Blu-ray Review: THE BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW (1971)

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Review: The Blood On Satan's Claw / Cert: 18 / Director: Piers Haggard / Screenplay: Robert Wynne-Simmons, Piers Haggard / Starring: Patrick Wymark, Linda Hayden, Barry Andrews, Michele Dotrice / Release Date: Out Now

This British horror gem has gone from late night TV staple to revered classic, heralded by fans such as Mark Gatiss, and this hi-def release should be a welcome addition to any collection.

Set in rural England in the 17th Century, the story has farmhand Ralph (Andrews) discovering the remains of a creature in his freshly ploughed field. The local Judge (Wymark, at the top of his game) is sceptical of Ralph's claims that it was a fiend rather than human or animal, but soon changes his mind when his nephew's fiancée goes mad in the middle of the night and surfaces the next day with a hairy claw instead of a hand. The nephew also hacks his own hand off, convinced it is a claw. The local children, meanwhile are being led astray by Angel Blake (Hayden) after she finds a talon in the field. A series of rituals, sacrifices and some nasty hairy skin rashes lead the Judge to take action.

Although coming shortly after Witchfinder General (1968), which was also produced by Tony Tenser's Tigon company (and also had Wymark in a small role), The Blood On Satan's Claw couldn't be more different tonally. Here, the threat is real, and the role of Judge, normally a persecutor, is instead that of hero and saviour. The level-headed Ralph clearly understands the ridiculousness of the standard witch test when he saves Margaret (Dotrice, the future wife of Edward Woodward) after she is thrown in a river by the locals. Despite its period setting, there's a contemporary edge to the issues the film explores. Were it not for the costumes and Olde Worlde speech, this could easily be seen as a modern tale of the fears of puberty (sudden appearance of a patch of hair on our little angels, especially the girls). Fans of classic Doctor Who may want to look away when the adorable Wendy Padbury (second Doctor companion Zoe) is brutally raped and killed during one of the sacrifices. Looking better than it has ever looked on home video, the film is arguably more unsettling than the Hammer films of the period, largely due to its straight tone and natural, rural settings. The impact of the violence and nudity has not lessened with age either.  

The Blu-ray release does the film proud, not only in the picture/sound quality departments, but also in porting over the special features from the previous DVD releases, giving another good reason for a double dip.  

Extras: 2012 Interview with Director Piers Haggard / Audio Commentary with Piers Haggard, Linda Hayden and Robert Wynne-Simmons / Audio Commentary with Mark Gatiss, Jeremy Dyson and Reece Sheersmith / Touching the Devil - The Making Of The Blood on Satan's Claw/ Linda Hayden: An Angel for Satan / Theatrical Trailer

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