“one of the most vis­ceral hor­rors in the canon”

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Blood on satan’s claw -

who had cut his di­rect­ing teeth on such TV fare as Cal­lan and ITV Play­house. “I’m not in­ter­ested in a hor­ror film un­less it has a sort of poetic or a truly imag­i­na­tive mind-ex­tend­ing theme. The thing that did ap­peal to me was the ru­ral set­ting. I grew up in the coun­try, and so the hor­rors of the woods was some­thing that was very tan­gi­ble and real from my child­hood.”

For the lead­ing role of the lo­cal judge, Tigon had sought out hor­ror stal­warts Peter Cush­ing and Christo­pher Lee. Both turned it down. Even­tu­ally, they went with Pa­trick Wy­mark, fa­mous for a long stint on the ITV drama The Power Game. “I was thrilled with Pa­trick,” says Hag­gard. “He was pow­er­ful and terrifying.” Wy­mark is in­deed a tow­er­ing pres­ence in the film, but Blood On Satan’s Claw would turn out to be his last role. He died of a heart at­tack, aged 44, only two months after film­ing wrapped.

show­ing flesh

Also fa­mous from the small screen was Wendy Pad­bury, who had just come off a year- long stint on Doc­tor Who. She was cast as Cathy, a young girl whose rape and mur­der at the hands of the pos­sessed group is one of the most pow­er­ful scenes in the movie.

“When I first read the script, there was no nu­dity for me,” Pad­bury tells SFX. “But dur­ing the lunch break be­fore shoot­ing the scene in the af­ter­noon, [ Piers Hag­gard] took me for a walk on lo­ca­tion and ex­plained that a cer­tain amount of nu­dity was paramount to the scene work­ing. As a young ac­tress, and this be­ing my first big part in a fea­ture film I agreed, al­beit re­luc­tantly. The scene was har­row­ing to shoot and af­ter­wards, even the cam­era­man said that it was one of the most dif­fi­cult scenes he had had to shoot. He also said that he didn’t think that the whole scene would ever be passed by the cen­sors so I shouldn’t worry too much. He turned out to be ab­so­lutely right. Much of the scene had to be cut.”

To set his film apart from what he con­sid­ered the “stagi­ness” of the Ham­mer movies, Hag­gard in­sisted on film­ing as much on lo­ca­tion as he could. Film­ing took place in and around Bix Bot­tom Val­ley in Ox­ford­shire, Black Park in Buck­ing­hamshire and Pinewood Stu­dios.

“I was very de­mand­ing about lo­ca­tions,” says Hag­gard. “The main lo­ca­tion – Bix Bot­tom – I found that. It was ab­so­lutely per­fect as there are a huge va­ri­ety of un­spoilt woods, and in the mid­dle of it was this farm­house, that was ac­tu­ally some­one’s week­end place. I re­ally hun­gered for that lo­ca­tion, and [ the pro­duc­ers] were not pleased as it was fur­ther from Pinewood than they’d in­tended. This was sup­posed to be a small bud­get film – you could have half an hour’s drive from Pinewood and no more be­cause of the over­time. It was patently ob­vi­ous to me that we could make a won­der­ful film with that lo­ca­tion and I man­aged to per­suade them to fund the over­time.

“We went over bud­get, I think it was a bud­get of £ 60,000 which was par for the course for a small bud­get film then, and it went to £ 75,000, or some­thing like that. But

there wasn’t a lot of fuss about the money, and as the film came out, peo­ple saw that it had been worth it.”

It may only be three films strong, but the folk- hor­ror mini genre still looms large. There are nods to it in both Ben Wheat­ley’s Kill List and es­pe­cially A Field In Eng­land, while many mo­ments in The League Of Gen­tle­men owe a siz­able debt to the movies of Reeves, Hag­gard and Hardy. Hag­gard isn’t blind to his film’s the­matic kin­ship to Witchfinder Gen­eral and The Wicker Man, but be­lieves all were a re­ac­tion against the hor­ror styles of the time.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing in­cred­i­bly im­pressed by Witchfinder Gen­eral and think­ing, ‘ My God, how slick!’ and the di­rec­tor, Michael Reeves, was very skil­ful and fluid, and much more ex­pert than I felt at the time. I think it’s still a good film, but I think my film has prob­a­bly got more heart. It has other virtues, dif­fer­ent virtues. I think the rea­sons why those films were made was partly be­cause the stan­dard Ham­mer Hor­ror Drac­ula stuff was so te­dious. So pre­dictable, and so ob­vi­ously stu­dio. You know, low- bud­get Pinewood, El­stree, pretty bor­ing old shots, not very at­mo­spheric light­ing, cliched scripts. It got very stale, so I guess in their way, the var­i­ous peo­ple in­volved in th­ese, they all come from dif­fer­ent places. There was a mar­ket for English hor­ror, and here’s a group of peo­ple at around the same time say­ing we can do it more in­ter­est­ingly.”

changes afoot

The movie had been filmed with the name Satan’s Skin. Its even­tual ti­tle is still one that bris­tles with Hag­gard. It was dis­trib­uted first in the US by AIP, whose pres­i­dent, Sa­muel Arkoff ( whose CV is filled with such shabby movie fare as Blac­ula, I Was A Teenage Were­wolf and The Thing With Two Heads) de­manded a name change to the more drive- in friendly Blood On Satan’s Claw.

“My heart sank,” says Hag­gard, “be­cause that put it right into a schlocky cat­e­gory, which was ob­vi­ously ex­actly what he was try­ing to do to get an au­di­ence. I was re­ally quite sad about that be­cause, to be hon­est, I had cul­tural pre­ten­sions. I wanted it to be seen as a film, just a film. I think in the UK it would have had a bet­ter re­cep­tion if it had been called Satan’s Skin. I think they were more or less kept away by the ti­tle.”

The film may not have done the business of Witchfinder or any of Ham­mer’s 1970 re­leases, but Hag­gard says he’s been ac­costed many times over the years by movie fans and film buff direc­tors who talk up the movie. “In the States in the 80s,” says Hag­gard, “I met peo­ple who’d say, ‘ Didn’t you do Blood On Satan’s Claw?’ So that felt nice. I was re­lieved then.”

“Be­hind that in­el­e­gant ti­tle is one of the best Bri­tish hor­ror pic­tures of the ’ 70s,” di­rec­tor Joe Dante said re­cently. “I played it to a packed house at the New Bev­erly The­atre in Hol­ly­wood about a year or two ago and it was warmly re­ceived.”

Hag­gard him­self last viewed the movie a few years ago, and was im­pressed save for the end­ing. “What Robert had ac­tu­ally writ­ten was that the judge ar­rived with troops and they kill ev­ery last per­son in the vil­lage in or­der to stamp out the in­fec­tion, as it were. And ob­vi­ously you’d cut to the bot­tom of a hedgerow and there would be the dread­ful lurgy lurk­ing. But we couldn’t pos­si­bly af­ford that, so that was cut. No one was about to give me an army, and let me burn a vil­lage.”

For all of Blood On Satan’s Claw’s faults, it re­mains one of the chill­i­est, odd­est, most vis­ceral hor­rors in the canon. It de­serves its place next to both Witchfinder and The Wicker Man and maybe now some of their crit­i­cal glory will fi­nally rub off on this long- ig­nored hor­ror great.

The Vil­lage Peo­ple’s pop­u­lar­ity had fi­nally dropped to one in nine. Ad­mi­ral Ack­bar’s hairy un­cle blagged his way back­stage.

Linda Hay­den, clothed. For now.

The fam­ily was very proud of its col­lab­o­ra­tive cross- stitch ef­forts. “What did you say about my cra­vat?”

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