Making & Spotlight On Horror Cult: The Blood On Satan's Claw


Looking at the making Of The Blood on Satan's Claw, a cult classic of 1970's British Horror.....



The Blood on Satan's Claw Trailer




“It was then that she stretched out her hand... and to my horror, I saw that it was not her own hand. It was wizened, like dry leather, with fingers like the talons of a bird...” from Legends of Torment of Body and Soul by Robert A Wynne Simmons, 1962

Here you might be interested medias of this film on Amazon



A short distance from London, nestled in the rolling greenery of the Chiltern Hills, is a tranquil little valley called Bix Bottom. It is still a beautiful and idyllic location despite the urban ugliness of the 21st century creeping ever closer. The persistent spectre of a high speed rail-link is poised like a sword to strike through its heart, threatening to spoil this landscape forever, but Bix Bottom has survived far more terrifying dangers. For a brief period in 1970, it was home to the Devil himself! True, he was not the Devil as most of us imagine him. He was small, furry and weird-looking and assembled himself from disturbing patches of ‘satan’s skin’ and other limbs which had grown onto and then were nastily removed from the bodies of his young followers. He also had a tendency to hop a little, because he was still waiting for one of his victims to grow him a foot but, on the plus side, his second-in-command was one of Britain’s most alluring and charismatic teenage actresses. The Devil had a problem though. Okay, several problems if you also count the missing bits and the hopping. The Judge and his pitchfork-wielding mob had assembled in the trees around the deconsecrated church where an orgiastic ritual was taking place and the Devil was, literally, a hop, skip and a jump - mostly a hop - from receiving his foot from a bewitched farmhand about to hack it off his own leg with a very sharp knife. If you don’t already know how this encounter plays out, you should stop reading right now and give yourself the massive gift of watching The Blood on Satan’s Claw, the brutal and disturbing 1971 lm which documents in painstaking detail the entire confrontation and what led up to it. If, as Cinefantastique famously stated, ‘The Wicker Man is the Citizen Kane of horror movies’, Satan’s Claw is The Seventh Seal of folk-horror. It is a beautiful, unsettling lm and if you care to look beyond the admittedly-clumsy title, it is a rewarding and deeply-textured masterpiece.


THE STUFF OF NIGHTMARES


Farmhand Ralph Gower unearths a sinister not-quite-human skull while ploughing a eld, and he summons the Judge to investigate. But when they return to the site, the skull has vanished. Meanwhile, Angel Blake and her school-friends are wandering across the furrows and she finds a weird claw in the mud, like a beast’s talon. Reverend Fallow eld suspects the local youth are turning bad and that Angel is their ringleader. Strange patches of furry skin are appearing on some of the villagers’ bodies and there are outbreaks of rape and murder. When the Judge returns to the village, he leads an army against Angel Blake, her coven, and the cowled demonic entity which is rebuilding itself from the limbs and esh of its followers.


The Blood on Satan’s Claw is the stuff of nightmares - most specically, the nightmares of young writer Robert Wynne-Simmons who was only 22 years old when he set to work on the screenplay. He had been inspired by landscape ever since he was a small boy, and brie y considered a future as an architect, but it was the cinema that captured his heart. At age 12, he began writing and directing his own short lms, among them a 25-minute horror movie called L’Eridita del Diavolo (The Heritage) which was about demonic possession. He remembers devising “a long and highly dangerous chase scene on the roof of Castle Goring”, of which he was particularly proud. While at prep school, Wynne-Simmons was the victim of vicious mental and psychological bullying which culminated in a breakdown. He describes it as the most terrible experience of his life but he used it to his advantage: “Between the ages of 13 and 15, I tried to exorcise my fears by turning them into stories. I eventually collected them

together under the title, Legends of Torment of Body and Soul. One of them eventually formed the kernel of an idea for The Blood on Satan’s Claw.”

THE AMICUS APPROACH


It was January 1, 1970 (which, back in those ancient times was not yet a national holiday), when Robert received a letter from Chilton Films, responding to some story ideas he had sent them.

“They were looking for a script for a horror lm to be made at Pinewood Studios that spring. I called the phone number and I am not sure if it was Peter Andrews or Malcolm Heyworth (the producers of Chilton Films) I spoke to, but I said that I did indeed have an idea for a horror lm, which I’d be happy to send. It was a lie but I did not want the opportunity to pass. I was asked if I could send them an outline by the following Thursday, which only left me five days to come up with something.


