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  Blood On Satan's Claw, The The Devil Commands
Year: 1971
Director: Piers Haggard
Stars: Patrick Wymark, Linda Hayden, Barry Andrews, Wendy Padbury, Charlotte Mitchell, Michele Dotrice, Simon Williams, James Hayter, Howard Goorney, Tamara Ustinov, Robin Davies, Avice Landone, Milton Reid
Genre: Horror, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: A plowman, Ralph (Barry Andrews), uncovers what appears to be the body of a half-beast, half-man in his field, and runs to the local Judge (Patrick Wymark) to tell him about it. A pragmatic fellow, the Judge is sceptical, but agrees to go along to the field to investigate. However, when the two men get there, the body has disappeared, and the dismissive Judge returns home to greet his nephew (Simon Williams) and his bride to be, who plan to stay the night. What happens that evening is enough to change the Judge's mind about the supernatural - something has been unleashed by the plowman, and is casting its influence across the whole village...

Sort of like what a juvenile delinquent movie would be if it was a horror film set in seventeenth century England, The Blood On Satan's Claw was scripted by Robert Wynne-Simmons, with additions by the director, Piers Haggard. We're in no doubt from the first scene that an evil force is loose around the countryside, but unlike the similar Witchfinder General, it's genuinely the wickedness of Satan that corrupts the hearts of the basically decent villagers, specifically the younger generation, led by Angel Blake (Linda Hayden).

The film has many advantages, and even its low budget is a bonus, here creating an authentically austere atmosphere over which the tragic drama plays out. It was based on three stories by Wynne-Simmons, and this unfortunately leads the plot to ramble a little too much for its own good, but holding it all together is the feeling of a presence of ancient Gods and Devils that strongly comes through the action. Maybe it's the gloomy countryside that looks as though it's shivering under the largely grey and cloudy skies, or maybe it's the committed performances of the actors, with the lower class villagers having the traditional West Country accents, and the higher class characters with the RP accents.

Wymark is an entertainingly weighty hero, more so than Andrews, in fact, but the best performance is from Hayden as the ironically named Angel, who makes a fine, catlike villainess, leading the teenagers into rape, murder and Satanic ceremonies. She attempts to seduce the local Reverend (Anthony Ainley), and when that doesn't work she accuses him not only of sexually assaulting her, but boasting of killing a local boy while he's at it! Of course, the local boy's disappearance is Angel's fault, and soon the teens are exhibiting an unusual side effect of possession - a patch of black fur growing on their skin.

Satan seizes every opportunity to spread his influence like a disease through the pious community, and exploits the people's fallibility at every turn. Here it's not rock 'n' roll or Communism that takes over the minds of the young, it's Lucifer himself. With an absurd logic that lends the production the air of a fevered dream, the main problem is that, after alarming scenes of violence and horror, the climax settles into imitating the hackneyed endings of many other British horrors, where the Van Helsing-like Judge interrupts the depravity of a black mass for a bit of divinely inspired vengeance. If you don't mind that the plot fizzles out after all the better handled mayhem, then there's much to admire here, and Blood On Satan's Claw remains one of the most memorable, if unfairly obscure, examples of its genre. Music by Marc Wilkinson.

[The great-value DVD includes a commentary with Linda Hayden, Piers Haggard and Robert Wynne-Simmons, a featurette on Hayden's film work, trailers, Wynne-Simmons' original stories and more.]

Aka: Satan's Skin
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Piers Haggard  (1939 - )

British director who works mostly in television, with the classic serial Pennies from Heaven to his credit; he also directed the final Quatermass series. On the big screen, his best work is the creepy devil worship horror Blood On Satan's Claw. Other films include (some of) Peter Sellers' terrible last appearance, The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu, and snake-on-the-loose thriller Venom. He is a relation of novelist H. Rider Haggard.

 
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