In a small village in early 18th Century England, a farmer, Ralph, makes a gruesome find while plowing the field: the blade uncovers a skull. The skull is not human, but seems to be a mix of beast and man, maybe even demonic. For all its age and decomposition, it still has one eye intact and some fur clinging to it. Quite frightened by his discovery, Ralph flees the scene for help.
Ralph runs to the home of Isobele Banham. The judge (who remains nameless throughout the movie) is lodging there as he and Isobele are old friends and have somewhat of a history together. Ralph explains what he’s found and the judge sneers, thinking the young man is overreacting. He is sure the simple farmer has found animal remains, but to please Isobele (who is unsettled by the tale), he goes to see for himself. Once they arrive at the field, the skull is gone.
Back at Isobele’s place, her nephew, Peter, arrives with his fiancee, Rosalind. Isobele is not happy with her nephew’s choice of bride-to-be, she bemoans the fact that Peter’s betrothed is a mere farm girl. After making the girl cry over a game of cards, Aunt Isobele and the judge further belittle Rosalind by her (and Peter’s) decision for her to stay the night under the same roof as her intended husband (the fact that the two are to be married the next day matters not).
It’s finally agreed that Rosalind will sleep in the little used attic room. Peter plans to visit her later that night after his aunt and the judge have fallen to sleep. Before he can properly sneak into her room, where she’s been awake and waiting, Rosalind begins to scream bloody murder. The entire house rushes to see what the problem is and in the tumult Rosalind scratches Isobele, and the wounds soon consume her with sickness.
By all accounts, Rosalind has gone off her rocker and the judge arranges for her to be taken to a madhouse. Peter is heart broken, naturally, and becomes even more deeply disturbed when he glimpses his, now lunatic, fiancee’s hand and sees it has transformed into a beastly claw.
All of that is just the tip of the iceberg that is The Blood On Satan’s Claw. There are more killings, disappearances, weird rituals, and furry-clawed-hands popping from the darkness to do mischief. There’s even Devil’s Skin to single out those who the wicked one has touched and marked as his own.
Whatever poor Ralph accidentally dug up in the fields has woke after a long sleep and is ready to spill blood and take souls. Even in the old days people had to ask themselves, where are the kids and are they worshiping the Devil?
When it comes to cinematic folk horror there is a widely agreed upon unholy trinity of films that is considered the sub-genre’s bedrock: The Blood on Satan’s Claw, Witchfinder General, and The Wicker Man. They are all good films, although it took some time for The Wicker Man to grow on me. Of the three I like The Blood On Satan’s Claw the best, it exemplifies the sinful sheen of early ’70s British exploitation period pieces.