If you go into the woods today, be careful of surreal, hallucinogenic nightmares and puppets.
Let’s bitch it out…
Synopsis:A trip to the woods takes a nasty turn when Tommy (Henry Regan) discovers a mysterious bear-headed demon called Mister Bones (Richard Mansfield) is stalking him. Could Mister Bones be responsible for his sister Grace (Victoria Falls)’s abduction over 15 years ago?
Richard Mansfield made his latest feature film for around 700 pounds (or $1000), which is a remarkable achievement for an independent film. The 1970s-set film has a very simple premise: curious adventurer Tommy sets out through the woods with a metal detector, a tape recorder and a video camera to see what he can find.
It quickly becomes evident (more quickly to us than to him) that something is not altogether right. Everywhere Tommy goes, he discovers artifacts from the past when he and his sister Grace used to play together. The fact that Grace disappeared under mysterious circumstances becomes a focal point of the film, as Tommy begins receiving phone calls from his young sister warning him about a stranger, possibly the same person with a wolf’s head that appears to be stalking him.
Blood on Satan’s Paw (sometimes referred to – quite unfortunately – as Scare Bear in North America) frequently evokes a creepy, surreal tone. The woods are mostly shot in bright light, lending Tommy’s adventure a dreamy feel; it’s not frightening per se, but it is unsettling. There’s undeniably something strange happening – hence the lollipops sticking out of the ground, or the tiny house producing smoke from its miniature chimney stack. There’s a constant unsettling notion that there is a menace on the edge of the frame, hinted at in an early nightmare involving marionettes, and later in the increasingly deranged original score provided by Cunning Folk.
The biggest problem is that Blood on Satan’s Paw doesn’t have enough plot to sustain its 70 minute runtime. The film is essentially a one man show, following Tommy as he wanders endlessly throughout the woods. No amount of childhood toys, erratic phone calls with Grace, or glimpses of Mister Bones can sustain what is essentially a walk in the woods. The scary sequences – the puppetry sequences inside the miniature house, the nightmares, the warped voices captured on the tape cassette – are very effective, but it is undeniably clear early on that the narrative is too threadbare (and the budget likely too tight) for more interesting events. The result is a lot of repetitive imagery.
The endless repetition makes it very difficult to identify the rising action; its not clear that the film is ramping up to its climax and then suddenly the film is over. The result: Blood on Satan’s Paw feels like a short that has been stretched out to feature length.
Despite this substantial problem, Mansfield’s direction and his visually experimental style keeps the film interesting. Close-ups of the spinning cassette tape, slowed down sequences captured solely by flashlight, footage from the camera Tommy is shooting with and desaturated hallucinogenic nightmares all help to give Blood on Satan’s Paw a distinct and memorable visual style. Plus: legit puppet work (Seriously, the puppetry is outstanding).
The Bottom Line: The surreal imagery and experimental nature Mansfield adopts makes me wish that someone would give him the money to make a film with more narrative meat on the bones. Blood on Satan’s Paw has flashes of brilliance, but it doesn’t do his talent justice.
For more info and to purchase tickets to Horror-on-Sea, click here.