Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Blood On Satan's Claw

I do love those understated titles.

When I was an adolescent, I stayed up late one night to watch The Blood on Satan’s Claw on the late movie. I assume my parents thought I was doing something else, so let that be a lesson to you parents: watch your kids constantly or they turn out like me. I remember being completely spooked by the eerie film, and was glad to have a chance to watch it again all those years later. When I was eight, I also liked Chocolate-Frosted Sugar Bombs for breakfast, but I outgrew that, too, so learn from that, too.

A famer (Barry Andrews) is plowing his field in England, in the 18th century (a reference is made to the exiled King James III, who claimed the throne from 1701 to 1766) when he uncovers a strange set of remains. He calls it a fiend – it looks like a skull with an eye still in it – but it’s gone when he fetches the Judge to see it. Oh, well. Or not well, since the remains seem to be of Satan (evidence in the title) or something else diabolical. Soon all the local young people, who range in age from early teens to late 60s, become more or less possessed and start misbehavin’, shown mostly by the female lead’s unplucked eyebrows. They seem to be trying to bring Satan (or someone) back, which they do by growing part of his flesh and then cutting it off. I guess when they have enough, they put him together like a jigsaw puzzle. Curiously, Satan, or possibly one of the Jawas from Star Wars, lurks around a bit, which makes it confusing that he needs to be reconstructed, when he’s already there. He doesn't seem to do anything but look mysterious, which makes him a fairly benign devil. Anyway, the judge figures out their fiendish plan, although he selfishly does not share it with the viewing audience, and it is thwarted.

The movie was made by Tigon, which was one of the companies that started in the 60s in imitation of Hammer. It wasn’t even the most successful of the copycats (that would be Amicus, which made some really good movies), and in one of those mistakes that make you shake your head ruefully, even misspelled their own name in the opening credits (“Trigon”). The movie was funded after the success of The Witchmaster General and was originally supposed to be three interlocking stories, which probably accounts for the difficulties in the narrative. Some events seem to have no relation to the rest of the story, and the direction shows no sense of time. I have no idea if the climax of the film comes a day after the opening or five years. Characters appear, disappear, and in at least one instance, I think two of them switched parts. The climactic battle is presented in a mixture of real-time, slow-motion, and stop-frame, and shot so disjointedly you can’t tell what’s happening.

The movie is based on the real superstition that people with birthmarks, strange moles or any other deviation from the physical norm were marked by the devil. It must have been tough to be different back in the day. Although there is a fair amount of sex (an extended nude scene by the female lead, a disturbing rape of a young girl), the gore is curiously muted, showing very little blood. A strange distinction, since we tend to freak out over sex in films much more than violence.

All in all, it worked better when I was ten.