Patrick Wymark as the Judge

in The Blood on Satan's Claw

“I fell back on Legends of Torment to give me the seed of an idea (a hand which tried to kill its owner in his sleep) and called it The Devil’s Skin. To my surprise, they came back to me saying they liked my story but they really wanted three ideas, not one. Could I supply them with three interlinking stories to form a portmanteau lm, such as the ones Amicus produced?”

Wynne-Simmons was not a great fan of compilation movies. He believes the producers had a template like that of Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) in mind. “But at that stage, I was quite prepared to do whatever they wanted,” he said. He drew upon his experiences of the horri c ways that children treat each other; he also looked to the headlines (the trial of Mary Bell, an 11-year-old who had recently been convicted of the manslaughter of two little boys) as well as Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, and its historical genesis in the Salem witchcraft Trials (1692) for inspiration. “I just came up with what frightened me...”


He was then called to a meeting with Christopher Neame at Tigon Films. Tigon was owned by Tony Tenser, a legend in low-budget exploitation filmmaking, who had recently produced Witch under General. He was also behind The Curse of the Crimson Altar, a B-movie which not even the presence of Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele could save, and The Sorcerers, a much better lm by Witch nder director Michael Reeves, which had also starred Karloff alongside Ian Ogilvy and a young Susan George. A few years before, Tenser had been responsible (together with his then-producing partner Michael Klinger), for green-lighting Roman Polanski’s terrifying Repulsion, which famously rede ned psychological horror.

A LESSON IN HORROR

Robert Wynne-Simmons had never written a professional screenplay. He remembers his first lesson in horror movie structure: “Chris Neame paced around the room with a big grin on his face and told me that in a horror lm there should be blood every ten minutes or so, and every twenty minutes a naked girl should walk across the screen. Beyond that, I could do as I liked.”

The outline had been set in the early days of the Victorian railways. Wynne-Simmons had wanted the Judge, who would eventually be played by Patrick Wymark (although the producers originally wish-listed Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee for the role), to return to the village “in a massive steam train, to suggest the inexorable power of progress which would wipe away the remnants of the old religion.” But Heyworth and Andrews asked him to back-date the action a century or two, which “would please Tigon because Witch nder General was then beginning to be looked upon as a great success.”

Changing the time period would not have any signi cant impact on what was still entitled The Devil’s Touch. “Right from the beginning, the main theme had always been the con ict between the ‘enlightened’ world and the old religions, such as Wicca,” Wynne-Simmons explained, so the pillars of the story would effectively remain the same.

He signed a contract on February 16, 1970, with shooting already scheduled to begin on April 1. He was given three weeks to produce a first draft. Now, a director had to be found and, demonstrating the kismet that makes The Blood on Satan’s Claw so special, the candidate who was chosen made a perfect it.

A PASSION FOR THE COUNTRYSIDE


Piers Haggard, the son of distinguished West End actor Stephen Haggard and descendant of She and Allan Quartermain creator H Rider Haggard, shared Wynne-Simmons’s passion for the countryside. After his father died during the Second World War, Haggard was brought up by his mother and stepfather on a farm in Scotland. He was only 31 but had already worked at the Royal Court Theatre in London, a creative furnace for Britain’s nest new playwrights and was a founder member of the National Theatre where he had “a fascinating time” alongside luminaries like Laurence Olivier and Samuel Beckett. It was Haggard’s first (and at that time only) feature film as a director, Wedding Night, which brought him to the attention of Peter Andrews and Malcolm Heyworth. Though Haggard himself was not very happy with the finished product, “they had seen it and asked would I be interested in directing The Devil’s Touch?”

Recalling the first time that he met Robert Wynne-Simmons, Haggard says, “He was an incredibly shy, pasty, skinny public schoolboy who had obviously been bullied. I always thought it amazing that this retiring gure could dream up such monstrously cruel inventions. When I came on board, Peter and Malcolm had for some insane reason decided they wanted to make the lm a three-parter, because they thought it would be cheaper, which is completely false arithmetic.

“Since Robert had already developed his three stories with running characters, I felt very strongly that as the stories were already linked, we should do a bit more work and make them join up. We managed to stitch the parts together just enough by the time filming started, although there were some threads we never quite managed to tie up. Haggard has an ‘additional material’ credit on the lm which he attributes mostly to his work on the structure and “making the ‘antique’ rural English dialogue authentic.” He also says he supported the producers’ earlier decision to roll the time period back to an earlier century. “That seemed very obvious. The time of the witchcraft obsession was much more potent.”

