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Blood on Satan's Claw

The success of Michael Reeves's Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General led to a mini-cycle of imitators and cash-ins such as The Bloody Judge and the Mark of the Devil diptych. Of these Blood on Satan's Claw/Satan's Skin has the most legitimate claims – though still tenous claims – to be an official sequel, thanks to sharing the same production company, Tigon films, and giving top billing to Witchfinder's guest star, Patrick Wymark.

But, as its titles indicate, Blood on Satan's Claw/Satan's Skin also locates its horrors in the supernatural arena, thus making it more a conventional Hammer-styled entry – albeit one situated outwith Hammer's Victorian and Edwardian milieux – with those comfortably familiar black/white, good/evil, savant/monster binary oppositions soon emerging to establish a sharp contrast with the moral ambiguities of Reeves's displaced revenge western.

Whereas Witchfinder General determinedly bracketed the reality or otherwise of the supernatural, thus suggesting Hopkins to be a self-serving opportunist, Blood opens with the discovery of a maggoty, monstrous corpse in a field. The ploughman (Barry Andrews – Dracula has Risen from the Grave) immediately rushes to the local judge (Wymark) but when they return the evidence has vanished. As a product of the Glorious Revolution and the emergent civil society and enlightenment rationality – a time, in other words, marked by very different attitudes than the Civil War of half a century before – the judge is sceptical.

He is soon compelled to change his tune when he returns to see his nephew Peter and the young man's bride to be. Something in the attic drives the young woman mad and, worse, appears to transform her hand into a grotesque, animalistic claw. Peter, brave soul that he is, resolves to uncover the mystery and, during the night, awakens to find a claw round his throat. He stabs at his attacker only to discover the claw is his own arm…

After tending to Peter, the local doctor confides his suspicions of satanic activity to the judge, who undergoes a rather too instantaneous conversion and departs for London, promising to return when the time is right and the evil has fully manifested itself.

In the meantime the strange malady continues to spread amongst the villagers. Worse, the ironically named Angel Blake (Linda Hayden – Taste the Blood of Dracula) has formed a devil worshipping cult, whose young members are up to all sorts of mischief…

Blood on Satan's Claw's chief assets are its atmosphere and sense of period detail – the sometimes awkward 'thees' and 'thous' of the dialogue being offset by Marc Wilkinson's pastoral yet disconcertingly contemporary score – and the convincing performances from an array of semi-familiar talent.

The most obvious weaknesses are an obvious low budget, resulting in some less than convincing make up effects, a somewhat episodic narrative that betrays its origins in a trio of short stories, and a severely anticlimactic finale.

Anchor Bay UK's DVD of Blood on Satan's Claw presents the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, although not anamorphic, with a choice of stereo and 5.1 DTS audio tracks. The transfer is good, if a touch soft and grainy to my eye, though this may be due more to the limitations of the source material than anything else.

The package of extras is impressive.

Although the feature commentary with Linda Hayden, director Piers Haggard and writer Robert Wynne-Simmons and moderated by Jonathan Sothcott runs out of steam a touch towards the end, it's still a worthwhile listen with plenty of detail on the production from a variety of perspectives.

Fans of Hayden Рa familiar face from many a British (s)exploitation film of the time Рare further served by the 12-minute interview "Angel for Satan" featurette in which the well-preserved actress discusses her work in, among others, Baby Love, Taste the Blood of Dracula and Expos̩.

While there is necessarily some duplication of information the liner notes by Wayne Hazell and talent biographies for Wymark and Hayden by Sothcott are informative and worth a look.

A solid package is rounded off by the requisite trailer and stills gallery, along with a couple of nice touches in the inclusion of Robert Wynne-Simmons' stories on the DVD-ROM and a double-sided cover with the original poster art on the reverse.

Copyright © K H Brown 2002-2005

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