One film that I grow to appreciate more and more each time that I view it is Piers Haggard's BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW (aka SATAN'S SKIN). Every time I see it, I get more involved with the unique story and the intensifying appearance of the production as a whole. It truly is a beautifully crafted horror film, filled with the lush atmosphere of rural English farmlands of the 1600's. Now, the film makes its digital debut via a Region 2 release from Anchor Bay U.K.
The plot involves a young farmhand, Ralph (Barry Andrews), discovering the remains of a hairy beast-like creature in the fields which he is plowing. He alerts the local judge (Patrick Wymark), but when he takes him to the site, his discovery is missing. The judge doesn't believe that Ralph's sighting was real, but he is soon faced with strange happenings in his own home. His nephew's fiancee is found shrieking in her room; when the family discovers her, her own hand has been transformed into a hairy claw. The nephew also faces the same fate; he ends up cutting off his own arm as a result.
Meanwhile, the local children become involved in peculiar and mischievous behavior. Angel Blake (Linda Hayden) introduces a new toy to her fellow playmates, a grotesque animal talon. She leads the children into a web of satanic sacrifices and rituals, sometimes frequented by the Devil himself! After realizing that a curse has definitely scourged his village, the judge takes matters in his own hands in the fight against evil.
The characters in BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW are well developed and easy to classify. Angel (short for Angela) is ironically named since she is anything but one. Linda Hayden is fascinating in the role, physically seeming child-like and sweet, though actually possessing a mature mentality of pure evil. Hayden (who was not more than 17 when this film was made) is even more impressive here than she was as the rebellious teenager Alice, who was under the spell of the vampire in TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970). Angel is willingly involved with Satan from the very beginning of the film and continues to become more corrupt as the story progresses. In one of the most memorable scenes, she attempts to seduce a priest (Anthony Ainley) by shedding her clothes and exhibiting her nude body to him. He refuses, causing her to frame him as a rapist and a child murderer. Hayden is able to disturbingly convey a combination of evil and sexual desire with her lustful facial and body movements. This is aided later on in the film by make-up, as her eye brows are made up to be bushy and demon-like. This cleverly illustrates the character's progressive descent into the world of Satan.
On the flip side of the coin, there's the character of the judge (no name is given) played by Wymark, who also had a bit part as Cromwell in THE CONQUEROR WORM. The judge is stern in his ways, but he is not an unreasonable man. At first, he is hesitant to believe that his village is facing any kind of witchcraft or devil worship; this is understandable due to the lack of proof. After the strange manifestations invade his household, he leaves town to seek escape from the horror. When things get really out of hand, he is coaxed back and returns with knowledge and help. He is not a witch hunter by choice; he is forced into it because he knows it's his duty. The judge is no opportunist. He never trailed after phony witches like a Matthew Hopkins or Lord Cumberland, both who did it for personal and political gain. The judge is now hunting down witches because they really do exist. Even when questioning a suspicious girl connected with Angel, his tactics are restrained and fair. He verbally threatens the girl, but would only use violence as a last resort. At best, he's the closest thing to an ideal witch hunter, never taking advantage of his power, and always using rationality in his actions.
The other characters are nicely constructed, aided by great acting (one of the best acted British horror films of all time). As Ralph, Andrews (Paul in Hammer's DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE) gives us a convincing portrait of a simple man who still manages to use logic, and is concerned about everyone around him. He saves a girl who the ignorant villagers threw in a river; he clearly knows that these methods of proving one a witch are utterly ridiculous. The other young actors in the film really excel. The good kids come off as sweet, innocent, and naive, while the bad kids are quite disturbingly bad, killing and raping with no guilt, all in the name of Satan. A good example of this is when an incredibly virginal young girl is abducted, raped, and killed by the devil worshipping hooligans.
The make-up is quite unsettling. The "skin" is seen as patches of dark fur that coat parts of the villagers' anatomy. We even get to see a doctor remove it from a local girl, not a pretty sight for the viewer. Satan is seen as a beast wearing a black hood. The face (dark skin, pointy ears and nose) is somewhat obscured by dark lighting, as to leave something to the imagination (or hide the fact that there are budget restrictions, as was the case with CRY OF THE BANSHEE). There is also plenty of blood being shed during the course of the film, making it equally exceptional to fans of gore and classic horror alike.
Director Piers Haggard (also credited for writing additional material) sets most of the film's activities outdoors. This is one of its significant trade marks; it took full advantage of the beautiful English countryside and the ancient dwellings that naturally abide there. Haggard was only in his early 30s at the time, and this first genre outing for him is as fresh and rewarding to look at today as it was first released. The screenplay by Robert Wynne-Simmons is actually a merging of three of his short stories, culminating in a pretty clever and original tale with great characterizations.
BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW is presented in its original, befitting 1.85.1 aspect ratio but is not anamorphic. Colors on this film were never overly vibrant, so their distinct, rustic appearance on this transfer suits it just fine. The level of detail is fine, blacks are deep, and fleshtones are natural. There is some specs and film dirt, but it's very minimal. You have your choice on three different audio tracks: 2.0 (the original mono, and in my opinion, preferable), 5.1 and a DTS, so there is very little to complain about in that department. Also of note, and what many forget, is that the film is presented here uncut, as the American theatrical release (by Cannon) and all U.S. video releases were edited. Missing bits of Hayden's full frontal shots, the rape scene, and general gore are now reinstated. Overall, a more than satisfying transfer.
There are also lots of extras here, including a running commentary with writer Robert Wynne-Simmons, director Piers Haggard, star Linda Hayden and moderator John Sothcott. The commentary compliments the film perfectly, allowing for lots of interesting information and behind-the-scenes trivia. All the participants get enthusiastic about their recollections, and show how fond they still are of the film and how they knew they were creating something special way back when. An excellent commentary that doesn't miss a trick (you'll also be surprised to know that AIP's Sam Arkoff concocted the exploitive title!).
The aptly titled "Linda Hayden - An Angel For Satan," is a 12-minute featurette comprised of a delightful new interview with the lead star. Hayden talks about her start in the controversial BABY LOVE, her run of horror films, and how she loathed one of her last ones: EXPOSE (aka THE HOUSE ON STRAW HILL). You get the feeling that she really enjoys her cult status which is a result of the fun horror films she made, and she holds BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW as her favorite. Great stuff!
Rounding out the extras are some extensive liner notes, as well as bios for Hayden and Haggard, all written with flair and real care for the subjects. There is also a still gallery and two trailers that are both American (one theatrical, the other a TV spot for its double-feature pairing with THE BEAST IN THE CELLAR). Wynne-Simmons' original stories are available in PDF format in special DVD-ROM drive for you PC. The cover is reversible, and the one with the original poster art is pictured above.
Anchor Bay apparently licensed the film from MGM (their logo can be seen briefly at the start), who own it through acquisition of the Cannon library. There are rumors that MGM will release it next year (hopefully with some of the same extras), but nothing has been confirmed yet. If you are in the States and can play PAL Region 2 discs, this release is an absolute must! (George R. Reis)
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