ACIDEMIC Journal of Film and Media

GIVE ME MY SKIN: Blood on Satan's Claw and the Devil films of the 1970s
HOME / #8: Brecht, Godard, Wood
#7: The Nordics
#6: Sex and the French
#5 Sympathy for the Devil
#4: Spotlight on the Spotless Mind Issue
#3: Mecha-Medusa and the Otherless Child
#2: Masculinity in Crisis Issue
#1: Drunk Feminism Issue
Submission Guidelines
Acidemic Films / Videos
Contact Us
Ze Staff
2579145605_47c5402b71.jpg

by David Del Valle

The definition of a "cult film" I am told is one that stands the test of time while maintaining a growing fanbase of admirers that see possibilties not altogether apparent when the film was released.  In the case of Piers Haggards "BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW" it was love at first sight and time has only heightened the enjoyment of this remarkable film at least in my eyes.

I was in London at the time of the films release and as luck would have in direct communication with the head of Tigon films the one the only Tony Tenser.  I had come to know him by writing letters to his Wardour St offices introducing himself as a jounalist and film buff who was detrimined to find out all I could about a certain film known as CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR with a dream cast and H.P.Lovecraft as the source of it's screenplay.

What Mr. Tenser did not know was that he was corrisponding with a high school student who was mad about horror films and one that placed Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee with Barbara Steele was mind boggling to put it mildly.  Tony Tenser proved himself to be a man of his word and upon my arrival in the UK his was the first stop as soon as I got over my jet lag from California the year was 1969.  Since that time he and I developed a rapport and when I returned to London in 1970 he invited me over to see him and while I was in his office he asked if I would like to check out his latest double bill of horror films that was about to open the following day at the Victoria.  The double bill was THE BEAST IN THE CELLER with two legendary actress of the British stage Dame Flora Robson and Berl Reid the star of THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE.  The second film was BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW" the stills Tony had given me the day before  had the original title on them SATAN'S SKIN".  Tony was concerned about these films as he had been editing them and reworking one aspect or another for months and still was unsure just what to do with them as one was too talky and the other too violent with sex and rape among teenagers in a rual 17th century village beset with witchcraft.

Having seen much of Tigon's cinematic output I was prepared for anything and everything: his first feature was disappointing considering the two actress who were perfectly tuned to each other but at odds with the script which was rubblish and beneath them both and I think Tony knew this from the first edit he sat through.  The second film was an unforgettable experince for me from the first note of Marc Wilkinson's beautifully realized score which remains to this day one of my all time favorites along side DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES and BLOOD AND ROSES.  Having seen WITCHFINDER GENERAL I was accostumed to the rural mythology presented here the difference being of course in Witchfinder there was nothing occult or supernatural in the offering because aside from the imposition of Edgar Allan Poe's poem the film was a historical thriller that just happened to star Vincnet Price.  BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW is a bona fide horror film in the tradition of CURSE OF THE DEMON and THE DEVIL RIDES OUT both made in England as well.

The focal point of my seeing Satan's Skin during it's then current run was Tony's concern over one particular sequence which was troubling him as he felt perhaps it went too far.  The sequence was the removal of the Devil's skin from the leg of Michele Dotrice.  In his view the whole bit was too graphic, the irony of this being by today's standards this would probably be left in on any network broadcast of the film.  I was prepared for a gross out but when the offending sequence arrived I knew that it had remain as it was important to the plot and was in no way too vivid for audiences to handle.  I wish my memory was more specific when it came to the scenes involving Angel and the Devil in the guise of the hooded goat like figure.  I do remember seeing the sequence where Angel appears to be pleasuring the Devil however this takes place a bit off to the side and I am sure it was meant to be vague from it's conception.  The next morning I arrived at Tenser's Wardour St office filled with praise for the film and I am confident that it helped keep not only the skin removal scene in tact but also gave Tony an idea just how the horror fans might react as well.  All my memoires of this man are good ones ,Tony Tenser was unique in that he really loved making films and in a sense was at one with his audience a real fan who just happened to run a film company.  The best moment of all came when he invitred me to his local to celebrate my liking his film so much...we toasted with Guinness complete with an egg dropped in which was a first for me.  Tony explained that this was the way to do it if I wanted "lead in my pencil"   I was on the plane headed for California when I realized what he meant......A real lad our Tony.

