Written by: Anthony Hinds
Directed by: Peter Graham Scott
Starring: Peter Cushing, Yvonne Romain, Patrick Allen
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"Who knows the truth about the curse of Captain Clegg?"
1962's Night Creatures is a Hammer film that I'd all but forgotten about until recently. My interest was actually revived by Rob Zombie of all people, as his upcoming Halloween sequel will feature a band known as "Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures." The name sounded familiar, and it brought me to a film that I'd forgotten about even owning, as I bought it as part of Universal's Hammer Franchise Collection years ago and gave it a look without much thought. I remembered it as being a bit of a lackluster aside for Hammer, despite featuring genre stalwart Peter Cushing in the lead role. Has the passage of a few years been kind to this somewhat forgotten Hammer?
Set in the late 18th century, Night Creatures begins with a mutinous crewman being marooned on a dessert island but the unseen Captain Clegg. Clearly, this is a pirate you don't cross without suffering severe consequences. The film then flashes ahead some time, and we find ourselves in a small English coastal village that houses Clegg's corpse six feet under. Furthermore, the town is supposedly haunted by ghosts known as "The Marsh Phantoms." The Royal Crown apparently thinks some rather shady dealings are going down, so they send Captain Collier and his crew to investigate. The village priest and doctor, Blyss, is very obliging to Collier and his crew, but we soon find out that Blyss is running a smuggling racket. And, in true Hammer form, that might not be the only secret hidden by the town.
First of all, though Night Creatures isn't a part of Hammer's big franchises, you certainly can't tell it from the production values. Hammer seemed to rarely have an "off film," in this respect, as every film they made looked like a high-budget feature, no matter how "B-movie" the material was. Acting isn't a problem here (a given whenever Cushing is involved), nor is the film's look, as it just sports that lush, Technicolor-drenched appearance that can only be defined as "Hammer." Furthermore, the special effects that bring the title characters to life is very interesting; modern audiences might scoff at it, but it's got such a ghastly "funhouse" flavor that I can't help but smile at.
Unfortunately, the script and storyline sort of bog this one down. Without delving into heavy spoilers, I've always been left disappointed that the film sets up to be a classic ghost story before descending into a mash-up of melodrama, revenge, and conspiracy that really loses the focus on horror. Perhaps this was Hammer's intention, but the bait and switch leaves me feeling hollow in the end because it feels like a perfectly good atmospheric setting and spooky phantoms are a bit wasted. Simply put, there's just a bit too much going on: you have the aforementioned marooned crewman turning back up for revenge, a bit of a love triangle involving a servant named Imogene (played by Brit horror babe Yvonne Romain), and Collier's investigation. Of these, the latter should be the most interesting, but the film's "big twist" is painfully obvious early on, so the film just doesn't feel like it's going anywhere.
Thus, as a horror film, it sort of falls flat because the horrifying sequences are few and far between. As a sort of adventure and historical melodrama, it works well enough, as it really positions viewers in an interesting place by making the smugglers the most charming characters. The ringleader here is of course Cushing's Blyss, whose speech at the climax is quite rousing and well-played. From a horror perspective, the "monster" here is the marooned mulatto who returns for revenge. Clegg cut his tongue out as punishment, which means he can't articulate the secrets he knows; instead, he takes a liking to killing off folks. Unfortunately, the ultra-cool Marsh Phantoms barely show up much, and it just factors into the overall feeling of disappointment this one leaves with me still. It's a shame because the opening ten minutes contains one of the most fantastically atmospheric examples of gothic horror out there.
Interestingly, this Hammer really was forgotten for years until Universal released it on DVD. The film is technically an adaptation of the Dr. Syn novels by Russell Thorndike; however, Disney purchased the rights to the Syn character (which is why Cushing is known as Captain Clegg here), which apparently complicated the home video release for Hammer's film for some years. Released in England under the title Captain Clegg, the film was rarely seen for 4 decades. The aforementioned Hammer Franchise Collection from Universal is the only way to check it out. The collection is comprised of two 2-sided discs, with Night Creatures resting on B-side of disc two. Featuring an excellent anamorphic transfer and adequate mono soundtrack, I can't imagine the film receiving a better release unless it ever comes to Blu-ray. There are no extras to speak of, but I suppose we should just be glad to have the opportunity to see it. Ultimately, my revisit of this one just confirmed my feelings from a few years back: it's a good idea, but it's all a bit bogged down. Still, it's certainly worth a look from any Hammer fan. Rent it!
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