DEVILISH BEAUTY


By the time Haggard arrived, the producers had already signed 17-year-old Linda Hayden to play devilish beauty Angel Blake. Two years earlier, Hayden had starred in the controversial movie Baby Love, burning up the screen as a sexually-manipulative schoolgirl who employs her precocious sensuality to set a bomb beneath the family that adopts her.


It was, in effect, a British take on Lolita but far grittier and more confrontational than its better-known counterpart.

Baby Love was Hayden’s first film and she gave an extraordinary tour-de-force performance, instantly establishing herself as the country’s most exciting teenage star.


Michael Klinger, who produced the film, had quickly signed her to a multi-picture contract. The producer had shrewdly agreed a worldwide distribution deal for Baby Love with Joseph E. Levine’s company Avco-Embassy and had decided his new star should keep a low problem until the film was released. That was not until several months later than planned, and Hayden found the down-time frustrating. “I had constantly worked until I did Baby Love but they wanted to manage my career in a different way,” she recalled. “I just wanted to work!” Nevertheless, her remarkable performance, coupled with the heat generated by a brilliant promotional campaign, made Baby Love one of that years most talked-about lms and she travelled the world promoting it: “I had my picture eighty foot high in Times Square; my eyeball was about six foot tall. I was being looked after by the lm’s director, lovely Alastair Reid, and his wife. Michael Klinger and his wife were also there. It was a bit like being with a family and living the high life.”

Hayden’s travels meant that she did not get back in front of the cameras until October 1969, when she played Alice Hargood in Hammer’s Taste the Blood of Dracula (considered by many to be the last decent entry in the franchise) and lming on The Devil’s Touch began on April 14, 1970, following a few days of rehearsal during which slight amendments were made to the script.



Linda Hayden In Taste The Blood Of Dracula

“I thoroughly enjoyed doing Satan’s Claw,” Hayden said. ‘I loved Piers Haggard. He was a very inspirational director.

And Robert (Wynne-Simmons) would come and stay on the set. He’s not a amboyant person by any stretch of the imagination; a very reclusive character. I also met some lovely people: Simon Williams, Michele Dotrice - who is a very underrated actress - and Patrick Wymark, who was a charming man. He died soon afterwards, which was extremely sad.”

MASTER OF POETIC MENACE


Wynne-Simmons considers Wymark’s contribution to have been “very powerful,” and the fact that the producers could not afford to cast one of the stars that they originally wanted was “a blessing in disguise.” Haggard described the actor as “the master of poetic menace.”

The director also has fond memories of Tony Tenser: “He was like a nice Jewish uncle and to his credit, he wasn’t concerned about turning out a Hammer replica. Although there are plenty of scary, gory sequences in the script that are eternally to Robert’s credit, which many directors could have shot more effectively than me, I was determined to make it a lm, not a horror film.”


The budget was set at £75,000, eventually rising to £83,000, which was still a very modest bill for a feature. Haggard, who was determined to make the countryside a character in its own right, added several locations to the schedule including Bix Bottom and Black Park. He and art director Arnold Chapkis discovered a ruined Norman church at Bix Bottom, which became the site of Angel Blake’s demonic rituals.


Even though they were only make-believe and the producers had confirmed that the site was deconsecrated, the crew’s activities upset quite a few of the locals. Haggard also found a house that re ected the period of the lm so perfectly that it required little extra set-dressing, apart from the addition of some barn doors to conceal a garage.

Wynne-Simmons recalls: “The location was a joy and the spring owers, which Piers used very effectively, were a gift. Nothing like that could have happened in a studio. The very tight schedule meant that the script was barely nished by the time shooting began, and I even had to polish up a few lines of dialogue during the shoot. Piers was pleased to have me there for that reason.”

Satan’s Claw cameraman Dick Bush was also a considerable asset, promoting the value of dark foregrounds in the framing of shots. “Dick Bush was wonderful,” Haggard enthuses. “He was newly from the BBC. I’d seen his work on Jonathan Miller’s Alice and he was really interesting and fresh. For example, the scene in the church where the kids are running around, obviously up to no good, and we eventually end up on Angel - that was all managed in one shot and it was Dick’s idea that it could be done like that. It’s nouvelle vague, really just put the camera on your shoulder, stage it and don’t worry about it, do the sound later and go. It’s commonplace now but at the time it was very new and exciting.”

