Also known as 'Satan's Skin', this Tigon produced film, is one of the lesser well known Brit-horror outputs of the early 70's. Even though it has become quite infamous in some circles for it's late night t.v. showings in the 80's, and of course a rather shocking scene or two.
The plot concerns the discovery of an old skull, which doesn't look human in the slightest. But before the local Judge (Patrick Wymark) can see it, the skull goes missing... add with this a strange attack in the Judge's attic, and the children of the village, led by the vixen Angel Blake (the lush Linda Hayden) acting odder and slightly more murderous then usual, a strange situation arises. Could it really be the return of witchcraft? The Judge has to leave for London to find out, but with murders, rapes, and false accusations arising in his wake, he must return and vanquish this evil!
While obviously following in the wake of Witchfinder General, Blood On Satan's Claw takes more expense in showing the evil coming together, and taking effect on the locals, the Judge character playing second fiddle to this, and departing form the film for around half it's running time. The acting by all is very good. Patrick Wymark adds a degree of sympathy to his Judge character, who seems to be the opposite to Price's Matthew Hopkin's, using spoken threats, rather then actually going through with the act during a torture/inquisition scene. Linda Hayden also stands out as the evil Angel Blake. Weather she's orchestrating a rape, or 'playing' games, she adds a strong sense of threat to the film...also considering her character is supposed to be around 14, it's quite shocking some of the things she does. Others who stand out are Doctor Who regulars Anthony Ainley, as a falsely accused Priest, and Wendy Padbury as Cathy. The rape scene in the film, is that of Padbury's character, and it is really due to her acting that it is so shocking. Acting seemingly disgusted, and screaming out in wide-eyed fright, she really helps show the innocence of her character to the situation, and her following murder is a shame to see. Director Piers Haggard brings a lot of atmosphere into the film. The forest scenery is very memorable, as sometimes it almost seems threatening, like it's hiding something, (Tim Burton suposedly took inspiration from this setting when it came to shooting Sleepy Hollow, and filmed it nearby) and the ruins where the children meet, are also well shot, particularly in the finale. A scene that stands out is where Angle tries to seduce the Priest... while filmed quite erotically, the fact Angel is so young (and evil) adds a lot of tension, as does the wonderful blue lighting used to show the church interior.
The effects used are very good for the time, especially the 'devil skin', which crops up on the children's bodies, and a scene where a character's hand turns into Satan's Claw. While not a lot of blood is seen, the murders and attacks have a strong degree of viciousness to them, which helps the film.
Really the only down-point is the rushed finale, where the Judge returns to save the day. But it does give us a great view of the demon, which is highly distinctive in appearance, looking slightly animal-like, and nothing like the modern perceptions of the Devil (up until this point only a husky voice has been heard). Also Wymark brandishing a huge cross shaped sword is a very effective image!
Thrust between the satus of Witchfinder General, and the gore of Mark Of The Devil, this film delivers all. While not full of the jump scenes of modern horror, everything from the slow build-up to the fiery climaz just oozes creepiness and atmosphere. An Overlooked classic!