After the discovery of fiendish remains in a field, the
children of a Puritan village begin to worship the devil.
The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971)
Directed by Piers Haggard
Written by Robert Wynne-Simmons
Starring Patrick Wymark, Linda Hayden, Barry Andrews, Michele Dotrice, Wendy Padbury, Anthony Ainley, Charlotte Mitchell
Folk horror certainly has a tone. Something about evil spreading itself around God's favorite sons and daughters is very unsettling. But you need more than that tone to build a memorable horror film. We see it in The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General, and more recently in The Witch and The Ritual. The Blood on Satan's Claw doesn't quite get there, in my opinion, mainly due to the terrible effects and the forgettable characters. Plus, I think it's a weird decision to turn the psychotic Puritan witch hunters into the good guys. Hard to accept that if you know anything about history.
One day, in 17th century England, Ralph (Andrews) unearths the buried remains of some kind of fiend. Is it a demon? Is it Satan himself? We'll never know, because it vanishes immediately and Ralph is called a simpleton. After that though, the children of this village start being pulled towards the darkness and start a full-blown coven of devil worshippers. They're fornicating, they're dancing about, they're growing weird bits of fur on their bodies (the devil's skin). They must be stopped. Who better than the tyrannical, God-fearing Judge (Wymark), who I was certain was going to be the bad guy. There's a bit where someone cuts their own hand off in their sleep during a nightmare. There's a horrific rape scene. There's an attempt to pin it all on the reverend. What do all these scenes have in common? They never come up again.
This film's biggest problem is that it's a series of moments that don't connect. There's no narrative. I know I sound like a broken record by now, but I like a narrative. In the end, the Judge just straight up destroys the furry demon with a sword, lighting it on fire. Then it's over. Roll credits. I really don't like how this film paints the Puritans as heroes. That doesn't sit well at all.