BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW, THE (SATAN’S SKIN) (director: Piers Haggard; screenwriter: Robert Wynne Simmons; cinematographer: Dick Bush; editor: Richard Best; music: Marc Wilkinson; cast: Patrick Wymark (The Judge), Linda Hayden (Angel Blake), Barry Andrews (Ralph Gower), Avice Landone (Isobel Banham), Simon Williams (Peter Edmonton), Tamara Ustinov (Rosalind Barton), Howard Goorney (The Doctor), James Hayter (Squire Middleton), Michele Dotrice (Margaret), Charlotte Mitchell (Ellen Vespers), Robin Davies (Mark Vespers), Anthony Ainley (Reverend), Wendy Padbury (Cathy Vespers), Godfrey James (Angel’s Father); Runtime: 95; Tigon Pictures/Chilton Films; 1970-UK
“… But it all seems so silly.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An inferior imitation of the thoughtful and brilliant Michael Reeves’ The Witchfinder General (68). This British horror film from Tigon Pictures is set in the 17th century in a rural English village. A ploughman, Ralph Gower (Andrews), while working the fields unearths a rotting corpse with one eye still functioning that is half-man half-beast. This creature turns out to be a demon that plagues the community, as the monster’s disembodied furry arm and claw go on the attack. The film’s first half is keenly atmospheric, keeping up the eerie theme of the supernatural as blood continually flows. But the last half of the film gives way to shock horror and exploitative gore, as the film becomes less intelligible and more over-the-top.
When Ralph reports his find to The Judge (Wymark), he’s met with skepticism. But immediately strange things happen as Ralph’s master, Peter Edmonton (Williams), brings home his bride-to-be (Tamara Ustinov) and she succumbs to insanity after an attack by the devil-creature while forced to sleep in the attic by Peter’s snobby aunt (Landone). She despises the sweet bride because of her low birth. The film thereby chronicles the effects on the village of the devil’s evil emanation. The doctor (Goorney) lends The Judge an ancient book on the devil after Peter is also attacked by the claw while sleeping in the attic and in his fury to get his attacker cuts off his own hand. The Judge returns to his home in London promising to return when he has an answer to the problem. His words of comfort to the village before skipping town go something like this: “You must have patience, even while people die…only thus can the whole evil be destroyed.”
In the meantime many of the teenagers who attend the reverend’s (Ainley) Bible class have become plagued by the devil and follow their leader, a young satanic worshipper named Angel Blake (Linda Hayden). She organizes a devil-worship ritual in the woods and offers Mark Vespers as a human sacrifice to restore the crippled devil. He’s the son of Ellen Vespers, the housekeeper for the Edmonton manor. The devilish Angel also seduces the reverend in his church by showing him her healthy nude body and offering herself to him. When he turns her down, she has her father tell Squire Middleton that the reverend raped her. This results in his arrest. Then Angel and her devil-worshipping followers lure Mark’s sister Cathy into their hidden spot in the woods and ravage her to death. Ralph finds the body and tells the squire that Angel and her followers did it. This results in the freeing of the reverend.
Ignorance prevails in this village, as a group of men throw a girl running through the woods into a deep pond. They say if she’s not a witch, she’ll sink and die. When she sinks instead of floats, the ever-present Ralph finds her and brings her home to Ellen. They discover on her leg the mark of “Satan’s Skin” and have the doctor surgically remove the furry tissue growth from Margaret, as strangely there’s no blood drawn during the procedure. Margaret upsets these good people by saying they messed with her savior the devil and that he’s going to get them for that, and she escapes looking for Angel’s hideout in the woods. But, alas, The Judge returns when Peter rides by horse to fetch him, and says his mission is to destroy this evil cult. He tracks Margaret down in the woods with dogs and threatens harm to her unless she reveals where Angel is hiding.
The showdown takes place at a satanic orgy ritual in the ruins of an old church in the woods, as a naked nubile performs a dance for the prisoner Ralph and she tempts him to kill himself. The Judge arrives in the nick of time with the cross on his side while Angel only has the devil on her side. The film ends in victory for the good guys when the judge impales satan, in slo-mo, on his blessed sword. Director Piers Haggard cloaks this unnecessarily sanguinary film around his use of original and stylized images, but it all seems so silly and the talented actors vain attempts to make this hokum come alive never overcame the bad script.
REVIEWED ON 6/24/2002 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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