BAD ANGEL


The first scene to be filmed was Barry Andrews’ discovery of the skull in the eld, but Linda Hayden’s rst day of lming, actually her rst take, proved to be more dramatic. Out tted as ‘bad’ Angel, she had to run barefoot down a steep chalk cliff and she stumbled, cutting herself on the rocks. It was not a serious injury but because she had not had a tetanus jab, she was immediately rushed to hospital and remembers limping into A&E with her powdered face and huge hairy eyebrows, and scaring the life out of other patients!


The production adhered closely to Wynne-Simmons’s script, with a couple of notable deviations - the rst of which was the extremely unpleasant rape and murder of young Cathy Vespers (a brave and affecting performance by Wendy Padbury), which the writer had originally intended should take place off-camera.

“I was rather more squeamish than Piers about the rape and murder of Cathy,” he said. “The script stopped short of the actual event. I have to admit that Piers’s nal version is one of the most powerful scenes in the lm, although difficult to watch. How it got past the strict censorship of the day, I shall never know.”


For his part, Haggard was rightly pleased with the scene, which was entirely improvised during a single day’s filming, including the chant that Margaret (Michele Dotrice) mutters as the rape is being committed: “Hail Behemoth, spirit of the dark. Take thou my blood, my esh, my skin and walk...” - which is the rst time the demon is given a name (it was not named in the script).

The director is also proud of the sequence leading up to the rape, when Cathy is accosted by two boys who take her to the ruined chapel where she is subsequently attacked.

“When the red-haired boy and the other chap ensnare Cathy with the hawthorn on the bushes, the mixture of the beauty of the setting but also the implication that something terrible is going to happen. I’m very fond of that.”

Wynne-Simmons remembers a bizarre detail about the lming of the rape scene: “Wendy Padbury and her rapist had to do a wild-track. The only available microphone had already been rigged up high, so they both had to stand on boxes to do it, screaming and groaning at a microphone in the sky.”

The second deviation from the script was the lm’s climax. The original had a dark conclusion, in which all the villagers who had joined the cult were gunned down by the Judge and his men.

“There had been evils in the old religions, but the forces of the law and the Christian Church could be just as violent, often more so,” Wynne-Simmons noted. “It did not seem right that everyone should just smile at what the Judge had done. The producers thought differently. They preferred a clear cut victory of the forces of good over the forces of evil.


Blood on Satan's Claw:

Spooky People

“Fortunately, at the very last moment,Piers found a freeze- frame in the rushes, which saved the situation. By the way that Patrick Wymark’s eye looked through the re, it was possible to believe that he himself now represented the powers of evil. This was the perfect compromise, and the ending is nicely ambiguous.”

Piers Haggard says, “We were in quite a pickle over what to do about the end because it was patently obvious to me and the producers there was no chance of us doing what was in the script. “I think I managed to convince them that the freeze-frame on the sword (the Judge uses a sword-and-crucix combo to despatch the demon, which was a compromise agreed between Haggard, Wynne-Simmons and the producers after they originally wanted him to wade into the furore wielding a cross) and the devil’s eye in the fames would be an effective way to finish.



The Blood On Satan's Claw:

Doctor's Bloody Experiment

“It would be ambiguous, but none of us had any brilliant solutions. Putting the village to the sword would have been a week’s shooting on that budget and eight minutes of lm or something. We didn’t have the resources.” That final shot could also be considered something of a bookend to one of the first shots in the lm: the close-up of a very real-looking eye inside the devil’s skull.

In combination, the two shots suggest a narrative and visual circularity - that in the cold madness of their individual gazes, the devil and the Judge have become one.

Perhaps, framed as it is between the frozen ames of the bon re, the image of the Judge’s eye effectively represents a man whose actions have condemned him to Hell.

DEALING WITH THE CENSOR


With filming complete, Piers Haggard took The Blood on Satan’s Claw to the cutting rooms and met with a concerned John Trevelyan, from the British Board of Film Censors.


''THE BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW''

ALSO KNOW AS ''SATAN'S SKIN''

“John came to discuss the rape scene because of his problem with the combination of sex and violence.


LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT


HARD TO RESIST OF A DEVILISH WOMAN

We made a few trims to it - a couple of little cuts - shortening a shot by a couple of feet to make it less explicit. While we were editing the rape, I wrote him a letter in which I exclaimed with heartfelt sincerity how I had absolutely no intention to corrupt the audience. Of course it was a director’s half-truth! Whereupon he was very nice and we did a deal about it.”

