Trading in the bleakness and pessimism of Michael Reeves’ soul-despairing WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968) in favor for a more traditional narrative that finds the forces of Good and Evil locking swords’n’horns in the 17th century English countryside, BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW is sure to be a treat to all manner of genre fans, offering delectable analysis for the discerning critic while simultaneously indulging in unadulterated matinee thrills to please the adventurous at heart. A farmer’s plowing-up of a grotesque skeleton leads to the local adolescents falling under the dark influence of Hell itself as they form a coven of worshipers intent on conjuring a demon from the pit, bit by fleshy bit. The film is certainly not shy when it comes to promoting the patriarchal rule that was typical of Hammer Studios, though I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a knowing quality about the script and performance put in by Patrick Wymark. As the Judge, Wymark struts about the scene in plumed hat and cape with an air of self-importance, even going so far as telling the worrisome villagers and squire to wait until the evil has fully grown so that it may be properly fought, like he wouldn’t be satisfied battling a mere pagan if it meant getting the chance to take out Lucifer incarnate. Wouldn’t be sporting enough. Wymark keeps going on about a master plan that he has to smite out the evil, but in the end it just boils down to him skewering the demon with a great, phallic sword and hoisting him onto his own ritual bonfire, peering through the flames with set jaw and steely eyes like he’s goddamn Solomon Kane. Wymark’s act, not to mention that of Linda Hayden’s as the devious, bushy-browed seductress, always seems to just be straddling the line of self-awareness, but they’re balanced out by the earthy cinematography by Dick Bush (stop it) and the bristling sense of danger that the scenes of violence are played out with under Piers Haggard’s direction. Also featured is a memorable and evocative musical score by Marc Wilkinson that’ll have you whistling to the devil’s tune for days.

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