aka Satan’s Claw; Satan’s Skin
Director/Additional Writing – Piers Haggard, Screenplay – Robert Wynne-Simmons, Producers – Peter L. Andrews & Malcolm B. Hayworth, Photography – Dick Bush, Music – Marc Wilkinson, Makeup – Eddie Knight, Art Direction – Arnold Chapkis. Production Company – Tigon/Chilton Films.
Patrick Wymark (Judge), Linda Hayden (Angel Blake), Barry Andrews (Ralph Gower), Wendy Padbury (Cathy Vespers), Michele Dotrice (Margaret), Anthony Ainley (Reverend Fallowfield), Simon Williams (Peter Edmonton), Howard Goorney (Doctor)
In 17th Century England, children playing in the fields find a strange claw. Using the claw, the wanton Angel Blake leads the children in Satanic rituals that leave each of them possessed by strange patches of hair, the ‘Mark of Satan’.
The hit of Matthew Hopkins – Witchfinder General/The Conqueror Worm (1968) opened up the 17th Century witch-persecutions as a new horror milieu. The continental horror market had been exploiting it for years but suddenly everyone jumped in with items like Mark of the Devil (1970) and Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971), while Spain’s Jess Franco virtually made the period his home turf for several years. Many of the films, like Blood on Satan’s Claw here, threw the witch persecutions in with occult elements from the post-Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973) cycle.
The point that most missed, and as the Witchfinder General showed, was that the witches were not legitimate practitioners of magic but persecuted victims – it is akin to saying that the Nazis had a point with the concentration camps because there really was an international Jewish conspiracy. Most films never even concerned themselves with that and only became unpleasant catalogues of acts of sadism and torture.
Blood on Satan’s Claw is a mostly muddled variation. The plot is haphazardly assembled – its principal protagonist (Patrick Wymark’s Judge) drops out part way through and the ending is a anti-climax. The film is raised somewhat by a superb score and in being directed with some effect by Piers Haggard. Haggard creates some nice scenes with claws creeping up through floorboards and Linda Hayden trying to tempt the local vicar. With something like a script to hold it together, Blood on Satan’s Claw could have been impressive.
Former Doctor Who (1963-89) starlet Wendy Padbury is particularly noteworthy as a naive flower-child and Michele Dotrice, daughter of Roy, is standout with her haunting grasp of regional accent as the frightened Margaret. Linda Hayden, a minor Anglo-horror queen, holds the show as the seductive Angel.
Director Piers Haggard is the great-grandson of the adventure writer H. Rider Haggard, author of books like King Solomon’s Mines (1885) and She (1887). Blood on Satan’s Claw was Piers Haggard’s debut as a director. Haggard has since floated around the genre in film and tv with efforts such as the Dennis Potter mini-series Pennies from Heaven (1978), Quatermass/The Quatermass Conclusion (1979), The Fiendish Plot of Dr Fu Manchu (1980), Venom (1982) and The Breakthrough/The Lifeforce Experiment (1994).