Released in 1971, The Blood on Satan’s Claw is a folk horror film about satanic rituals and witches in rural 18th century England. A malignant dread pervades the picture; there seems to be no hope or power that can overtake the evil that exists within the film. There is no real protagonist of the film; instead, the movie features an ensemble, all of which do excellent jobs in their roles. Barry Andrews plays Ralph Gower, a farmhand who uncovers a strange corpse while plowing the field. He immediately reports his findings to The Judge, played by Patrick Wymark. The Judge goes with him and finds nothing in the field. He discounts Ralph’s reports as unfounded and superstitious. Soon, a plague of evil begins to sweep across the seemingly peaceful town. The evil is lead by Angel Blake, played marvelously by Linda Hayden, a young girl who begins recruiting other children and adults to give themselves to evil. This Lovecraftian, satanic evil drives its worshippers mad; Angel and her cohorts begin sacrificing others to help complete and rebuild their dark master.
Movies and stories about witchcraft fascinate me; there is an element of superstition and insanity that makes the story much more horrific and terrifying. This film does a particularly good job of creating that horrific atmosphere through the character’s fears and superstitions. That is one good reason why the ensemble cast works better than having one individual protagonist; instead of following one person’s journey, we see how the evil is affecting the entire town to the point of madness. The people afflicted do some horrible and gruesome things such as murder, and rape, but the story doesn’t frame them as pure evil, rather it shows them as victims of the power that has taken hold of the town. I would argue the heroes of the film aren’t exactly heroes. The Judge, the man–all of the “heroes” are males and the villains mostly females, with Angel taking over the primary antagonistic role–who eventually destroys the evil is far and away from being heroic. I was quite shocked that he turned out to be the one who defeats the evil because when we meet him at the start of the film he seems quite disinterested, oblivious, and snobby. I think all of these elements are a testament to the quality and power of the film. None of these elements are accidental, and they are used magnificently to help define and empower the horror of the film.
The Blood on Satan’s Claw is an excellent folk horror film and a new British horror favorite of mine. The director of the film, Piers Haggard, does an excellent job creating a horrific, paranoid atmosphere. The ensemble cast helps elevate the insanity of the plot with their excellent performances.