Folk horror of the early ‘70s sits in a special place in film history. Sitting at the crossroads between classic Hammer and the golden age of the slasher film, they are a unique entity which does not fit into the definitions of popular genres. In the case of Blood on Satan’s Claw, while it failed financially these unique qualities earned it a very devoted cult audience. Two of who just happened to be Mark Gatiss and Mark Morris. This adaptation couldn’t have been in safer hands.
The story is a simple one of the devil coming to the town of Hexbridge in the 1700s. The discovery of a grotesque relic begins corrupting the youth, and before long strange mutilations and hysteria break out among the townsfolk.
The story is a rare example of diving headlong into the action done right. It spends little time establishing the status quo prior to its disruption, but instead gives a general impression of what it might have been prior to the supernatural horrors which stalk the land. While in many cases this could have been abrupt, the audio drama uses a strong cast and a building sense of dread to hook the listener very early on.
The story carefully balances a sense of desolation with moments of violence as supernatural elements slowly creep into the tale. While gradual at first, it cleverly works to show only so much of what’s going on, unveiling it as the devil begins to move more openly. The excellent sound design and voice acting is really what helps to convey the story’s atmospheric strength, and the script knows when let them take the heavy lifting when it comes to drama. Between this and the excellent sound effects, it manages to outshine its source material in moments of true terror.
The worst you can truly say about Blood on Satan’s Claw is that it is often predictable. You know how certain scenes will ultimately play out, and the mysteries at the film’s core have little in the way of closure. However, that ironically works in its favour. Listening to the town rapidly sliding into hell makes it all the more engaging thanks to its excellent presentation. Meanwhile, the lack of true answers adds a much needed Eldritch quality in an age where Satan is a sadly overused plot device.
Blood on Satan’s Claw is successful more for its thematic elements and execution over deep meanings within the story. While a few minor story elements might yield frustration, these are easily overridden by the intense atmosphere, excellent dialogue and fantastic performances. It’s easily one of the best adaptations Audible Studios have made to date, and a must-buy for any fan of quintessentially English horror.
BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW / AUTHOR: MARK MORRIS (ADAPTER), PIERS HAGGARD, ROBERT WYNNE-SIMMONS / STARRING: MARK GATISS, REECE SHEARSMITH, THOMAS TURGOOSE, ALICE LOWE, RALPH INESON, REBECCA RYAN / PUBLISHER: AUDIBLE STUDIOS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW