Malevolent Dark firmly believes that the world needs more horror films based loosely on early English folk historic backdrops. Even better would be horror films not only based on early English folk historic trappings, but also incorporating heavy doses of Satanic panic, tasteful nudity and religious persecution. The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1970), directed by Piers Haggard, checks all of those boxes. Haggard’s film attempts to denounce what he would refer to as the ‘campy’ style of British juggernaut Hammer Productions. He would coin the phrase ‘Folk Horror’ to describe his style.
For better or worse, the term Folk Horror would be used to describe a wide variety of films such as Alucarda (1977). Interestingly enough, the same Hammer Productions that Haggard intended to eschew would adopt the style for classics like Vampire Circus (1972) and Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974). In the end, the whole thing feels like a distinction without a meaningful difference. In fact, if one were to go the Wikipedia list of Folk Horror films, they would quickly walk away confused as that list includes a New York City based film, Q: The Winged Serpent (1982). What the crap?
With respect to the plot, writes Piers Haggard and Robert Wynne-Simmons fail to break any new ground. While plowing his field, Ralph Gower uncovers a malformed and decomposed skull beneath his feet. He reports his findings to the local judge. But when he returns to the field, the skull mysteriously disappears. Meanwhile, the local children find the severed claw from the dismembered corpse. Lead by Angel Blake, played wonderfully by Linda Hayden, the children steal away to practice black magic in an abandoned church. With this ceremony, the Satanic die is cast, as these events lead to the resurrection of the demon known as Behemoth.
One by one, the townspeople with assimilate with the growing cult of Satan worshipers or become a sacrifice to rebuild the loving body of Behemoth. Still other succumb to the Behemoth’s curse and their skin slowly grows a thick pelt of Satanic fur.
The writers weave a fairly boilerplate plot that would be repeated in many forms throughout cinema. The aforementioned Alucarda (1977) and Ken Russle’s The Devils (1971) pose a prime examples. Still, this plot continues to provide a firm backdrop for not only exploring our fascination with witchcraft and devil worship while also exemplifying the narcissism of man and the bloody results of mob rule.
Ritualistic Orgies and Blood Sacrifices
To be fair, this film deals with material that offers an easy sell for Malevolent Dark. Quite frankly, among the zombies, slashers, chest bursting aliens and chainsaws, a new film about witchcraft and Satanism usually comes makes the grade. Piers Haggard’s film is no exception. It possesses all of the required elements. The rituals are intense. and the panic of the townspeople feels authentic. The ritual abuse of the victims feels very real and unsettling. As always, full frontal nudity exemplifies the sexualized energy of the witches coven, especially as Angel Blake tries to seduce the local clergy.
However, outside of the coven, the rest of the townspeople feel clumsy at times, and ridiculous at others. The Judge, played by Patrick Wymark, carries all the character traits of King Roland of Planet Druidia; although King Roland might be more believable as a hero wielding a two-handed sword.
Picking Satan’s Scabs
For the most part, the special effects in The Blood on Satan’s Claw struggle. The eponymous “Satan’s Claw” looks like a giant non-articulated lucky rabbit’s foot. As the Behemoth’s curse infects the townspeople, the develop disgusting little patches of fur on their skin. At one point, one of the doctors removes one like gross little hairy scab from the leg of Ralph Gower. Questionably, the backside of that scab show no blood or gristle, which seems like a minor details that a 6 year old would call out immediately.
The Behemoth itself upon initial view looks silly. It’s face has more in common with a wet prune than a demonic beast from hell. Most of this is due to the camera never committing to a good view of the beast. Additional research showed that the Behemoth’s face actually resembles that of a Wrinkle-Faced Bat. While more forgivable than a sun dried plum, its still a questionable choice for a demon.
Is Folk Horror Really a Sub-Genre
While researching this film, the term “Folk Horror” became easily apparent. Certainly the term Folk Horror could represent a sub-genre in the same sense that The Stuff (1985) ushered in the age of Alien Ice-Cream Horror. However, at the end of the day, the definition seems quite tenuous. As we mentioned before, the Wikipedia page on the topic seemed to list about any film that nary mentioned a cornfield and a heck of a lot that didn’t. We fail to see the similarity between this film and The Devil Rides Out (1968). By that we mean there is the obvious Satanic undertone and the plots are similar, but what exactly constitutes the “Folk” setting part of it.
Certainly, we don’t feel that Wikipedia is definitive body of work, but the random selection of films seems to suggest that others struggle with the genre.
Then there is the bity about Piers Haggard coining the phrase himself in 2004 in an interview for Fangoria (Issue 230, page 72).
Also, to me the countryside was terribly important, I grew up on a farm, and it’s natural for me to use the countryside as a symbol or as imagery. As this was a short story about people subject to superstitions about living in the woods, the dark poetry of that appealed to me. I was trying to make a folk-horror film, not a campy one. I didn’t really like the campy Hammer style.
We point to this quote solely because we are uncertain of the distinction being made. If you hate campy Hammer style films, you’ll hate The Blood on Satan’s Claw, guaranteed. Piers Haggard wrote and directed a decent tale in a folk-style countryside, but created a whole sub-genre of horror he did not. But, arguments such as these make the Internet go ’round. What great fodder for movie nerds to contemplate!!!
The Opinion of Satan’s Claw
When it comes down to it, Piers Haggard performed admirably in creating a cool little film on Satanism and Witchcraft. As hokey as the film can be at times, it manages to weave an interesting tale. For as much as Piers Haggard tried to refute the Hammer style, he created a fantastic emulation of it; and that’s wonderful. Movies like The Blood on Satan’s Claw used to shine through the blue light of KPLR’s “Saturday night Shockers”, and the vibe that they put forth defined a generation of horror fans. Haggard’s film suffers a few missteps, but all prove forgivable when weighed against some very compelling story-telling.
For people that love a good yarn about witchcraft, The Blood on Satan’s Claw will likely check every box.
Blood on Satan's Claw (1971) - Hammer, Not Hammer - Malevolent Dark
Director: Piers Haggard
Date Created: 1971-01-01 04:00