Film & Television Series SkeletonPete Says

Blood On Satan’s Claw

What a pre-All Hallow’s Eve treat. The newest issue of Little Shoppe of Horrors, Dick Klemensen’s Anglo-centric horror film fanzine, arrived in my mail box this afternoon. I’ve been waiting for this issue with some anticipation since it was first announced that its focus would be “Blood On Satan’s Claw” (1971). LSoH is noted for their in depth coverage and loving attention to detail (bordering on obsession) that often produces the definitive texts on their chosen subjects. Though their output is low (25 issues in 40 years) it is always worth the wait and the issues are packed with interviews and information found nowhere else. In preparation for settling down and reading this volume of forgotten lore, I decided to unearth my musty VHS copy of BoSC (Paragon, circa 1982) and give it a fresh look.

Of the small group of period horror genre flix that came out of England in the early 1970’s “Blood On Satan’s Claw” happens to be my favorite. The plot follows the happenstance of a young farmer who inadvertently plows up a piece of the dark lord and triggers a chain reaction as the teenagers of the village “harvest” Satan’s skin from those it begins to grow on in order to reconstitute their evil master. While not as brutally sadistic as Michael Reeve’s “Witchfinder General” (AKA “The Conqueror Worm”) 1968, the malevolent glee which the youngsters exhibit as they carry out their duty is quite unnerving. The young cast gives really effective performances, sometimes with only a knowing glint in the eye, or an evil smirk.

Whereas the similarly pastoral “The Wicker Man” (1973) portrays a cat and mouse game of Pagan naturalism vs. Christian repression the nature of BoSC’s sexuality is the perversion of teenage curiosity into heightened morbidity. Linda Hayden plays central baddie Angel Blake and pulls off the portrayal with an amazing balance of subtle guile and flame eyed hysteria. While Angel’s attempted seduction of the local minister is probably the most talked about scene in the film (at least in fanboy circles) it is the ritualized rape/murder of character Cathy Vespers (Wendy Padbury) that is most alarming. Her bewilderment that the “game” she participates in with her young friends has gone terribly wrong is palpable. In other word’s this ain’t the “Twilight Saga”. It’s more like “Spring Awakenings” – with rusty garden shears.

There are lots of wonderful character faces here, particulary Howard Goorney as the doctor, and director Piers Haggard utilizes them to great effect. They often peer down the lens at you bringing to mind Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “Passion of Joan of Arc” or “Vampyr” (1928). I love the punky teen who looks like a cross between Michael J. Pollard and Butch from “The Little Rascals”.

While some of the Hammer period films present sets that often feel too well kept (kind of like those clean Western streets of “Bonanza”), the pastoral setting and interiors of BoSC are well executed with the feel that someone took a handful of sod and tossed it at a Vermeer. The crow image underneath the main titles always reminds me of the cover of the first Black Sabbath album.

Marc Wilkinson’s score is superbly creepy and memorable (especially the opening title motif) and stands on its own as a listening experience, though some of the cues are quite short. I was thrilled to find I could stream it on MOG and have been listening as I write this piece.

Little Shoppe of Horrors #25 is available here, as are all back issues of the fanzine – some original, some reprint. If you have any interest at all in Hammer, Amicus, Tigon films they are worth your consideration. Klemensen is also taking orders for the two volume “Last Bus To Bray” a compendium of information on unrealized projects by the Hammer Films company.

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