Saturday, 12 May 2007

Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

The success of Hammer’s horror movies in the late 50s and early 60s encouraged a number of other British companies to try their luck in the horror genre. Among Hammer’s competitors were Amicus and Tigon British Films. While their output varied widely in quality, the best of their movies were worthy competition for Hammer. Tigon’s best-known horror film was probably their 1971 production Blood on Satan’s Claw, and it’s a very good film indeed. In feel it’s much closer to Michael Reeves’ excellent 1968 Witchfinder General than to Hammer’s movies. It’s an attempt to explore in a serious way the subject of witchcraft, and the persecution of witchcraft, in late 17th century England. A young farmer unearths a strange skull. Subsequently, the young people of the village are drawn into the worship of the devil and a cult develops, a cult that soon becomes murderous. A judge with links to the village is eventually convinced that the reports he has heard of witchcraft have some substance to them and he determines the crush these dark practices regardless of the cost.

Patrick Wymark gives a powerful and finely nuanced performance as the judge. It’s a very restrained performance, and it suits the mood of the film. He’s chilling, and he’s chilling because he’s really a reasonable and essentially decent (and by nature somewhat sceptical) man who believes he has no choice but to act. Linda Hayden is quite good as Angel, the young girl who has assumed leadership of the followers of Satan. Michele Dotrice is excellent as a young witch who finds herself adopted by a family of farmers who believe they can save her from her evil ways. The movie benefits from some rather lyrical cinematography by Dick Bush. The movie portrays both the witches and the witch-hunters as people who are misguided and driven by forces they only dimly comprehend, driven to acts of violence and horror without any clear understanding of their own actions. It’s a clash between opposing belief systems, neither of which are very attractive. It makes its point without sensationalism, and it builds to an effective and satisfying conclusion. A very fine movie, made at a time when the British film industry was producing some extraordinarily good serious horror films.

9 out of 10

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