The Blood on Satan’s Claw: unearthing the locations for the witchy British folk horror classic

On Halloween, we return to one of British cinema’s spookiest locations: the ruined church featured in that foundation stone of folk horror, The Blood on Satan’s Claw.

31 October 2023

By Adam Scovell

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

 “Come now, rise now, from the forest, from the furrows, from the fields, and live!”

So goes one of the ritualistic chants heard in Piers Haggard’s terrifying horror of haunted landscapes The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971). Produced for Tigon Pictures, Haggard’s film was one of the defining moments of countercultural British folk horror. In fact, it is one of the few films of its time actively made as a folk horror before the term really gained prominence. “I was trying to make a folk horror I suppose,” Haggard once told horror magazine Fangoria.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw is a chilling and atmospheric film set in 17th-century rural England. When ploughman Ralph Gower (Barry Andrews) unearths the grotesque fragment of a devilish creature, a series of nightmarish events unfold in the nearby village. As inexplicable occurrences plague the community, the village’s youth begin to indulge in increasingly sinister behaviour, led by the malevolent Angel Blake (Linda Hayden).

Superstition grips the villagers, while a visiting judge (Patrick Wymark) investigates the ungodly happenings. Unravelling a dark secret, he discovers that the local youth have formed a cult devoted to Satan, led by Angel. With demonic forces taking hold, and the demon slowly rebuilding his body, the villagers find themselves entangled in a desperate battle between good and evil.

In this startling and deeply unnerving folk tale, the landscape itself seems to gain an alarming sentience. Because of this, the film’s sense of place and its use of locations are essential components. Working with cinematographer Dick Bush, Haggard imbued a number of real rural locations with foreboding eeriness, some of which arguably still lingers in some of the older, lonelier spots they used.

Here are five locations from The Blood on Satan’s Claw as they stand today.

Reverend Fallowfield’s Sunday school

Churches of various sorts dot Haggard’s film – appropriately for this effective tale of Christianity battling Satanism. One of the first churches we see in the film is the one used as the Sunday school where the local youth are taught by Reverend Fallowfield (Anthony Ainley). The location is St James the Less in Stubbings, on the Henley Road in Berkshire, though the undergrowth restricts recreating the shot from exactly the same angle.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

Fields and furrows

Landscape plays an important role in Haggard’s film. Fields are filmed in unusual ways, often from very low angles, to give the pervasive sense of the soil watching the characters. Trying to find the actual fields from the film is tricky as there are few distinguishing features, but they are situated around the area of Bix Bottom in Oxfordshire, close to some of the film’s more recognisable features.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

This spooky shot of a field seen from the edge of a wood is also likely taken further up the valley where the fields are at their steepest.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

Mistress Banham’s manor

The range of old houses and farm buildings at the centre of the narrative are also in the Bix Bottom area. Miss Banham’s manor was Pages Farm, which is now a lavish property with a great variety of modern extensions, making exact recreations of the many shots difficult.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

The farm is private and surrounded by fences guarded by dogs that make the judge’s hunting hounds seem tame in comparison. This shot, however, shows the original building used throughout the film as well as the various extensions added behind it over the years.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

One easier location to spot is the road leading up to Pages Farm. Though no longer a dirt track used by carriages, the shape of the road and its surrounding field and woods is unmistakable.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

The local churchyard

The other standing church seen in the film is St Mary the Virgin in Hurley, Berkshire. We first see the church during the funeral of Mark (Robin Davies). 

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

The funeral scene allows various views of the church as the scene is extended to show Angel Blake’s subsequent accusation against Reverend Fallowfield unfolding.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

The church’s busy stone entrance can be seen when Angel’s father (Godfrey James) tells Squire Middleton (James Hayter) of Angel’s false claims against the reverend.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

Before this, Haggard shows a wider view of the church’s graveyard as Fallowfield tries to speak to the squire ahead of Mr Blake.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

Later in the film, the church becomes the meeting point for the judge and the villagers before they set off to stop the final ritual. This shot shows Hurley’s high street heading towards the church.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

The ruined church

Of all of the churches seen in the film, the centre-piece location is the ruin of St James’ Old Church in Bix Bottom.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

Dating back to the 12th century, the ruin has a genuinely creepy atmosphere, its unmistakable age making it a perfect haven for the cultish teenagers and their evil rituals.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

As can be seen from these shots, the location has somewhat changed since the filming. In the film, the ruin blends into the local forest, with its edge being mostly woodland. These trees have since been cut down so that the ruin now stands alone in a grassy field. It was likely done to preserve the structure, as its frontage almost collapsed a few years back.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

Eagle-eyed viewers may recognise the location from another spooky folk horror film: The Witches (1966) by Cyril Frankel. Five years before The Blood on Satan’s Claw, Frankel’s film saw some suspicious locals use the ruin for their own esoteric practices, showing just how ripe the location is as an occult setting.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

The film concludes within these ruined grounds with the judge wielding his sword against the evil demon before putting it to the flame. The greenery may have disappeared, but the isolated vista and the ever-present cawing of crows make it one of the spookiest real locations a film fan can visit today.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

References

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