Color, 1971, 96 mins. 14 secs.
Directed by Piers Haggard
Starring Patrick Wymark, Linda Hayden, Barry Andrews, Michele Dotrice, Wendy Padbury, Anthony Ainley
Severin Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Screenbound Pictures (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Odeon Entertainment (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL), NSM Records (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany R0 HD/PAL), Anchor Bay (DVD) (UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Though The Blood on Satan's Clawit took a while to be fully The Blood on Satan's Clawappreciated, this genuinely chilling depiction of occult mayhem erupting in rural 18th-century England is one of the most effective British horror films ever made and a high point of the genre from the early 1970s. The lurid title disguises the approach of this ambitious and very unpredictable look at a village under the sway of a devilish influence, almost qualifying as an anthology with its vignettes involving the transformations that undergo the young people in the area and the severe, violent response of the older guard. This remains the most accomplished film by director Piers Haggard, who primarily worked in TV but also tackled the occasional theatrical feature like Venom and A Summer Story.

While tilling the fields one afternoon, young farmer Ralph Gower (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave’s Andrews) unearths a bizarre, unidentifiable skull sporting a patch of furry skin. He attempts in vain to get the attention of the local judge (Wymark) as a grotesque claw also turns up in the area and sparks a spate of hysteria, some of led by the corrupted teenager Angel (Hayden). Soon murder and sexualized violence run rampant across the countryside as the tainted youths put a diabolical plan into motion.

Originally The Blood on Satan's Clawshot under the title Satan’s Skin, this film is one of the strongest offerings from Tony Tenser’s Tigon British Film Productions, which is perhaps best known for the two best Michael Reeves films (Witchfinder General and The Sorcerers) as well as more tawdry fare like Curse of the Crimson Altar The Blood on Satan's Clawand Virgin Witch. This one essentially splits the difference, offering an atmospheric and often deeply creepy take on what has now been categorized as folk horror while doling out a few shocking moments like a forced devil skin flaying, a gang rape in the woods, and a terrifyingly committed, seductive portrayal by Hayden, complete with huge indelible eyebrows. The process of getting the film off the ground required several radical alterations along the way including switching the time period around and merging together what were originally a trio of separate stories; however, in this case the tinkering simply adds to the uncanny atmosphere as the story leaps around like a forbidden, incomplete text that somehow manifested onto celluloid. Especially valuable here is the eerie score by Marc Wilkinson, complete with some jarring electronic arrangements and a very memorable main theme that will lodge in your head for hours.

Finding a watchable uncut copy of this film was impossible for many years with the U.S. release from Paragon looking so dark you couldn't even tell what was happening for the last ten minutes. Better editions turned up on TV, most memorably as an episode of Elvira's Movie Macabre show (which utterly ruins one line of dialogue you'll never hear the same way again), but things started to look up when the film passed over to MGM (presumably since this was originally a Cannon release in the U.S.) with new prints struck for repertory play in the late '90s and an uncut presentation finally issued on VHS. After that the film strangely lay dormant in the U.S. for decades, but the U.K. picked The Blood on Satan's Clawup the slack with no less than four different editions starting off with a standalone DVD from Anchor Bay and an expanded version The Blood on Satan's Clawincluded as part of its 2004 Tigon Collection box (along with The Beast in the Cellar, Virgin Witch, The Body Stealers, The Haunted House of Horror, and Witchfinder General). That release features two audio commentaries: the first with Haggard, Hayden and writer Robert Wynne-Simmons, moderated by Jonathan Sothcott, and the second with three of the League of Gentlemen themselves, Mark Gatiss, Jeremy Dyson and Reece Sheersmith. The first is obviously focused on the production aspects including the intention to make three short films with a bit of a narrative connection, the involvement of Tenser, and the methods used to create a sense of really being in the English countryside centuries earlier. "In a League of Its Own" (10m40s) is an amusing further appreciation of the film from Gatiss (in a crazy costume during a shoot of some kind) and Dyson focusing on the film's impact on horror fans and its influence on British horror cinema (and their own show). "Linda Hayden: An Angel for Satan" (12m27s) features a broader discussion with the star about her early movie days and memories of the production, while the featurette "Touching the Devil" (20m51s) has Malcolm Heyworth, Hayden, and Wynne-Simmons explaining how the film came about during a transitional period in British horror, with actors like Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Ingrid Pitt floated around as possible casting choices. They also touch on some of the challenges with keeping Wymark on track during the shoot, which shouldn't be much of a surprise, and the negotations The Blood on Satan's Clawinvolved in The Blood on Satan's ClawHayden's nude scene. A combo TV spot with Beast in the Cellar is also included along with cast bios, a "Tigon Tales of Terror" (25m49s) featurette about the studio, and a DVD-Rom PDF of the original three stories.

