s Claw offers something a bit different from many of the other folk horror lot. Whereas both Witchfinder General and The Wicker Man portray paranoid Christians in an unlikable, accusatory manner, in Satan’s Claw it is clear that the Pagan teens are committing heinous acts. There is no moral ambiguity presented in the plot. But yet, there is something going on visually that makes the waters murkier.
Though the teens are clearly doing wrong, and the townsfolk’s godliness is obviously the more positive side, there is something very alluring about the dark side in this pic. The landscape shots of the Satanist teens are beautiful compared to the muddy squalor of townsfolk’s homes. The teens are shown singing and rejoicing, in harmony with nature, while their parents are shown squabbling and manically praying. Somehow, even though the kids are out in the woods committing atrocities against God, they come out looking good. Even our lead Pagan, the lovely and aptly named Angel, is able to maintain her alluring light as she alters her face to make it look more demonic. At her most evil, she is still the most beautiful creature in the movie.
Even stranger, this film has no clear protagonist. The camera wanders aimlessly from character to character, often following them until they are killed off and then shifting focus to another. It is bizarre and a bit unnerving, as the audience is never given a shoulder to lean on. This made more sense once I learned the film was originally designed as an anthology-style film with three separate stories. The stories were later woven together to make a through storyline, but it still seems to wander from person-to-person. Additionally, the hero of the story disappears for the bulk of it. Patrick Wymark was the biggest name in the cast having appeared previously in a few Hammer horror titles. Yet, he vanishes for a chunk of the film, leaving the town to its own devices in an attempt to “allow the evil to manifest itself”. I guess the evil was not quite evil enough to merit his action. So he sets up our possibly paganistic plot at the beginning, and then arrives at the end with the world’s largest sword in tow to slay the beast. It is a strange plot device, but the Judge emerges as the victor and the most memorable character. As a matter of fact, one of our screening attendees from last week even made some Judge artwork. This may be the only Blood on Satan’s Claw fan art in existence.
Blood on Satan’s Claw is a tough one to find, but a must if you are a fan of Pagan or folk horror. Though it may not be as smooth as some of its satanic kinfolk, this one has something fun and exciting about it. As I state repeatedly in this blog, some titles are just worth the cost of a region-free player.