May 12, 2008

BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW (1971) - still shocking today

(1970, UK)

A classic British horror, also known as Satan's Skin for good reason...
Listening to the recent release of the CD soundtrack (that I bought off Movie Grooves) prompted me to revisit this unusual British frightener from Tigon Productions, a lesser known studio that also gave us The Haunted House of Horror, Doomwatch and Curse of the Crimson Altar. Seeing it on late-night ITV, years (decades) ago as a teenager, was unforgettable because of the shock moments and daring nudity.

Set in the 15th century English countryside, a farmer unearths a weird skull, unleashing an ancient evil on his village. Something scary in an attic sends a local girl mad and drives her fiance to self-mutilation. The evil spreads to the local youngsters as they begin to worship something nasty in the ruins of an old church, sacrificing anyone found to be cursed with Satan's skin...

In terms of atmosphere, this is the next best movie to Witchfinder General. The difference being that in this story, witchcraft works. There are more than a few similarities between the two films, like the extensive use of location filming in the English countryside, and the beautiful but menacing soundtracks. Patrick Wymark appears in both, getting top billing as the local judge in Satan's Skin, he had a cameo as Oliver Cromwell in Witchfinder.

It isn't as swashbuckling or murderous as Witchfinder, but is often just as shocking. There's also that scene that I get confused with The Wicker Man (1973), when a young woman strips naked to seduce her victim. Evil teenagers doing the devil's work, using murder and seduction, seemed very unlikely back in the seventies. Leading the cultists is the deliciously monstrous character of Angel Blake.

Linda Hayden imbues Angel with a devilish malevolence. Her career includes a remarkable list of horror roles, including Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970) and Madhouse (1974). An excellent, recent interview is included on the DVD, as Linda talks about her sudden stardom, horror films and famous co-stars.

While the rest of the young cast are convincing, it's hard to forget some of their TV alter-egos. Michele Dotrice was soon to become a sitcom legend in Some Mothers Do Ave Em (opposite Michael Crawford), but had just appeared in the dark thriller And Soon The Darkness. Wendy Padbury had been a popular assistant to TV's Doctor Who in the sixties, making the fate of her character all the more gruelling. Rebecca Tovey had starred in both the Peter Cushing Dr Who films as his granddaughter, but isn't even given a screen credit. Robin Davies had been one of the many schoolboys of the rebellious if.... (1968) and starred opposite Geoffrey Bayldon (Asylum, Tales From The Crypt) in the children's TV fantasy Catweazle.

Among the adult cast is Anthony Ainley (The Land That Time Forgot) who gets a rare chance to play a goodie, as a priest - he was about to become the second actor to play The Master in TV's Doctor Who. The unlucky farmer is Barry Andrews, previously the star of Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968).

The script was originally envisaged as three short stories, but director Piers Haggard helped remould the structure into a continuous narrative. He succeeded, but the plot is still faintly episodic. His only other noteworthy credit was the last original adventure of Nigel Kneale's Professor Quatermass, starring John Mills in TV’s The Quatermass Conclusion (1979).

The nudity and sexual violence are still shocking today, the cast is convincing, and the only real downfall is the finale, which is an anticlimax. But the director agrees, he simply didn't have any budget left to fix it! But the low budget doen't show, except maybe for the barely-seen monster itself. Everything else about the film, atmosphere, locale, cast are almost perfect.

The Anchor Bay DVD was released in the UK but not the US. Even though the picture is clean and crisp, the widescreen DVD isn't anamorphic, yet the documentary is. There was a reversible cover with a choice of modern or original artwork. It was also available as part of the coffin-shaped Tigon boxset, and as another single DVD release in Australia.


  1. Checked this out based on your review and liked it very much. The music deserves special mention.

    You have excellent taste in cult films.

  2. This was only released on tape in the US in the late 80's..this should have been on R1 dvd long ago!'s a great film.