Blood on Satan's Claw (1971)
Directed by Piers Haggard

Starring Barry Andrews, Linda Hayden, Michele Dotrice Patrick Wymark,

The title of this movie, of course, kicks ass in a tasteless sort of way. But the movie itself is also great. It's a really freaky British horror film about witches poisoning the minds of young people in 17th century England. The satanically influenced children develop "Satan's skin," a bizarre rash which the adults use to discriminate them from the other witches.

The film opens with a simple peasant discovering a sickening, sub-human corpse while he's working in a field. When he brings the local authorities to the place, however, the body is dead. Another young aristocrat, meanwhile, brings home a bride-to-be -- a peasant girl from a neighboring village. When she goes mad after spending the night in the family attic (she's forced to stay there by his family, who don't actually approve of the young man's taste in poor, ill-bred women) she goes completely insane, and somehow develops a claw for a hand. Teenagers in the community are also starting to act strangely, rebelling against their minister/teacher and practicing Wiccan ceremonies in the forest, which end in human sacrifice.

In the early 1970s, the American fear of hippies was at an all-time high, and wasn't helped any by the Helter Skelter murders. This paranoia definitely heightens the fear in "Satan's Claw," where sexually active and arrogant young people begin to wage war on the adults in their 18th century community, thanks to the presence of a demon in the neighborhood. "Satan's Claw" enjoys a gritty realism that is often lacking in the Hammer films it's modelled after. It also seems to back up and celebrate the division between poor and rich -- the film's savior is an aristocrat who understands how to handle witches better than the dumb, poor local townsfolk.

The music, acting, direction, costumes are all impeccable. Hayden, as Angel, the young leader of the witches, is particularly chilling in her role, but will always be best remembered for starring in this film because she has a nude scene in a church. But the sex scenes are actually somewhat tastefully done and, unlike most early 1970s British horror films, actually add to the pro-Christian storyline. Hayden also starred in a tamer Hammer film around the same time as this one: "Taste the Blood of Dracula."

But her best movie will always be "Blood on Satan's Claw," which was one of the finest horror films to come out of Britain in the 1970s, and is better than most of the Hammer movies that it emulates. A little hard to find these days, but well worth searching for, "Blood on Satan's Claw" is a classic.

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-- Review by Lucius Gore

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