Friday, February 22, 2008

Blood on Satan's Claw

Blood on Satan’s Claw has been one of those films that continuously eluded me despite the fact that it has generated quite a lot of orgasmic comments about it over the years. It seems that this is one of those perfect cult movies, rarely seen, but highly appreciated, so I was glad to finally have the chance and watch this flick for myself when my buddies at the Bloody Hell of Brit Horror Group decided to discuss this more in depth.

When the furry remains of an unknown creature gets unearthed and people act strangely, start cutting off their arms, growing unsightly hair or killing off their neighbours, it soon becomes apparent that the devil (or at least a demonic creature called Behemoth) is meant to be resurrected and needs fresh blood to do so. The creature soon gathers a following under the leadership of Angel Blake played by Linda Hayden. Patrick Wymark as a Judge gradually learns how to best dispose of this new menace.

OK, here’s a confession: Prior to the viewing I hadn’t really known that this film plays in 17th century England. Well, call me fickle and shallow, but this is one period that at least on film I generally have very little interest in and that I generally find singularly unattractive. Those pompous wigs and forced “thee”-s and “thou”-s have over the years managed to repeatedly drive me bonkers and bore me to tears. And it would take a superior movie to make sure that I get properly immersed in this period. So the film started off at a slight disadvantage for me.

BOSC’s main selling point is charismatic Linda Hayden as the aptly named Angel Blake. Hayden displays a wonderful mix of innocence and evil, one moment trying to seduce the local priest in a highly charged erotic scene, the next moment playing the childish victim of a local figure of authority.

The overall mood of the movie is a mix of Witchfinder General and Wicker Man with a few smatterings of Village of the Damned. Witchfinder General as well as most of the other witchhunting productions that came in its wake were always modern movies: Their point of view was that of a modern audience, fully aware that witches didn’t really exist, that their killing and torture was a bad thing and that their prosecutors were at best misguided, at worst sadistic beasts. BOSC on the other hand starts with a non-believing Judge (Patrick Wymark) dismissing all talk of witchcraft or Satanism as superstitious hocus pocus (i.e. our modern point of view) and only gradually coming to terms with the thought that these are very real invasions that need to be battled with old methods that he had considered long overcome.

Angel Blake’s cult has less to do with our traditional concept of witchcraft or even Satanism, but instead resembles more the all singing and dancing merry pagan followers of Lord Somerisle. Of course seeing all those happy, at first glance innocent looking, campers makes the idea of them being an evil force even more chilling. The fact that most of those are described as children just adds to it. Of course, the trouble is that rather than have the followers then played by actual children, they are in fact played by young adults, trying hard to look like teenagers so that they just may get away with their description of them being “children”.

Unfortunately, there really is nothing in the sort of character development available when it comes to Angel Blake and her group. The first time we see her she is just a normal teen playing with the others, next she is the leader of her clan. No mention how this came about, why she was chosen leader, how she changed. It all happens rather quickly, just like it is hard to fathom how all the others changed so fast without anybody noticing.

Then again most of the adults in this movie are as daft as brushes. Take the mother of one of the victims as an example: While walking the woods one of the local boys approaches her and laughingly advises her that her son was killed. Distraught as she is about the murder, she seems to have completely forgotten about the encounter and doesn’t seem to figure that it may be a wise idea to have this boy captured and interviewed. Worse still, when her daughter gets killed, she ensures that one of the girls and fellow killers from the coven gets saved from the villagers and even tries to raise her as her own child! This just strains belief a little too much methinks.

Oh, and how did the villagers try killing that girl? By the tried and trusted method of throwing her into water to see if she sinks or swims. And sink she does…. yet she was never tied and bound (the crucial aspect of this test!) and they drown her at the shallow banks of a lake. How anyone can sink like a stone in these circumstances is beyond me.

Some of the scenes of possession and killing are indeed chilling, however, a lot is left half arsed and frequently laughable. The sure sign of anyone being possessed is the growth of devil’s hair on their body. Seeing people with bad hair days is quite typical for productions from the early 70s and just makes for frightening fashion faux pas, but not for very chilling horror experiences. Especially not if in the case of Angel Blake the devil’s hair is displayed as ridiculously large and bushy eyebrows that make her a) incredibly unappealing and b) distract from anything else in the scene. One can’t help but stare at this abomination while giggling insanely.

Worst of all, however, is the ending. Reckon To the Devil…. A Daughter was anti-climactic? Well, think again: After organising a massive villager’s attack on the coven, do we get to see great fighting scenes or daring attempts to rescue innocents? Hell, is the whole frigging cavalry actually needed? Errr, no: Angel Blake just turns around and pretty much voluntarily walks into the judge’s sword who then quickly kills off the Demon (Worst. Makeup. Ever.) without anything resembling a fight. Hell, he could have just thrown a stone at him from the looks of it. To make it worse, some of those later scenes are then shot in freeze frame as though anything of any importance had actually happened.

Reading over these lines it does look as though I didn’t enjoy the movie. Well, I did. It had a number of good mood setting scenes (mainly involving Angel Blake and her clan), but ultimately had just as many head scratching moments that can potentially ruin it for the viewer. It’s a movie that could have been great and has potential, but then wastes it all. Kinda like the best kid in class that everyone expects to make it big in the world, but just ends up with an average position in an average job and an average life.

And if you are in any doubt as to how carelessly the film makers just put it all together, just read the credits at the start. Apparently it was a company called “Tigron” that produced it. If they can’t even spell the name of their own company correctly, there are little chances that they do anything else with a 100% focus on quality.

Also starring Milton Reid in a great uncredited cameo as a mute blood hound handler.


Rogue Spy 007 said...

Great review. I've wanted to see this film. I had heard mixed reaction from those who have seen it, even though that's always seemed like a small audience.

wytchcroft said...

tigron HAD to be spelt that way. Trigon already existed elsewhere.
Tigron also made the superior movie The Creeping Flesh with Cushing, I believe.

BOSC is very overrated, nice to read a new review though!

Holger Haase said...

Nice hearing from you, wytchcroft. Trouble is that the name of the company that made BOSC and all the others was TIGON (without any R's). ;-)

wytchcroft said...

Oops! *bats eye lashes*

Unknown said...

You dislike movies set in 17th century? My problem are movies set in modern times! I love to live in modern luxury and privileges, but I prefer stories set in the period setting... p However, this movie sounds a bit... well, not catastrophe, by any means, but decidedly uneven.

Holger Haase said...

Hey Rose, me hopeth I haven't discouraged thou to watcheth this flick. ;-)

In all fairness: I am in a minority of one with this. Pretty much everyone I know adores this film so I'd say you may actually enjoy it quite a bit, especially if you love period pieces.

In one of the last LSoH's there was also a great lengthy article about it.


When you want to appear superior to the movie you are reviewing, and to the people behind it, it helps actually to understand the film and what happens in it first, and to be attentive to nuances (and yes, there are nuances and ambiguities).

It's hardly a perfect film--I can't think of a horror film that is--but it is far better, and far more intelligent, than you make it out to be. I hope that others won't be put off by such a superficial review.

Holger Haase said...

Thanks for your comment, Bestia Centauri.

You give me too much credit if you think my little review here will put other people off watching it. In actual fact, as I had stated in the post, BOSC is one of the most praised British horror movies of all times.

If you want to hear positive comments, you can find them pretty much anywhere. That's why I was amazed that I didn't quite like it as much as I did. And if you read carefully you will notice that I did find stuff in it as well that I liked but given the general lavish praise, I was underwhelmed.... and still am after another one or two rewatches through the years.

I therefore think that there's nothing wrong to also add my own honest feelings about the film. Sorry you disagree but wouldn't life be boring if we all had the same opinion about films? :-)

Anonymous said...

I saw this movie when I was a kid and it gave me nightmares for years! Lol I was probably 8 or 9..... haven't seen it since. Going to eventually...

Unknown said...

A very honest review.Despite any flaws in the film,the tone is absolutely serious,and this(and Linda Hayden's presence)make this a strange,but compelling watch.