In an interview published several years ago, Malcolm Heyworth recalled Trevelyan also expressing concern about the scene in the church, when a naked Angel Blake attempts to seduce the Reverend Fallowfield. “It wasn’t the fact that she was nude, it was the fact that she was in a church with a priest.”


It was composer Marc Wilkinson who made the last invaluable contribution to the lm, providing a chilling and memorable score. He and Haggard had met at the National Theatre, where Wilkinson was Director of Music and composer-in-residence. A couple of years before, he had written the music for Lindsay Anderson’s If...


“It would be much less of a lm without Marc’s score,” Haggard concedes. Wilkinson recalls that the compositions for Satan’s Claw came easily and that neither Haggard nor Wynne Simmons knew anything about the music until it was recorded. It took him about a month to complete the score and two of its more unusual components are Wilkinson’s use of the Ondes Martenot and the cimbalom, which lend the music many of its more sinister hues.


He also employed the infamous ‘Devil’s Interval’—a descending chromatic scale which, centuries ago, was considered so diabolic that the Church tried to suppress it. In fact, the Latin expression for the tritone is ‘Diabolus in Musica’.

MIXED RECEPTION


The Blood on Satan’s Claw was trade shown on January 12, 1971, under the title of Satan’s Skin and the critics were impressed. One of Linda Hayden’s favorite reviews, published in The New York Times, included the sentiment, “Linda Hayden as Angel Blake... could have easily unhinged Salem...”

Unfortunately, the lm did not do well at the box of ce although it has always enjoyed a cult-following which Hayden still ends lovely, but staggering. She related an experience in the Pinewood canteen, a few years after the lm’s release, when comic actor Michael Bentine came up to her and said, “You’re Angel Blake, aren’t you? You’re my favorite character in a horror movie!” Haggard suspects that changing the title from Satan’s Skin to The Blood on Satan’s Claw - a decision made by AIP’s Sam Arkoff for its American release, which Tony Tenser adopted when the lm opened in the UK - may be one of the reasons that it didn’t do so well:

“There’s a slight problem because that title falls between stools. Satan’s Claw is an exploitation title, which is not appropriate to a lm that is slightly more poetic, more of an art-horror. It suffered from that and I have struggled to get respect for the lm amongst my colleagues.”


Arguably, the careers of Robert Wynne-Simmons and Piers Haggard have never reached the heights promised by The Blood on Satan’s Claw, although both have been successful in their own right. Haggard went on to direct the acclaimed serial Pennies from Heaven for the BBC, and a reboot of Quatermass starring Sir John Mills, but he admits that he was “never very entrepreneurial.” He also regrets that Wynne-Simmons’s creativity has, perhaps, “never quite come into focus. He has kind of an excess and tends to go off on wild tangents in his imagination, but he never stops being creative.”

Wynne-Simmons, for his part, remains a prolific writer, composer and director. His 1982 lm The Outcasts, a vastly underrated movie which combines witchcraft and folk-myth with the otherworldly beauty of the Irish countryside, is a neglected masterpiece and deserves to be available for a new audience to discover.


He and Haggard have worked together since, on the abandoned horror The Puppet Master, that was brie y a vehicle for Vincent Price, and on an ecological thriller which its director adds teasingly “is dormant, but not necessarily dead.”

As for Ms Hayden, she has enjoyed a fascinatingly varied career, from making Something to Hide with Peter Finch and Shelley Winters, playing a corpse in Nightwatch who terrorized Elizabeth Taylor (“I was lying in the morgue in Tooting Bec hospital and when the sheet rolled back, I remember seeing these arresting violet eyes”), to the real-life nightmare of The House on Straw Hill, aka Exposé, when she discovered that the producers had, without her knowledge, added more explicit footage to her nude scenes which amounted not so much to a body-doubling as a body-hijacking.


“They sold it as a skin- ick,” she says, “which was never originally intended and for a long time I didn’t have anything to do with it. They completely screwed it up.” She also auditioned for the role that Susan George eventually played in Straw Dogs.

To me, The Blood on Satan’s Claw remains the perfect example of how an extraordinary and unexpected conjunction of talent can, like the best witches’ brew, create a timeless and wonderful magic. No matter how many times I watch it, the l'm never fails to cast its spell... even if it always leaves me, like one of my favorite lines from the film, “Afeared.. very afeared...”


Alternative classic horror movies and tv series for you

on Amazon



#EnglishEnglisch #MovieCritic

© 2019 - 2020 DAILY STRANGE ALL RIGHTS RESERVED ™