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Captain Clegg- aka “Night Creatures” (1962)


Dir: Peter Graham Scott

1776 - Infamous Pirate Captain Clegg signs the punishment order for one of his crew and the unfortunate man is left to rot on a deserted island…with his tongue cut out.

England a few years later in the village of Dimchurch, located near the Romney Marshes, and Clegg now lies in the local graveyard.
War with France looms, times are hard and smuggling is rife. And smuggling is what the people of Dimchurch do best when the sun goes down.

The not so law abiding people of Dimchurch include Coffin maker Jeremiah Mipps (‘Hammer’ stalwart Michael Ripper in a larger than normal role), Squire Cobtree (Derek Francis, sometime “Carry-On” actor) and his Son Harry (Oliver Reed) and Mr. Rash the Innkeeper (Martin Benson, “The Omen”) who is also scheming Guardian to the beautiful orphan Imogene (Yvonne Romain, “Circus of Horrors”, “Curse of the Werewolf”).
And overseeing the Dimchurch flock is the mild mannered Reverend Blyss (Peter Cushing) who is far from mild mannered when leading his gang of smugglers!
But there are legends of other things that haunt the marshes at night, ‘The Marsh Phantoms’, skeletal figures on skeletal horses who scare to death all who cross their path.

Into this cauldron of superstition and smuggling come The King’s ‘Revenue Men’ led by Capt. Collier (Patrick Allen, “Night of the Big Heat“) who are there to put a stop to the criminal activities once and for all….

 

Roughly based on Russell Thorndike’s novel “Dr. Syn” (already filmed in 1937 and later done for a third time in 1964 by ‘Disney’ in a more family friendly version with a far more ‘acceptable’ lead character) ‘Hammer’ changed the name of said ‘Dr Syn’ to Rev. Blyss and added a few of it’s own macabre touches.
The result is a mostly successful movie that sadly lapsed into obscurity until the recent ‘Universal’ DVD release (as “Night Creatures” in a 'Hammer' box set) put matters right.

The wonderfully vivid and gruesome pre-credit sequence of the grunting, blood caked man tied up and left to die (the brutishly effective Milton Reid, “Blood on Satan’s Claw”) leads into an equally impressive and striking night time chase through the marshes as Old Tom (Sydney Bromley, one of the tramps in “An American Werewolf in London”) flees from the glowing, skeletal, ‘Marsh Phantoms’.
All in all these sequences give “Captain Clegg” one of the best starts of any ‘Hammer’ movie and it was perhaps too much to hope the film would keep up this level of effectiveness.

After this opening the film slows to introduce the many characters and there often strained relationships with each other.
The story does go flat (and the film flag) when covering a sub-plot concerning the romance between Imogene and Harry (a strangely underused Reed), but one of the many welcome twists in the tale (screenplay by ‘Hammer’ regular Anthony Hinds - using his John Elder pseudonym) at least gives these characters some later pay-off and relevance.
We could have done with a bit more of smugglers smuggling and not arguing, but ultimately the film succeeds in the end because of the many excellent parts that make up the whole.

Some truly wonderful sets, costumes and props (as well as some excellent location shooting) make it one of ‘Hammer’s’ most lush productions and it certainly defies the ever present ‘Hammer’ low budgets. The (sadly rare) use of the marshes as well as the green English fields and meadows add a welcome space and reality to the unfolding events.

The ‘Phantoms’ are a wonderfully fun and effective sight (despite a dubious visual effect of them riding from a distance where they almost become see-through) and add a nice jolt of high theatre and a dose of the macabre to the proceedings. The glowing costumes (and the disguised horses) deliver some of the most striking images in the ‘Hammer’ universe, and their nocturnal appearences are edited to create a suitably nightmarish chaos.

Some wonderfully theatrical secret passages, warning signals (including one poor guy stuck in a scarecrow on watchout) and hidey holes for the illicit booze make for entertaining moments as the smugglers (who seem to be the whole town!) evade the ‘Revenue Men’.

The basically old fashioned tale and style is enlivened by a few bit’s of ‘Hammer’ violence and grizzle that include a knife thrust into a man’s chest and then slowly withdrawn, a close-up of a corpse’s terrified face, the already mentioned bloodied, gurgling man with his ears slashed and his tongue cut out and a bloody speared body. There is nothing horrific or really horrible here but these little touches help to spice up the proceedings.

The other big plus is the cast. Cushing handles the change from soft spoken and godly Rev. Blyss to ruthless smuggler brilliantly and throws himself into the action (though he is rather badly doubled for a very energetic fight) with great aplomb. And when Blyss the smuggler decrees “There’s no need to think! I think for all of you”, you definitely know he means it!

As you have read there’s also a good support for the excellent Cushing to play off.
Patrick Allen (who appeared in a few good films in his time, but is still probably best known in the UK for his long running ‘Barret’ house builder adverts!) is wonderfully upright, uptight and stoic as the driven Collier and it’s very welcome to see prolific British comedy player David Lodge in a rare serious role as Collier’s tough Navy Bos'un.

The always welcome Michael Ripper handles his important role brilliantly and shows how he is far more than just a one or two scene support player.

Martin Benson is suitably sly and mean and bounces off Cushing wonderfully when their two characters butt heads.
As said Oliver Reed is underused here but most certainly shows that he has star potential and has a handsomely brooding presence.

So a good cast mixes with some great visuals, excellent production design, locations footage and some effective set-pieces to make a worthy part of ‘Hammer’s legacy. And if it’s perhaps not as outright exciting as it could have been then “Captain Clegg” still remains a must see for fans of Cushing, ‘Hammer’ itself and British films in general.