Tuesday, February 16, 2016
CAPTAIN CLEGG aka NIGHT CREATURES
Peter Graham Scott, 1962
Starring: Peter Cushing, Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain, Patrick Allen, Michael Ripper
A group of sailors, led by the arrogant Captain Collier, invade a small English town on the coast in order to investigate reports of smuggling activity. They are also met with strange rumors of phantoms who ride through the marshes at night, killing stragglers and terrifying the locals. A local leader, the domineering Reverend Blyss, has unusual control over the townspeople and every seems to have something to hide. Will Collier and his companions be able to find the smugglers? And will they survive a run in with the phantom riders?
Also known as Night Creatures to American audiences -- a title I actually prefer, despite how nonsensical it is -- Captain Clegg is a blend of classic Hammer horror and traditional pirate/smuggler fare. And I do love pirate films, even landlocked ones. Captain Clegg is based loosely on the Doctor Syn novels by Russell Thorndike, about a reverend who happens to be a smuggler, scholar, swashbuckler, and an all around hero to his community.
This is not a subtle film eager to withhold its mysteries until the final act. It's almost immediately apparent that most of the townsfolk are in on the smuggling scheme, which is headed by the good reverend, played with aplomb by Cushing. He is in top form as both the droll minister and the coldly calculating Clegg, and though Cushing doesn't slap anyone in this film, he sure as shit swings from a chandelier. While Hammer made a few pirate/adventure films -- such as The Stranglers of Bombay, The Sword of Sherwood Forest, and The Secret of Blood Island -- this is my absolute favorite and, thanks to the presence of the effectively creepy "phantoms," it's likely to be the only one of interest to horror fans.
It stars Hammer regular Yvonne Romain, a beauty so buxom she gives Valerie Leon (Blood from the the Mummy's Tomb) a run for her money. Romain appeared in Corridors of Blood with Karloff and Christopher Lee, as well as Circus of Horrors and Devil Doll. Captain Clegg is her second pairing with Oliver Reed, the first being Curse of the Werewolf, where she plays his unfortunate mother. A young, sober Oliver Reed is great here as the romantic lead, though he could stand to have a little more screen time -- and perhaps sometime to descend into full scale hysteria. The bulk of the film's running time goes to Patrick Allen's (Dial M for Murder) Captain Collier, who bears an upsetting resemblance to Captain Crunch. Most of this is due to his enormous chin and awful hat. If you pay attention to any of the sailors, they have the most slapdash, dreadful hats that appear to have come from a party supply store and not a props department.
I assume most of the budget went to the awesome skeleton make up, which is both impressive and scary, if somewhat underused. There are also a few creepy shots of a scarecrow, who later plays an important role in the plot. Overall there is less swashbuckling than I would have liked and this plays out like more of a costume drama, though it is still plenty entertaining. Captain Clegg does manage to keep a few secrets till the end, allowing for a few unexpected twists and turns. It is also frequently funny, occasionally descending into slapstick.
In addition to the cheap costumes, there are a few flaws. The script has a particularly ham-fisted way of making the smugglers likable and pigeonholing the sailors as cruel brutes. Nearly all of the smugglers are depicted as smart and funny, and are probably best symbolized by beloved Hammer regular Michael Ripper's character, the coffin maker and Clegg's right hand smuggler. He's kind, honest, and absolutely loyal, giving the sailors a run for their money at every turn with almost Scooby Doo levels of ridiculousness.
This unfortunately neglected film is entertaining and definitely worth watching thanks to its likable cast. Fortunately it is finally available on DVD in part of the two-disc Hammer Horror Series collection, which unfortunately has double-sided discs, but includes Brides of Dracula, Curse of the Werewolf, Phantom of the Opera, Kiss of the Vampire, and Evil of the Frankenstein. Despite a lack of extras, the print looks good and sounds great. The Night Creatures title was originally meant for a failed Hammer adaptation of Matheson's amazing novel I Am Legend, where it actually would have made sense. Couldn't they have called the film The Marsh Phantoms? Or at least something topical?