Ah, Hammer Studios, how you tease with your American titles of films. In between doing their Gothic portrayals of a Dracula and re-imaginings of Phantom of the Opera and other classic ghoulies, Hammer produced original chillers that were a bit harder to define. Such is the case with Night Creatures from 1962, also known as Captain Clegg.
Despite the Hammer banner, don’t be fooled by the sensational title that this is another creature feature. It is very much not. It is, however, a truly spirited tale of double identities, piracy and bootlegging that boasts Hammer’s typical flair for the melodramatic.
Peter Cushing, god love ’em, is Parson Blyss, the beloved religious leader in an English coastal town facing the French shores. As such, the village is rumored to be a source of bootlegging, secreting casks of brandy and wine across the channel. Cushing is all charm as the benevolent Parson, eager to remind his flock of their good fortune in the face of government oppression.
The town is disrupted by the arrival of Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) and his crew of soldiers, sailing under the Crown’s flag. It doesn’t take long for Collier to suspect something is afoot, especially when tales of the spectral Marsh Men reach him and his crew. Reportedly, these demonic figures stalk the nearby coastal marshes, literally scaring people to death. Collier is surprised to find that the village is also home to the final resting place of Captain Clegg, a notorious pirate Collier pursued for many years. Parson Blyss playfully asks after Collier’s obsession with Clegg, and spins a tale of Clegg’s final fate at the end of hangman’s noose.
Being a Hammer film, we also have a buxom lass, Imogene (Yvonne Romain), who, with local rascal Harry (Oliver Reed!), is engaged in a secret love. It’s when the film turns to Collier’s pursuit of suspected bootleggers in the town, though, that film’s greatest assets are fully on display. In particular, a scene where Collier hunts for the Marsh Men while criminal goings-on occur under his nose is wonderfully fun.
Yes, there are Marsh Men – basically Day-Glo skeletons painted atop horses and their riders – but you’d have to be a real stump not to figure out that these “monsters” are no monsters at all. In fact, the film’s greatest weakness is that the mysteries that propel the plot are easily guessed by the end of the first act. But that’s not what makes Night Creatures so worthwhile, really.
Night Creatures rests on the solid shoulders of Peter Cushing, and he is clearly having fun in the role, especially in his scenes with Allen’s Captain Collier. When he is called to action, he still shows his Van Helsing-esque bravado, but it’s his quiet smile and the glimmer in his eyes that make this one of the more memorable turns for Cushing. Aside from his luminosity in the part of Blyss, the supporting cast is solid, especially Reed as the swarthy Harry, who appears to delight in his opportunity to play a rogue, as well.
Add to these fine performances the lush color and scenery Hammer is known for, paired with a wonderfully playful musical score from Don Banks, and you have an odd, but thoroughly enjoyable page from Hammer’s rich history. Don’t be fooled by the title into thinking it’s one of their monstrous outings and allow yourself to enjoy this tale of piracy and redemption on it’s own merits. You’ll be very glad you did.
One question, though… when Blyss swings on that chandelier, where does he think he was going to go?