bosc2.jpg

Looking back nearly four decades one can see just why the time was so right for such a film to come into being in the first place, Tigon had been trying since 1967 to topple the stronghold Hammer films had in the UK as the main producers of Horror films and Tony had managed to lure the likes of Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Christopher Lee into his films and so why couldn't his company become the new HAMMER?  The other reason of course was the era all this was taking place in 1969 the world was stunned by the Manson killings and that coupled with the innundo by the world press that the director of ROSEMARY'S BABY may have brought the whole thing on himself by maing a film about Satanic forces only made the matters more sensational.  In 1970 alone there was WITCHCRAFT 1970, SEX RITUALS OF THE OCCULT AND SINTHIA THE DEVIL DOLL all three of these films deplected hippies as agents of demonic influrences, when the Devil commands hippies obey. We then had to witness WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS I DRINK YOUR BLOOD and last and definaetly least THE DEATHMASTER produced by Count Yorga himself actor Robert Quarry.

Piers Haggard was only 31 years old when he agreed to helm the production of what was at first known as THE DEVILS TOUCH.  Originally the film was to have been a portmanteau of three tales of a judge who dealt with dark forces and this was then revamped into a feature length film in which the judge investigates the infestation of evil of the young in a farming communtiy where witchcraft had long been thought dead.  The screenwriter Robert Wynne Simmons remained onset doing rewrites throughout the production and much of the confusion was lessened by his imput.  I still wonder what happened to the mistress of the manor whose face is mauled by what can only be described as "Satan's claw' at one pooint we see her bedridden and the next she simply disappears into the woods supposedly to give that part of herself to the devil like the rest of the marked ones.

Satan manifests himself in an animalistic sense throughout the film as bits of fur and claw are lodged in the flesh of his helpless followers only to be asked to give them back by cutting them literally out of the skins of the afflected as their unholy master becomes whole again after each sacrifice.

All this being the result of a deformed anatomy being unearthed by a farmer played by Barry Andrews {the athiest from DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE} this is then brought to the attention of the judge played with great aplomb by Patrick Wymark who had also appeared briefly in Witchfinder General as Oliver Cromwell.  Wymark was a favorite of Tenser's and had given Polanski's REPULSION a delightfully sordid cameo as the randy landlord who pick the wrong moment to ask Catherine Deneave for the rent.  The part was written for Peter Cushing who declined in order to take care of his mortally ill wife.  Wymark is in full flood as the judge giving expert line readings to all his dialogue. He is most effective in his early scenes with Simon Williams and his Aunt, the toast he offers "to his most Catholic majesty King James the third may he remain in exile" is spot on for his character who along with his old paramour gloats over their domination of the young as they themselves know the perils of youth and now are too old to do anything about it. The Judge takes the mystery of the dissappearing Aunt with a air of regret but still abandons the village to the devil for the moment, his exit line is beautifully realised "you must let it build only then will all be revealed....I will return when the time is right"  He takes with him a book of occultknowledge that just happens to be at his disposal and with that he departs.

While Patrick Wymark gives the film it's Van Helsing the young ingenue Linda Hayden gives the film it's center her performance as Angel Blake is the equal of Barbara Steele's performance in MASK OF THE DEMON aka BLACK SUNDAY, in that film Steele's character is described as "a high priestess to satan" unfortunately we never really have an opportunity to witness any of her Satanic behavior until the last reel in this film Linda is on screen giving a tour de force as the young girl transformed before us into a distribing erotic devil woman who literally goes down on the devil....this sequence was filmed and then darkened as it was just too much for the censor to bear.  Piers Haggard goes on record in the dvd commentary for this film describing Linda Hayden 'as a very good actress who had no problen with nudity whatsoever"  Barbara would had approved.

