How do you like your horror? Creepy and atmospheric? Psychological and dark? Melodramatic and bold? Normally, that’d be a mutually exclusive menu, but Blood On Satan’s Claw – an audio version of the original 1971 movie adapted by Mark Morris for Bafflegab Productions – has a bit of something for everyone.
Its setting is firmly in melodrama territory; it’s a tale of 17th century rural god-fearing folk, of mysterious animal carcasses discovered in fields, of signs and wonders, of malign forces taking over small country villages, and of the square-on fight between good (as manifested by the powers of authority, the church and the squire) and evil (as manifested by a demon and its servants).
So, all you Hammer, Wicker Man, Dennis Wheatley fans – big tick for you there.
Morris’ version, though, brings a fair punch of modern psychological horror to bear, giving you two horrors for the price of one. Yes, yes, devils, Satanic rituals, plenty of blood and gore on the one hand, but Morris’ version plays with teenage sexuality, innocence and experience in his fight for the soul of the village, along with peer pressure, the unrestrained ambition of the young, and the potential effect of grief as a portal to ‘dark forces’. So all those who like their horror complex and psychological, with a touch of the transgressive dripping through its core – you’re covered too.
In particular, precocious female sexuality is shown in a believable 17th century context throughout, as a pathway to destruction of all that is pure and good. When we’re introduced to Angel Blake, the prime mover of dark events in the village, played to fantastic effect by the enormously effective Rebecca Ryan, it’s by report, and we’re told she’s had ‘little virtue’ since the death of her mother. Not long after that, we hear her and her best friend Margaret (Kelly Wenham) teasing innocent Mark Vespers (Thomas Turgoose) with teasing touching games, and the denigration of his innocence has a power that speaks to us on a modern playground, social media level as well as its 17th century equivalent.
And that’s the twist in Blood On Satan’s Claw – all the forms of tradition and authority are challenged by a diabolic uprising which wins over the open-minded, the young, the bored, the experimental: the youngsters. You can listen to it as a social commentary if you like: the new order of the young overturning everything safe and stuffy in the older generation, and the steps the authorities are forced to take to maintain any semblance of order and ‘save’ their village from the devil.
Blood On Satan’s Claw is most successful in its atmosphere of strung-out tension – from early in the story, you’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the tease of terror to materialise into the actual, outright horror of action. It doesn’t under-deliver either – there are a handful of sequences which are truly gruesome or sickening to contemplate. But it’s in the self-assurance of ‘devilish’ characters, chiefly Angel and Margaret, that this tension is stoked – their knowledge of ‘worldly’ things, the easy scorn they pour on the strictures of 17th century society and establishment, make them very compelling devils to follow.
Mark Morris’ Blood On Satan’s Claw delivers more than two hours of a world going mad from the bottom up, in a production that bristles with fear both ancient and modern, and keeps you constantly on edge, waiting for the next episode of ghastly, demonic bullying to come and put you through the wringer. The cast – which includes League of Gentlemen’s Mark Gatiss and Reece Shearsmith somewhat perversely embodying the powers-that-be – are well-fitted to their roles, and squeeze every last drop of unnerving conflict out of Morris’ script.
The outright horror genre is a new departure for Bafflegab, and it’s come out strong with a play that makes you sit up, take notice, and look a little less easygoing for days after you’ve heard it. Blood On Satan’s Claw will scare you on whichever level you want. But best listen by daylight – you never know what’s moving in the dark.
Blood On Satan’s Claw is available now to download from Audible.