Wednesday, May 21, 2008

An Angel for Satan

THE BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW (1971)
EXPOSE (1975)

A charming publicity photograph of Linda Hayden for THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW

A graduate of the Aida Foster stage school, Linda Hayden's first role was in BABY LOVE (1968), playing an amoral 15-year old who seduces a man (who may well be her father), his wife and his son. This was a stepping stone to her later roles, as the actress was frequently cast in horror productions - TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1969), VAMPIRA (1973), MADHOUSE (1974) - or as window dressing for British 1970s softcore (often with her then partner Robin Askwith). Her career path belittled her obvious talent: stunningly attractive, and able to absorb the screen through looks and observation, Hayden often mixed a naughty demeanour with a perverse sex appeal - with her eyebrows Satan-sent.

Tigon British was a relatively short-lived company that distinguished itself by making a handful of classics in amongst quite a bit of rubbish. Piers Haggard’s THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW is one of Tigon’s best films; an eerie gothic which was intended as a successor - in spirit if not in story - to the company’s crowning achievement WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968). It is an intelligent study of repression set towards the end of the 17th Century, where the children of a small rural community start to play sinister games: their pouting leader Angel Blake (Hayden) is in league with a half-glimpsed cowled Behemoth, while the others donate their body parts to make the creature complete.

…and Hayden as she appears as Angel Blake, ringleader
of a group of Devil-worshipping children.

Hayden is a revelation as Angel; her false accusation of sexual assault against Reverend Fallowfield (Anthony Ainley) holds a powerful charge, and the moment where Blake stabs Cathy Vespers (Wendy Padbury) to death and languorously smells and licks the blade is preceded by a tour de force unrivalled in British horror: Vespers is lured to a ruined chapel and raped as the crowd of mutilated children (and a toothless old couple) look on in undisguised excitement, as the offscreen demon rasps “Give me my skinn-n-n-n.” Not only does THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW provide a blueprint for the lethal potential of teenagers, children and babies that would wreck havoc in 1970s cinema, it portrays a turn-of-the-decade disillusionment with the stench of the Manson Murders and child-strangler Mary Bell.

James Kenelm Clarke’s EXPOSE builds a claustrophobic mood of sweaty summer expectancy in its tale of blood, breasts and rubber gloves. Here, Hayden plays a manipulative secretary - Linda - for Paul Martin (Udo Kier), a best-selling author of pulp fiction who can only work in complete silence and seclusion in his rented country cottage. Under pressure to meet the deadline for his second novel Straw Summer, Martin is tormented by nightmarish delusions; a control freak who is only able to make love to his girlfriend Suzanne (Fiona Richmond) while wearing surgical gloves, it transpires that his last book Deadly Silence was actually written by Linda’s husband Simon, who was driven to suicide when Paul tricked him out of the manuscript.

“You look really, really good”: Linda Hayden
seduces Fiona Richmond in EXPOSE.

EXPOSE was the only British entry in the Department of Public Prosecutions’ list of banned movies during the video nasties furore of the early 1980s, and it is hard to see why the film deserved such a fate. Linda’s sex game with two gun-toting Essex boys could be interpreted as a rape scene in which the victim starts to enjoy herself - mirroring the controversy of Susan George in Sam Peckinpah’s STRAW DOGS (1971) - but this hardly warrants the branding of a video nasty. Of the performances, Kier is sufficiently deranged and unlikeable as the paranoid Paul, and Richmond is amicable in her first sizeable film role, yet it is Hayden who excels, charting Linda’s progress from seducer to psychopath with consummate skill. Unfortunately, Hayden has subsequently disowned the film, claiming that material was inserted after she finished work on it somehow lowered the tone. Given the conspicuous absence of body doubles in her masturbation scenes and seduction of Richmond, Hayden’s attitude is a perplexing one.