The signature scene in the film takes place in the rectory of the church where the young come for Sunday lessons, after the devil takes his foothold in the village Linda literally become AN ANGEL FOR SATAN which ironically is the title of Barbara Steele's last Italain horror film.  the Reverend is played by actor Antony Ainley who became well known for his role as 'THE MASTER' on DR WHO, I had the opportunity to correspond with him about this film asn her is what he had to say " I remember this film well and with true fondness as we were like a family except all the other actors were from famous acting families...Tamara Unstinov was Peter's daughter and Michele Doltice was Roys daughter and so on....Piers was a great organizer and posscessed a visual sense that his cameraman Dick Bush was totally in sinc with they were team in that sense.  When it came to doing the nude scene where Angel comes into the rectory at night and disrobes this was done at least three times and Linda was spot on with every take...she was a total porfessional with a refined sense of the erotic unusual for her age...I believe she was only 17 at the time."

 

blood_satans_dvd.jpg

In spite of all the nudity and violence BLOOD ON SATAN CLAW is decidedly a pious and conservative film where adults are in charge and religion and goodness always prevail, this was an atitude which was changing as they filmed and the atmosphere was charged with this duality of purpose with the devil taking the young and infirm from the countryside to build his coven only to have it destroyed by the same figures of authority we saw in Hammer masterful THE DEVIL RIDES OUT when Christopher Lee drives his motorcar right into the altar of the Goat of Mendes tossing a cross into the devils lap.  Wymark does much the same thing with a giant sword blessed no doubt and held by Milton Reid of all people from many Hammer productions including NIGHT CREATURES. 

As with the Hammer film the budget or rather the lack of one contributed to the finale being what it was done in slow motion it is the concentraion of the actors like Wymark and Hayden that bring this film out of it's origins as an explotation programmer into the realm of cult appreciation and untimately its growing reputuation as a one of the classic horror films on a level with THE WICKER MAN and THE DEVIL RIDES OUT.

On a final note I can not say enough about the score for this film the use of the ondes martenot and the cimbalom which gives the music that lower range the composer wickedly refers to as "the Devils Interval" invests the film with a timeless quality that adds immesurably to the visuals and for once the repettion of the title theme never weaqrs out it's welcome as say Les Baxter's theme for THE DUNWICH HORROR" over at AIP.

Witchcraft in films has always seemed to be about female sexuality and how damaging its power withever it is supressed or denyed by the reigning authority of the 17th or 20th century in which these films take place.  The sexual hysteria of films like Ken Russell's masterpiece THE DEVILS or Micheal Reeves WITCHFINDER GENERAL  even Mike Armstrong's ultra violent MARK OF THE DEVIL is energized by the denial of the sexuality not only of the accussed but the witchfinders themselves in Mike's original script the witchfinder Herbert Lom is traumatized by discovering he is really homosexual and therefore conceals his desire for Udo Keir by torturing women.

As for the growing cult around BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW in time I think more and more fans will come to apprecite not only the music and performances of this beautifully crafted film while not without it's flaws it still is the only film on the subject of witchcraft and the Devil where the evil one gets a blowjob on camera by the most provocative devil child since Lolita took up the hula hoop.....GIVE ME MY SKIN......

satans1.jpg

c. 2009, Acidemic / David Del Valle

Acidemic considers Christianity a blasphemous misapropriation of Christ's teaching in service of "guardian" control and repression. Any other opinion expressed within the pages of this journal is respected however, until such time as lava or mantis aliens shall pour through intra-dimensional portals, etc.

C. 2013 - Acidemic Journal of Film and Media - BFG LCS: 489042340244