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October 21, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #42 - Night Creatures (aka, Captain Clegg)

More Oliver Reed!
Seriously, dude seems to be everywhere I look as I travel through Hammer's flicks that interest me.  This week I set up for a revisit of the 1962 pirate-themed horror mystery, Night Creatures, which features Peter Cushing, Reed, and (Reed's voluptuous Curse of the Werewolf co-star) Yvonne Romain.  I had fond memories of this one from its debut on DVD earlier this decade, but it had slipped deep into the vague "Oh yeah, I loved that once!" corners of my mind over the years.  In fact, I remembered Reed having a much smaller part in the film...but alas, he's near everywhere.

The film's opening scene takes us to sea in the year 1776, as the evil Captain Clegg rules the high seas and reigns over all who dare to cross him.  This includes an intimidating bald fellow, who has his tongue cut out and his ear's severed because he may have cavorted with the Captain's lady friend.  The traitor is left tied to a post on a deserted shore, with a message that those who betray Captain Clegg shall perish.  The film then jumps ahead to 1792, where we see the grave of Captain Clegg, who himself was hanged for his crimes back in 1776.
The home of Clegg's grave is the Romney Marshes, which are told to be on the shore of England that faces France.  This location lends itself to smuggling, and some scrolling details tell us that the smuggling of wine and brandy were common at the time.  These words also warn us of the infamous "Marsh Phantoms" that haunted the countryside at this time, and the following sequence reveals these horrifying skeleton-like creatures on horseback to the viewer.  This is all set up for the majority of the film, which focuses on the villagers and the investigation into the Phantom legend by Captain Collier (played by Patrick Allen).

(Note from The Mike: Wondering how the film got its title?  Originally, Hammer had planned to adapt Richard Matheson's I am Legend under the title Night Creatures, and was making this film under the title Captain Clegg.  When the censors told them there's no way they'd back their vision of Matheson's story - and they'd already promised Universal a film called Night Creatures - this one adopted that title.)
 Going forward, the film plays more like a classic mystery film than a horror film.  Allen's protruding jaw and stern disposition make for a fine skeptic, and as he inspects the town and its figurehead - Reverend Blyss, played by Cushing - the plot reveals itself pretty easily.  There is a surprise twist in the finale, but the actions of Cushing's Blyss and his followers (including Reed as a young man in love with a beautiful girl) are pretty obvious at times.  That doesn't detract from the film, because the production is handled beautifully by director Peter Graham Scott and writer Anthony Hinds.  (Making this one of the few Hammers I've come across this month with no Sangster or Fisher!)

(Note from the Mike: One more random fact - Romain played Reed's mother the previous year in The Curse of the Werewolf.  And now they're smooching on screen.  Ewwww.)
The appearance of the phantoms is probably the most memorable - and haunting - part of the film.  While the effects are a little dated - certain camera angles seem to see straight through the costumes - the visions of these glow-in-the-dark skeletons riding at terrified villagers can be quite chilling.  There are also a couple of wonderful scenes where a scarecrow becomes part of the action.  I've always been a bit terrified of scarecrows on film, even if I can recognize the eyes inside them.
Most of all, Night Creatures is just a fun little film.  This won't win the hearts of hardcore horror fans and might be a little too Scooby Doo for everyone's tastes, but Cushing and Reed are in top form, Romain looks great, and there are a few creepy images that stick with you.  The finale is fittingly pulled from the Universal Horror template, and the mixture of old-school horror and old-school detective trappings won me over.  It might make a better Sunday afternoon matinee with the kids than it would a midnight movie, but I think there's enough there to earn Night Creatures a viewing from any fan of classic horror.

(Note from The Mike: Last time, but I have to point out that the village doctor is, apparently, the original Dr. Pepper!  Listen to the trailer, you'll hear his name!)

(Note from The Mike: OK, one more almost totally unrelated note!  Remember that band that was the best thing about Rob Zombie's Halloween II?  (Yeah, not saying much.)  But they're named after this film, too!  It's Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures!)

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