The Unexpected Infection Narrative of THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW, Sigourney Weaver, GODZILLA Showa Era on Vinyl, and More!
In this Issue:
- Horror History: The Unexpected Infection Narrative of The Blood on Satan’s Claw
- Image of the Week: Weekly Inspo
- Tiny Bites – This Week’s Best Horror Headlines
- Things We Love: 🎶 Whoooaa, There Goes My Budget 🎶
- Hey, That’s Us! – Shudder in the News
The Unexpected Infection Narrative of The Blood on Satan’s Claw
By Andrew Todd
In the opening minutes of Piers Haggard’s 1971 folk-horror classic The Blood On Satan’s Claw, the titular claw along with a misshapen skull and other bodily pieces is unearthed by farmer Ralph (Barry Andrews) while tilling his soil. He’s repulsed, deeming it a “fiend” to the town Judge (Patrick Wymark), but he’s not the only character to find pieces of the decomposing creature. When a local group of teenage schoolkids happen upon it, their reaction is different. To them, the claw is a novelty to be passed around and pored over. But since it is, after all, Satan’s claw, their behaviour inevitably causes evil to spread. What’s particularly interesting about this is its virality: in many ways, Satan’s Claw is as much an infection movie as it is a supernatural one.
For some, the “infection” presents psychologically. Led by truant teen Angel Blake (a fiercely charismatic Linda Hayden), a group of schoolkids retreat to a ruined church in the woods to cavort, plot, and orchestrate the beast’s return. The cult forms spontaneously, and while no proselytising is seen onscreen, its follower count increases from moment to moment, expanding from a small group of teenagers to incorporating adults including some very dodgy old crones. It’s even more unsettling to see these newcomers suddenly appear versus being actively converted; one gets the sense that evil has seeped into the groundwater.
For those that aren’t sucked into Angel’s burgeoning Satanic cult, like poor Cathy Vespers (Wendy Padbury, the innocent mirror to Hayden’s corrupting cult leader), this viral Satanic force manifests as a more traditional, physical infection. Cathy and several others develop aches, pains, and, most notably, patches of thick, furred skin on their bodies. They’re turned, essentially, into prey for the other group, which murders them and flays the “devil’s skin” from their bodies to build and breathe life into a kind of Satanic homunculus.
A neat little ecosystem of evil.
This is all amplified by the film’s early 18th-century English countryside setting. Heavily textured with fur, hessian, leather, wood, and mud, it’s the perfect place for this evil to capture its audience. While the stubbornly rational Judge initially rejects black magic as an outdated concept, the townsfolk (and their Reverend) are prone to becoming wrapped up in obsession and mythologising. That said, the whole situation is eerily reminiscent of a 1987 incident in Goiânia, Brazil, in which a capsule of radioactive cesium was stolen from a decommissioned hospital. It was then passed around unknowingly as a novelty, ultimately causing radiation sickness and four deaths.
Maybe it’s simply human nature to grant power to things that seem beyond our comprehension.
As with its folk-horror brethren, The Blood On Satan’s Claw (or Satan’s Skin, per its alternate title) would be just as unsettling without its supernatural elements. Satan may not be real but, as with any theistic religion, his power depends on us believing that he is — and that we are willing to kill for him. The film’s rampant spread of Satanic influence, whether physical, psychological, or supernatural, is merely an illustration of the rapid and memetic way culture and conflict can develop. In our own time, we’ve seen plenty of societal ills arise from similarly infectious beliefs. We just don’t harvest people’s rashes to build a fleshy vessel for Satan.
It’s an idea, though.
Andrew Todd is a writer, filmmaker, and theatre practitioner from New Zealand. He co-directed Ghost Shark 2: Urban Jaws and is now writing sci-fi romance Cookie Cutter and horror anti-romance So Lonely I Could Die. You can find out more about his work on his website.
IMAGE OF THE WEEK
Enter 2021 with the same energy as Sigourney Weaver testing out a flamethrower for Alien in 1978.
A SEAT AT THE TABLE, AMITYVILLE, AND MORE
This piece looked at the state of international horror and the unexpectedly positive impact the pandemic had on the genre.
Daily Dead discussed the significance of political discourse throughout the history of horror cinema.
This fascinating article looks at Promising Young Woman’s successful depiction of survivor’s guilt and its subsequent trauma. (WARNING: It’s spoilerific.)
Certified Forgotten explores the 2014 Vietnamese horror film Vengeful Heart and the rise of the region’s genre cinema.
Flickering Myth went through some of the year’s most notable horror movies and why they stood out among other genres.
With the recent news of a new Exorcist sequel, Nerdist weighs out what’s to gain from revisiting the iconic source material.
Vox looked back at the 2014 New Zealand horror gem Housebound and discussed how it’s the perfect flick to watch in quarantine.
Psychology Today expands on the various studies that suggest horror fans cope better in a crisis.
Gasper Noé (Climax) helped make a short film showcasing Saint Laurent’s Summer 2021 collection, and it’s all about Italian horror vibes.
This essay makes a case in defence of the Amityville sequels that focused on the lore of cursed objects: a lamp, a clock, and a mirror.
THINGS WE LOVE
🎶 Whoooaa, There Goes My Budget 🎶
Leave it to Waxwork Records to start the year off with the full force of Godzilla’s atomic breath in the form of this prodigious vinyl collection spanning the entirety of the Showa era!
HEY, THAT’S US! – SHUDDER IN THE NEWS
The 10 Coolest, Creepiest and Downright Best Horror Movie Posters of 2020 (Color Out of Space)
Best Horror Movies of 2020: The Invisible Man, Bad Hair and More (Blood Quantum, Host, La Llorona, and more)