folk horror

Wicked Wednesday: The Blood on Satan’s Claws (1971)

Here I am again, continuing my quest to watch more British horror films. Now this one, I had pretty high expectations for. And if I’ve learned anything about expectations it’s this: if they’re high, you’re going to be let down.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw is one of the few “folk horror” films made in Britain. It’s a small subgenre of films that focus on stories of folklore (go figure). But when discussing folk horror, there’s one ‘trilogy’ of films that should come to mind: The Wicker ManWitchfinder General and this week’s film.

I quite love The Wicker Man. It’s very subtle, but 70’s horror was good at that.

Unfortunately, The Blood on Satan’s Claw didn’t work for me. At all. Which, you know, is pretty disappointing considering its growing cult status. But it lacks the intelligence of The Wicker Man and bothers with plot as much as the WM’s American remake does.

In a small village, the young Peter brings his betrothed, Rosalind, to meet his aunt. This is scandalous to the aunt as the young ones claim that they want to be married the following day. Even worse – Rosalind wants to stay the night!! 

Just to put the girl in her place, the aunt forces Rosalind to sleep in the attic that night. Unbeknownst to them, local farmer Ralph unearthed a skull while ploughing his fields. The skull (which disappears) clearly possesses evil, which awakens in the night.

Rosalind is attacked by an invisible being, and begins screaming in the night. The family board her up in the attic until she can be taken away to an asylum. The aunt is also attacked (presumably by Rosalind), but disappears in the morning without a trace.

Curious, eh? Intrigued by what will happens to Rosalind and the aunt? Don’t worry, you’ll never find out what happens. There’s a frustrating lack of explanation. Like look, I understand mystery, but ignoring everything is lazy – not suspenseful.

The rest of the film focuses on a group of children after they find a claw. It possesses them with evil. They kill and rape the other local children for kicks.

But Peter decides not to take it, and appeals to a local judge for assistance. He brings in the assistance of some dogs and a…cross, thing to defeat the Satanic group of children. I’m not actually sure what the judge does because a. the film is pretty damn dark, b. it’s filmed so tightly that you can’t see anyone’s arms move, and c. the film doesn’t want to explain anything it’s doing.

But the party is busted up at some ritual that one of the Demonic girls tells the judge about. And that’s pretty much where The Blood on Satan’s Claw leaves things.

I feel like The Blood on Satan’s Claw and I could have gotten along much more if I didn’t have any expectations for it. I love atmospheric films, and this has so much of it (it’s truly beautiful when the camera allows for the scene some space). If you have an incredible tolerance for looking past plot-holes, this will probably please.

But really, it takes a lot more than a wreath of branches and some furry eyebrows to make a movie good.