There’s The Blood On Satan’s Claw.
While Witchfinder General evokes the despair of a left-wing progressive who has had his faith in humanity shattered, The Blood On Satan’s Claw is a much more conservative take on the matter of witchcraft in pre-industrial pastoral England.
In a nutshell, TBOSC assumes that the influence of Satan is a real (and very physical!) thing, and reflecting establishment fears in the post-Manson era, assumes that the kids are all wrong. Sexuality, defiance and rebellion, growing your hair out (well, in small patches or one’s eyebrows at least) — these are all sure signs of the guiding hand of el Diablo, and it takes the hard-line Christian activism of a Brave Old White Man to keep these youngsters in tow.
The thing is, though, that the film takes a very wide stance, and in the most Larry Craig-ish way. While condemning the Younger Generation for its excesses, the film simultaneously leers lasciviously at the same things it pretends to protest. It solidifies its conflicted take on things from the beginning: a wholesome young bride-to-be falls under the influence of Satan’s power and must be carted away to an asylum. As she is taken from her bedroom, she gazes lustily at her betrothed, who responds in kind after his fear and dread subside a bit. We’re supposed to fear her, but her appearance wind up being titillating instead…until she puts her hand on the banister, and we see that it’s a (rather poorly-designed) claw. Instead of the surprise shock it’s meant to be, it winds up just being a bit confusing (or confused).
This attitude is carried over throughout the film. Lead actress Linda Hayden as chief villainess Angel Blake is consistently and insistently portrayed as being almost impossibly sexy, despite her being cast in the Charles Manson role (as leader of the proto-hippie cult of witches). Again, we’re supposed to fear her (and her attractiveness does give credence to the notion that evil can manifest itself in the most appealing of guises), but the film also seems to revel in the exploitative aspects of having this lovely young lass shuck her garment in a church in order to seduce Anthony Ainley, or in images of a buxom redhead dancing nakedly with a knife. You’re left with an uneasy feeling of what you’re viewing not quite knowing what it wants to be, and as a result exhibiting a kind of hypocrisy almost completely by accident; kind of like walking in on a priest reading a Playboy.
However, I feel that this inner conflict (along with the film’s almost fractured narrative; this was originally planned as a 3-part portmanteau film along the lines of Amicus’ anthologies, but wound up shoehorning everything into one storyline) works in the film’s favor, creating an unresolved tension that gives it a strong sense of momentum. Without this aspect, the film could become bogged down and lethargic, but the unease created by the conflict keeps the audience on its toes even if they don’t recognize the movie’s inherent contradictions. It’s a marvel that it pulls this off, but the movie works like gangbusters.
The movie is available uncut and letterboxed from Anchor Bay UK (and the version packaged in their Tigon Collection set is graced with a bonus commentary by The League of Gentlemen’s Reece Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson alongside the extras offered on the standalone), and the transfer is head-and-shoulders above the murky VHS transfers I’ve seen in the past, but it is unfortunately non-anamorphic (and zooming in on the image either degrades the image more than I’d like, or there is some awfully distracting edge enhancement going on here that becomes more apparent in the zoom). This deserves a stateside R1 release, and needs desperately to be 16:9 enhanced. Until then, this’ll have to do.