The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

Talking of incoherent… actually, that’s not fair, cos in this case the story does make sense (in late 17th century England, a demonic presence is literally unearthed near a small village and creates havoc as it takes people over); it’s just that the story of the film was put together from three other short tales, all of which were apparently originally self-contained but nonetheless got refitted into this single (not to mention singular) narrative. The joins don’t show as much as I vaguely recalled from my first viewing of the film a few years ago, but perhaps as a result of this tripartite origin the film does evince a certain… I don’t know, lack of focus when it comes to at least the secondary characters; there’s almost too much going on and I felt a few more minutes to clear the air a bit wouldn’t necessarily have hurt (particularly not when it comes to the somewhat disappointing final confrontation). Scott Ashlin’s quibbles are hard to argue with. Still, for the most part I think its ambitions are within its reach, and what it does have by the bucketload is atmosphere; Piers Haggard (aided by the somewhat grim weather the film takes place in) conjures up a terrific sense of the period and locale—not Hammer gothic but from an earlier time between the Middle Ages and modernity, and a place far enough removed from urban civilisation that ancient forces can resume their activity in isolation and, to some extent, protection from the “modern” world. Like Witchfinder General (which came from the same studio, Tigon), I gather this sometimes gets mistaken for a Hammer, but like that film it’s a different, distinct beast, with a feeling of something harder, darker and nastier at its core. Nice to revisit it in an anamorphic upgrade (Odeon’s; shame the DVD misses out on the extras from the older non-16×9 Anchor Bay version though), and on the whole it acquits itself well for a film whose opening credits infamously not only misspell the name of one of the main actors but also that of the production company…

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