Day of Wrath (Carl Dreyer, 1943)

Day of Wrath
Made during the second world war by a director who had to flee Nazi-occupied Sweden shortly after making it, this film is claimed to have subtle anti-Nazi themes, though they were perhaps too subtle for me to get; to me, it’s just a good film.

It opens as a healing woman, Herlofs Marte (Anna Svierkier), is forced to flee her house to escape the mob who have arrived to burn her as a witch. She alights on the house of the pastor, Absalon Pederss√łn (Thorkild Roose) to ask his young wife, Anne (Lisbeth Movin) to hide her. Anne is Absolon’s second wife, and is much younger than him. We learn very early on that Herlofs Marte is indeed a witch, as was Anne’s mother, though this fact has been kept from Anne. Anne’s mother was not tried as a witch as Absolon conspired to keep her secret, in return for Anne as his bride. Herlofs Marte is discovered and put on trial, threatening to reveal Anne’s secret if Absolon does not save her.

Absolon’s mother hates Anne (it’s not clear at this point whether she knows of Anne’s secret or just sees Anne as flighty and unworthy of her respected husband) and when Absolon’s son, Martin (Preben Lerdorff Rye) arrives, she is horrified to see Martin and Anne forming a friendship that seems to her to be dangerous and unhealthy. And, when Anne discovers the truth about her heritage, her attitude to Absolon changes dramatically.

This film looks beautiful, shot in a way that makes the monochrome look full of life and shade. It also takes a nuanced view of both the plight of the witches and the fears of the community in which they live. My partner doubted whether Herlofs Marte and Anne were indeed witches, on the bases that witchcraft and Satan aren’t real. On this basis, the Exorcist or the Omen wouldn’t be about the devil either, but I don’t think that argument holds up, correct as the rational basis of it undoubtedly is. I think whether or not you consider them witches is open to question – but everyone in the film seems to take this as evident, including the witches themselves.


The Blood on Satan’s Claw (Piers Haggard, 1971)

Blood on Satan's Claw
A very interesting oddity, indeed, this one.

Set in a 17th Century village, it opens with farm labourer Ralph Gower (Barry Andrews) discovering a strange skeleton whilst ploughing. Fearing it to be demonic, he reports his discovery to his squire who, reluctantly, goes to the site only to find no bones present. Dismissing Ralph’s concerns as those of a primitive ignoramus, the squire takes no further notice. Soon after, the squire’s nephew Peter (Simon Williams) visits with his intended bride. Tragedy follows and it soon transpires that a coven is growing in power, led by the young Angel Blake (Linda Hayden), and the local priest is powerless to prevent it.

The worsening situation comes to the attention of a judge (Patrick Wymark) who starts to make plans to intervene but, in the village, things are getting desperate.

This was a British Film made during the period of decline of British horror movies, though this is made by Tigon rather than Hammer studios. There are plenty of dodgy dialogue, plotting and acting moments to indicate this might not have been the most expensively mounted film of the period. There is the (admittedly appropriate to the subject) nubile nudity you’d expect from a horror of this time. Some of the special effects are risible, and some of the hairstyles too. And yet…

There is a serious attempt to remain true to the period that is really admirable. I’m sure that historians, or enthusiasts of the period, could tear it apart but, to me, this looked surprisingly consistent in its representation of a particular time and place in English history. And there is both a seriousness in the consequences of the horror to the villagers and a consistancy in the beliefs of the people of that time and the way the horror unfolds that helps drive that suspension of disbelief. I was frequently a little scared, and never bored.