Some movies — bad as they may be, especially in the horror genre and in exploitation cinema — endure over the years for the lasting memories they provide, coasting on the soothing, familiar waves of nostalgia. I suppose the same could be said of any number of movies, but these genres in particular tend to garner a very devoted and enthusiastic crowd who cherish certain pictures as some small part of their childhood. When revisiting several years later, the fan will watch with more experienced, mature eyes only to discover said movie is either just as entertaining as ever, downright awful, or somewhere in between. For me, some decades later, Piers Haggard's 'Blood on Satan's Claw' is a pure nostalgia trip and falls somewhere in between.
My first experience with Haggard's now-favorite British horror film was as a kid staying up late at night to watch Elvira, Mistress of the Dark — best way, really, for a growing boy to learn the classics while a voluptuous bombshell cracks risqué one-liners. Her Movie Macabre show is a dearly beloved TV series which is now considered a staple of my childhood, and I still remember a few of her hilarious quips and facial reactions to some of the film's more bizarre moments. 'Satan's Claw' was edited for television, which of course I didn't find out until several years later, yet it made an impression on a young kid hungering for a few scares. It didn't hurt that Elvira would interrupt in order to point out some of the unintentionally silly and funny aspects of the plot.
Most memorable — or at least, something that has lingered in the back of my mind all these years — is Elvira's reaction when Rosalind Barton (Tamara Ustinov), Peter Edmonton's (Simon Williams) fiancée, is made to sleep in the cold, windy attic of her future in-law's house. The Judge and his wife (Patrick Wymark and Avice Landone) rather rudely give their guest, on the first day of meeting her, the worst, dankest room in the house, where in the middle of the night she's mysteriously attacked by an unseen monster. The next morning, Rosalind walks out with a wickedly fiendish smile and a ghastly hairy right hand with long, sharp nails. It's a great lesson on proper hospitality, about showing kindness before judgment: treat your guests like they are beneath you and not only do endanger the mental well-being, but you might also awaken a demon.
Earlier that day, the Judge was approached by local farmer Ralph Gower (Barry Andrews), who uncovered a malformed skull with clumps of dark black fur and a perfectly preserved eyeball while plowing the fields. The head goes missing, but the next day, after Rosalind's night with an unseen terror, strange supernatural forces begin afflicting the villagers and the children play bizarre ritualistic games. They also grow inexplicable patches of black fur similar to that seen on the skull on their bodies. This is where Haggard's film seemed creepiest for a little gullible boy like me — finding hair suddenly sprouting on your body and the kids behaving like brainwashed slaves to Angel Blake's (Linda Hayden) murderous whims. Scariest of all is seeing a really old couple partaking in the demonic fun.
Today, 'Blood on Satan's Claw' is not quite as effective as it once was on a young, easily-impressionable mind, but it remains an entertaining piece of British horror made during a small span of time when stories of the occult and pagan traditions were popular. It's in the same vein as 'The Devil Rides Out' and Robin Hardy's cult classic 'The Wicker Man.' What continues to work in 'Satan's Claw' are, of course, those devilish little kids and their evil satanic rituals, especially when the pretty Hayden sports a pair of hideously overgrown eyebrows. The unintentional silliness pointed out by Elvira is also a bit more apparent, but it only adds to the movie's enjoyment. I liked Piers Haggard's film when I was younger, and I still get a kick out of it today.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Imported from the United Kingdom, this Blu-ray edition of 'Blood on Satan's Claw' comes courtesy of Odeon Entertainment Group. The Region Free, BD25 disc is housed inside a slightly thick, blue keepcase. At startup, viewers are taken directly to a menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
Blood from Satan's claw drips on to Blu-ray with a fairly good 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, though the years have admittedly not been kind to the source. The video shows excellent definition and resolution for a movie of this vintage, displaying clean, sharp lines in foliage, the quaint village architecture and in the costuming. Contrast falls slightly on the lower end of the grayscale, but it's stable and consistent from beginning to end, giving the film a dreary overtone. Colors are not particularly bright, placing more emphasis on earth tones, but primaries are accurately rendered while flesh tones look natural, with great textural details during close-ups. The 1.85:1 image comes with an appreciable layer of film grain, which can appear a bit prominent in darker, poorly-lit sequences. One noticeable drawback in the presentation is a tad of black crush here and there, but overall brightness levels are good. Altogether, the classic British horror flick has never looked better and fans will be quite satisfied.
The film arrives with a slightly stronger uncompressed PCM mono soundtrack that's true to the original design and appears to have been restored to its original glory. One of the production's best features is the wonderfully memorable and haunting music of Marc Wilkinson, a very simple but eloquent piece that feels like a dark, creepy version of a child's bedtime sing-a-long. Thanks to a clean and detailed mid-range, each note and key is distinct and crystal-clear, providing the soundstage with a broad presence. Background activity and ambient effects are discretely heard, while low bass gives the lossless mix some appreciable depth. Dialogue reproduction is intelligible and very well-prioritized, making the overall track a great and enjoyable listen for fans.
With a good deal of nostalgia attached, Piers Haggard's 'Blood on Satan's Claw' is a well-crafted and still entertaining piece of British horror. Made during that very brief period of similarly themed films having to do with ancient pagan traditions, the movie remains amusing with a thickly atmospheric and creepy feel that permeates throughout. The Blu-ray from Odeon Entertainment arrives with a good high-def transfer and excellent audio. With a nice assortment of bonus material adding further enjoyment, the overall package is worth looking into for cult enthusiasts everywhere.