SALEM HORROR FEST: The Blood On Satan’s Claw (1971)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This movie was watched as part of Salem Horror Fest. You can still get a weekend pass for weekend two. Single tickets are also available. Here’s the program of what’s playing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Originally on the site on January 19, 2020, this folk horror film was brought to America by Cannon Releasing Corporation.

In Mark Gatiss’ BBC documentary series A History of Horror, he referred to this film as the prime example of a short-lived subgenre he called folk horror, along with Witchfinder General and The Wicker Man.

It’s directed by Piers Haggard, who also was behind The Quatermass ConclusionThe Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu and Venom. He’s also the great-great-nephew of H. Rider Haggard, the creator of Allan Quartermain.

Robert Wynne-Simmons was hired to write the story, which was inspired by the modern day Manson Family and Mary Bell child murders.

Back in the early 18th-century, Ralph Gower (Barry Andrews, Dracula Has Risen from His Grave) uncovers a one-eyed skill covered with fur while plowing his fields. He asks the judge (Patrick Wymark, Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow) to look at it, but it’s gone missing and his fears are seen as ridiculous.

Peter Edmonton brings his fiancee, Rosalind Barton (Tamara Ustinov, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb) to meet his aunt, Mistress Banham, Banham disapproves of the coupling and demands that Rosalind sleeps in an attic room. After screaming throughout the night, she soon takes ill and the judge commits her. As she’s led away, Peter discovers that she now has a claw instead of a hand.

Claws show up all over this — hidden in fields to be found by children and attacking Peter inside the cursed room, causing him to sever his own hand. The judge leaves behind the town for London, but promises to return. He places Squire Middleton (James Hayter, The 39 Steps) in charge.

One of the children who found the claw, Mark, is lured out by his classmates and killed in a ritual game by the leader of a new cult, Angel Blake (Linda Hayden, MadhouseQueen Kong). She even tries to seduce Fallowfield (Anthony Ainley, the Master from Dr. Who) and tells him that Mark had the devil inside him, which needed to be cut out. Her group also has a Black Mass inside a ruined church where they attack Mark’s sister Cathy (Wendy Padbury, companion Zoe on Dr. Who). They ritualistically assault and murder her before tearing the fur from her skin.

Of course, it’s not long before all hell quite literally breaks loose, with insane children raising Satan himself from the Great Beyond and Ralph growing fur on his leg, marking him for death. This movie is…well, there’s nothing else quite like it. I can see why it had a limited audience for years, because it’s so dark and unforgiving.

“It never made much money,” said Haggard. “It wasn’t a hit. From the very beginning it had minority appeal. A few people absolutely loved it but the audiences didn’t turn out for it.”

While the original title was Satan’s Skin, you have to give it to American International Pictures’ Samuel Z. Arkoff, who came up with the film’s title.

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