Captain Clegg (Night Creatures) Reviews
In fact, the whole cast is pretty good here. There's a young Oliver Reed who gives an uncharacteristically low-key performance, and Yvonne Romain is certainly nice to look at on screen. Patrick Allen is a little one-dimensional here, but there isn't much to his character. Michael Ripper does a terrific job as Mr. Mipps, coffin maker and conspirator. Peter Cushing truly stands out, though, and if you've enjoyed his work in other Hammer films you must track this one down!
The Phantoms of Romney Marsh, when they do show up toward the end of the film, probably take more away from the movie than they add. They're silly looking and obviously not ghosts; it's hard to imagine that a platoon of soldiers wouldn't have simply hacked them to bits. They probably could have been left on the cutting room floor without affecting the overall film much, and I suspect that they were only put in so that this film could be sold as a horror movie and not just as a costume drama about pirates and smugglers.
A good story and good performances make this stand out among Hammer's Gothic Grindhouse works. Surely deserves to be remembered and re-seen. I don't normally watch this sort of flick; I thought I was going to see horror that was actually about some sort of vampires or other "night creatures." I still wound up enjoying it a great deal!
"Night Creatures" unfolds with a prologue set in the year 1776 aboard a sailing ship in the tropics. A stocky mulatto seaman (Milton Reid of "The Spy Who Loved Me") is punished for "willfully and maliciously" attacking the wife of the ship's captain, Captain Clegg, and he is sentenced to have both ears slit and his tongue cut out. Furthermore, the Mulatto is abandoned on the nearest uninhabited shore and left tied to a cross with neither food and water and left to die. Mind you, Scott doesn't provide a reversal shot during the sentencing scene so we never know what Captain Clegg looks like, but the Mulatto remembers him as he pleads for mercy. The scene shifts to a church back in England in the year 1792. A narrator provides the following exposition: "The Romney Marshes,--flat and desolate,--was the land of a proud and independent people. Their shores faced the shores of France--and many was the shipload of wine and brandy smuggled across the sea in defiance of the King's revenue men." The narrator pauses and continues, "Many legends have come from this corner of England--but none so widely believed or widely feared,--as the legend of the Marsh Phantoms--who rode the land on dark, misty nights--and struck fear into the hearts of all who crossed their paths . . ."
The Royal Navy dispatches Captain Howard Collier (Patrick Allen of "The Wild Geese") to search for French wine that has been smuggled into England without a tax levied on it. Indeed, somebody is violating the trade embargo against Revolutionary France and Collier and his able-bodied seamen march into a remote British town and turn it upside down. Dr. Blyss (Peter Cushing of "Horror of Dracula") is the village vicar of Dymchurch, a tiny English coastal village, and he welcomes Collier and his men with open arms. Meantime, the people in the village who earn extra income from smuggling set about hiding what is left of what they have. They have created ingenious passageways between various buildings where they have stashed away the untaxed alcohol. The British couldn't have arrived at a worse time because Blyss and company have a rendezvous. Collier, who has been pursuing Clegg on the high seas for years, has brought the Mulatto with him. Collier rescued the mute and plans to use him as a blood hound to sniff out untaxed stores of wine. Blyss and the villagers have their hands full trying to distract Captain Collier. At one point, a frightened villager (Jack MacGowran of "The Exorcist") distracts them while Blyss and company sell their contraband liquor. Eventually, the suspicious Collier threatens to kill the frightened villager if he doesn't take them to the smugglers. Reluctantly, the frightened villagers complies, but Blyss' men have staked out scarecrows as sentinels. Actually, some of the smugglers masquerade as scarecrows to provide an early warning system for their comrades. Meantime, one of the conspirators, an innkeeper Mr. Rash (Martin Benson of "Goldfinger") cracks up and stabs a sailor to death after Blyss has warned him repeatedly not to resort to violence.
The film opens promising enough on a pirate ship where a crew member is sentenced to die on island for threatening the captains wife. It cuts later to a coastal community where some lawmen show up to see if the community is smuggling alcohol as well to investigate the death of an undercover soldier that supposedly died by some "marsh phantoms", which just look like men dressed up in skeleton costumes with dark lights shining upon them.
Though described as "swashbuckling" in many descriptions, this is actually a land locked "pirate" film with hardly any "horror". Despite this film being featured in a DVD set entitled "The Hammer Horror Series" and it's deceptive original poster art, I wouldn't even consider this a horror film. The plot is overly talky with very little action making this more far more of a melodrama. The directing of the film is also far less stylized than other films in the Hammer catalog, no doubt due to director Peter Graham Scott mostly known as a TV director. Though sluggish the film does have a nice twist at the end and the star power of Peter Cushing and Oliver Reed kept me watching until the credits rolled. It was also nice to see a Hammer film for once that looked like it was filmed on many live locations as opposed to sets like many of their other features.
Fans must not go into this not expecting a "horror" film. It is a melodrama. I was fooled and came out really disappointed with the results. Die hard Hammer fans will find something to like but others shouldn't work too hard to hunt this rare title down.
Cushing is terrific in portraying the dual nature of his character. Sermonizing in the early scenes, and then back-flipping out of his chair to fight the deaf-mute giant that he was seen to have condemned to mutilation and slow death in the opening scene. He seems to be pulling it off largely undoubled, as well.
Oliver Reed is quite suave as a romantic lead, this being the year before his bar fight scarification. I still have a lot of affection for the Disney version of this, with Patrick McGoohan. But the supporting cast and economy of this make it stand out.
This is actaully really entertaining, Peter Cushing is superb, quite possibly one of his best roles. The plot unfolds nicely and its all done with so much joy its easy to be swept along with.
A underated gem in the Hammer cannon.