Film Reviews:

Satan's Skin

aka Blood on Satan's Claw/aka Satan's Claw

(Piers Haggard, UK, 1971)

In 17th Century Britain a farmer boy unearths the remains of a demon, which a group of peasant children from the local village begin worshipping. As the mysterious force gains more power over them, they start sacrificing other children to it. Gradually, a diabolical plot emerges whereby Satan himself infects a part of each victim's body which is then cut off by his followers who intend to piece together a whole - a human shell for Satan to inhabit - since without a physical 'host' prepared for him he cannot enter our world.

This richly atmospheric British film is a genuinely spooky affair. Having only seen it for the first time in recent years, I was taken back to my childhood when I would insist on staying up late at night, alone to watch the Friday night horror film on BBC2, only to retire to bed full of terror! Satan's Skin has all the right ingredients. A classy, Witchfinder General-style that builds on brief moments of horror, combined with subtle, tension-building scenes produces a totally menacing backdrop with erotic undertones. The cast is chock-a-block with British character actors and young faces now familiar from countless television roles. Much of the story is told from the children's point of view and even their games in the woods take on a sinister air. The narrative starts to peter out slightly towards the end but the attention to detail - genuine period dialogue and great sets and location work - mean that Satan's Skin is always convincing and looks totally realistic.

In its original form, under the title Satan's Skin the film runs for 100 minutes, the American release title of Blood On Satan's Claw runs for a shorter 93 minutes and is the most common print in circulation today. Satan's Claw was the title briefly used when the film was later re-issued in the UK. The uncovering of the demon skull in the field, visions of hairy hands rising through the floorboards, a funeral scene, a claw glimpsed on a girl's hand, shadowy rooms, Satanic rituals of fire and dancing, crucifixes on walls and naked virgins - everything a good, creepy horror tale could need is included. Not just thrown together either, all these parts seamlessly join to form an overlooked (strangely dismissed?) quality horror film.

Rob Dyer