The Blood on Satan's Claw
The Blood on Satan's Claw (also released as Satan's Skin) is a 1971 British horror film made by Tigon British Film Productions and directed by Piers Haggard. The film was written by Robert Wynne-Simmons, with additional material by Piers Haggard, and stars Patrick Wymark, Linda Hayden and Barry Andrews. It is set in early 18th-century England, and tells the story of a village taken over by demonic possession.
|The Blood on Satan's Claw|
U.S. theatrical release film poster
|Directed by||Piers Haggard|
|Produced by||Malcolm B. Heyworth|
Peter L. Andrews
|Written by||Robert Wynne-Simmons|
|Music by||Marc Wilkinson|
|Edited by||Richard Best|
Tigon British Film Productions
Chilton Film and Television Enterprises
|Distributed by||Tigon Pictures|
The film was to be Patrick Wymark's last English language film, and was released three months after his death. In his 2010 BBC documentary series A History of Horror, writer and actor Mark Gatiss referred to the film as a prime example of a short-lived subgenre he called "folk horror", grouping it with 1968's Witchfinder General and 1973's The Wicker Man. Gatiss also featured in a spoken word adaptation of the film, alongside Linda Hayden (playing a different role to the one she played in the film), released by Audible in 2018.
In early 18th-century England, Ralph Gower (Barry Andrews) uncovers a deformed skull with one intact eye and strange fur while ploughing. He insists that local judge (Patrick Wymark) look at it, but it has vanished and the judge disregards what he sees as Ralph's supernatural fears. Meanwhile, Peter Edmonton (Simon Williams) brings his fiancee, Rosalind Barton (Tamara Ustinov), to meet his aunt, Mistress Banham (Avice Landone), with whom the judge is staying. Mistress Banham and the judge disapprove of the match and arrange for Rosalind to sleep in a disused attic room. Rosalind begins screaming during the night and injures Banham when she investigates, causing her to fall mysteriously ill.
Despite Peter’s protests, the judge arranges to have Rosalind committed; as she is led out, Peter sees that she has sprouted a monstrous claw. Meanwhile, three children find a claw, from the deformed body from which the skull presumably came, while playing next to a field. That evening, Mistress Banham disappears. Convinced that the house contains evil, Peter sneaks into the attic room at night and is attacked by a creature with a furred claw. He tries to hack it with a knife but, when the judge bursts in, he finds that Peter has severed his own hand. Though sceptical of supernatural involvement, the judge borrows a book on witchcraft. The next day, the judge departs for London, leaving the pompous and slow-witted Squire Middleton (James Hayter) in charge, but promises to return.
Mark (Robin Davies), one of the three children, is lured out by his classmates, who are playing truant from their scripture classes so they can play ritualistic games in a ruined church under their ringleader, Angel Blake (Linda Hayden). Mark is tricked into playing a lethal game of blind man's bluff and his body is hidden in his family's woodshed. Angel Blake attempts to seduce the curate, Reverend Fallowfield (Anthony Ainley). When he resists, she tells him that Mark is dead and 'had the devil in him, so we cut it out'. At Mark's funeral, Angel's father speaks to the squire, accusing the curate of attempting to molest his daughter and of potentially killing Mark.
Mark's sister, Cathy (Wendy Padbury), is gathering flowers for his grave when two boys attack and bind her under the pretence of a game. Ralph, who has been courting her, hears her scream but cannot find her. The boys lead Cathy to Angel, who marches her in a procession with the other children to the ruined church, where they perform a Black Mass to the demon Behemoth, who appears as a furred beast. The children tear Cathy’s dress to reveal fur on her back. All the children have been growing these patches of fur, which have been flayed from their bodies to restore the demon’s physical form. The cult ritualistically rape and murder Cathy, and flay the fur from her back. Ralph finds her body in the church and carries her to the Squire, who releases Fallowfield but is unable to arrest Angel, who has vanished.
Ralph finds men attempting to drown a girl named Margaret (Michele Dotrice), whom they suspect of witchcraft. He rescues her and finds fur on her leg. He convinces a doctor to remove it, but when Margaret wakes she proves to be a committed servant of the devil and flees. The judge returns and sets dogs to track her. Margaret seeks out Angel, but Angel abandons her when she realises she no longer has a piece of the demon’s skin.
Margaret is caught and, interrogated by the judge, reveals that the cult will meet at the ruined church to complete the ritual to rebuild the demon’s body. The judge assembles a mob to destroy the cult and demon. Ralph, whose leg has sprouted fur, awakens in the church surrounded by the cult. He nearly flays the fur from his legs in a trance before the mob attack. In the ensuing violence, Angel is killed and the judge kills the demon with a sword, ending the curse on Ralph and returning him to normal.
- Patrick Wymark as The Judge
- Linda Hayden as Angel Blake
- Barry Andrews as Ralph Gower
- Michele Dotrice as Margaret
- Wendy Padbury as Cathy Vespers
- Anthony Ainley as Reverend Fallowfield
- Charlotte Mitchell as Ellen
- Tamara Ustinov as Rosalind Barton
- Simon Williams as Peter Edmonton
- James Hayter as Squire Middleton
- Howard Goorney as The Doctor
- Avice Landone as Isobel Banham
- Robin Davies as Mark Vespers
- Godfrey James as Angel's Father
Actress Roberta Tovey has an uncredited role as the coven member who lures Padbury's character to her death.
Peter Andrews and Malcolm Heyworth had formed a production company called Chilton Films. They signed a deal with Hemdale Film Corporation, which was then associated with Tigon Films.
The film was originally envisioned as consisting of three loosely connected but separate stories. It was then decided to make it all part of the one story. Robert Wynne-Simmons was hired to write the stories. He later said that he was inspired in part by the Manson Family and the Mary Bell child murders. He later elaborated:
The central theme of the whole film was the stamping out of the old religions. Not by Christianity, but by an atheistic belief that all sorts of things must be blocked out of the mind. So the Judge represents a dogged enlightenment, if you like, who is saying 'Don't let these things lurk in dark corners. Bring it out into the open and then get rid of it. When it becomes a fully-fledged cult, it will show itself.'
The original script was set in the Victorian era but the producers felt this period had been done too often so was relocated to the early eighteenth century, slightly later than the period used for Witchfinder General. Wynne-Smith said that he was also specifically asked to include a number of elements from Witchfinder General in the movie, such as The Book of Witches and a witch-drowning sequence.
Piers Haggard was signed to direct on the basis of his debut feature, despite not being very familiar with horror movies. Haggard worked closely on the script with the writer:
'All the powerful, imaginative sequences of horror are Robert's invention. Nothing was taken away in the credit from him for conceiving that sequence of experiences and images and the whole story. My writing contribution is entirely in the area of character, of character subtlety, trying to make family relationships resonate. Some of the non-action stuff is mine, like the kids wandering through the woods and you're haunted by fears and anxieties and so on. That stuff is mostly mine, so that was my contribution, to try and thicken the texture.'
Haggard says Linda Hayden had to be used as she was under contract to Tony Tenser. Tamara Ustinov was cast in part because of her name. The role of the judge was originally offered to Peter Cushing, who declined it due to his wife's illness; Christopher Lee was considered, but his fee was too high for the budget so Patrick Wymark was cast instead.
Haggard says there were a number of titles.:
It was initially The Devil's Touch and then Satan’s Skin. I think Satan's Skin is the best title. When it was sold to America, this wonderful old showman Sam Arkoff of AIP bought it and they released it as Blood on Satan's Claw. Tony Tenser then changed the title and I thought that was a bit infra-dig, a bit naff. So I think Satan's Skin was my favourite.
The movie was a commercial disappointment. "It never made much money," said Haggard. "It wasn't a hit. From the very beginning it had minority appeal. A few people absolutely loved it but the audiences didn't turn out for it."
The film's soundtrack was composed by Marc Wilkinson, who had worked with Haggard at the National Theatre. "[He] had a wonderful command of strange sounds," said the director. "He wasn't somebody who would ever give you a stock sound. And I think he absolutely excelled himself. It's certainly one of the best scores I've ever had for a film."
The soundtrack was released on CD and limited-edition vinyl LP by Trunk Records in 2007.
- Rigby, Jonathan (2002). English Gothic: a Century of Horror Cinema. London:Reynolds & Hearn. ISBN 1-903111-35-8
- John Hamilton, Beasts in the Cellar: The Exploitation Film Career of Tony Tenser, Fab Press, 2005 p 181-185
- "Blood on Satan's Claw". British Film Institute. Retrieved 30 August 2011.
- Filmfacts. 1970. p. 193.
- Clarke, Donald. "Mark Gatiss's History of Horror". Irish Times.com. Retrieved 2 November 2010.
- "A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss – Home Counties Horror Ep 2/3". BBC. 18 October 2010.
- "Blood on Satan's Claw". Audible.com. 16 January 2018.
- Jeff Stafford, "Blood on Satan's Claw", Turner Classic Movies accessed 12 April 2013
- Piers Haggard interview, 2003, MJ Simpson Archived 2 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine accessed 11 April 2014
- The Blood omn Satan's Claw Filming locations IMDb.
- "Blood on Satan's Claw (1970)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
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