After that the film passed over to Odeon, who issued a special edition DVD in 2010 and a Blu-ray in 2013. That release featured a solid HD transfer from the camera negative, an LPCM 2.0 English mono track, "Touching the Devil," "Linda Hayden: An Angel for Satan," the trailer, a stills gallery, and the two audio commentaries. An HD video interview with Haggard (22m10s) pretty much reiterates everything from his commentary but consolidates it all into a single package with a bit more detail about his background in the industry.

In 2019, Screenbound revisited the film for U.K. home video with a new remastered edition featuring a transfer from a new 4K scan of the camera negative, with a Black Friday release following in the U.S. from Severin Films a few months later. Incredibly, the Severin disc is the first commercial release of the film in nearly two decades for American audiences! The Severin Blu-ray (which also features a bonus soundtrack CD, a nice addition since the standalone disc now goes for stupid amounts of money) can be purchased as a standalone with an exclusive slipcover or in a Blood on Satan's Claw Bundle, a Tigon bundle with The Beast in the Cellar, a Revenge of the Black Friday bundle, and The Bundle on Satan's Black Friday. The transfer looks superb (and appears to be identical between the two), and it's also worthing noting that this new edition sports the Satan's Skin title at the beginning which is great to finally see. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track is immaculate as expected, with English SDH subtitles provided. Both editions feature the two The Blood on Satan's Clawcommentary tracks, "Touching the Devil," the theatrical trailer, and several new featurettes. In "Folk Tale" (10m7s), actor Simon The Blood on Satan's ClawWilliams talks about wearing inconvenient wigs and frilly costumes, getting slapped by Wymark during his post-lunch drunk phase, and the pluses and minuses he sees in the film now. Then "Folk Music" (5m14s) is a brief interview with Wilkinson about his score and his collaborations on the stage and screen with Haggard, coming on to this film early on during its working title of The Devil's Touch and making clever use (or more accurately, not) of the musical "devil's interval." Set dresser Milly Burn appears in "Folk Art" (6m1s), another short piece about the numerous props she had to round up for the film ranging from candles to demonic texts to horse carts. In "Folk Sounds" (6m37s), sound mixer Tony Dawe recalls being very young when he took on this early gig and feeling admiration for many of his collaborators, particularly cinematographer Dick Bush (who was of course the go-to guy for several directors like Ken Russell).

The two 2019 releases also diverge a bit in terms of extras with the Screenbound featuring a combo Harrd and Wynne-Simonns featurette, "Underneath Satan's Skin," a Williams tour of the ruins of St. James Church in "Return to Bix Bottom," and "The Ruins," in which Dr. Stephen Mileson covers the original locations and their significance to local history. The Severin on the other hand has a newly cut Haggard interview, "Reviving Forgotten Horrors" (10m14s), which touches on the usual topics including his earlier TV and theater experience and the process of streamlining the project into a coherent narrative. "Satan's Script" (15m57s) features Wynne-Simmons in conversation with Dr. Marcus Stiglegger about the writer's earlier work with directors like Michael Winner and another account of the transformation of the three-story idea, and Hayden turns up next for "Running with the Devil" (9m2s), a recut version of the "Angel" interview which touches on her roles up to this point including the (locally) sensational Baby Love, her brief flirtation with Hammer stardom, and the ways her appearance was manipulated in her key early roles like this one to maximum effect. "In a League of Its Own" also makes a return appearance here after a few years wandering off in the wilderness as well.

SEVERIN (Blu-ray)

Blood on Satan's Claw Blood on Satan's Claw Blood on Satan's Claw Blood on Satan's Claw Blood on Satan's Claw

ODEON (Blu-ray)

Blood on Satan's Claw Blood on Satan's Claw Blood on Satan's Claw Blood on Satan's Claw Blood on Satan's Claw


Reviewed on November 28, 2019.