People always say that the lord moves in mysterious ways, but people rarely mention that the same thing can be said of Satan. Well, that used to be the case anyway. Nowadays, he'll show up and start shooting fireballs at people for no reason, or maybe possess a young girl and have her say frank and direct things like "hello, my name is Satan, and I've taken over this girl's body! Hey priest, why don't you give me a poke? Don't be so uptight!". Back in the day though, Satan could be pretty subtle. Evocative even.
Take, for example, Blood on Satan's Claw (1971), which takes place in a small farming community in 17th century England. A satanic influence infiltrates this village in mysterious ways. For example, a farmer finds a strange skull buried in a field, a woman gets an unknown plague and then disappears from bed, a young man thinks he sees a satanic figure hiding in a crawlspace, a young woman goes insane and appears to grow a claw hand, people grow small patches of fur on their bodies, etc. This is much creepier than just having a red dude with horns and a pitchfork show up and poke people in the tookus. These events could signal disease or madness, or maybe a collective desire by a group to evoke the spirit of Satan, or maybe a combination of stuff. The point is, these occurrences inspires the deepest, darkest recesses of the imagination, and creates an atmosphere of impending doom.
There is a "judge" who is in charge of legally taking care of this kind of stuff, but he is pretty much the opposite of the more typical Witchfinder characters (like from Witchfinder General or Mark of the Devil), who are the real evil, using the slightest indiscretion that might be construed as "satanic" (like some local hussy doing a semi-dirty dance to a lascivious flute solo) to torture and kill anyone he wants within a 20 mile radius. Here, the judge initially isn't convinced that there is anything satanic afoot, and also spends some time away from the village when things really get demonic and shit. When he returns and realizes Satan is screwing up his town, he attempts to deal with the situation instead of throwing some half naked chick on a rack to get his rocks off. The point is, Satan is the real asshole here, and not the dude in the funny hat.
One of the most important things in a horror movie is atmosphere, and Blood on Satan's Claw has it in spades up the ass. There's the creepy ass score, the fantastic cinematography by the esteemed Dick Bush (knock it off, he's esteemed), employing off-kilter Welles-ian angles and a brownish autumnal palette, conveying a sense of lifelessness and decay (like dying leaves and shit yo). Then there's the previously mentioned mysterious developments, often couched in shadows and darkness, making them even creepier and more atmospheric.
The movie is also anchored by the awesomely hot and ironically monikered Angel, who, under Satan's influence, grows crazy eyebrows, tears her dress off in front of her teacher and cries rape when he won't boink her, and also resides over ritualized rape and human sacrifice (I'm not trying to give everything away, but I want to be clear about how much fun stuff is packed into the movie). She's played by Linda Hayden, best known as co-starring in Hammer's Taste the Blood of Dracula. I know most good Christian people would run and hide from a character like that, but I for one think a little spontaneity and danger in a relationship would probably be healthy for me.
P.S. Under the wire bitches! Review #11 in the 3rd Annual Lazy Baker Halloween Horror Countdown. That's it yo.
P.P.S. Happy Halloween! Watch this video: