Directed by Peter Graham Scott
Screenplay by John Elder (Anthony Hinds)
Based on Russell Thorndike’s Dr. Syn character
Music by Don Banks
Director Of Photography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Eric Boyd-Perkins
Cast: Peter Cushing (Parson Blyss/Captain Clegg), Yvonne Romain (Imogene), Patrick Allen (Captain Collier), Oliver Reed (Harry), Michael Ripper (Mipps), David Lodge (Bosun), Derek Francis (Squire), Jack MacGowran
What if Heaven was a place where you’ve got a stack of old movies starring, or made by, all your favorites — that you’ve never seen? Like maybe another couple Scott-Boetticher Westerns, a second George Lazenby Bond movie — or a Peter Cushing Hammer picture you somehow missed while here on Earth. Well, that last little slice of Heaven materialized here in Raleigh, North Carolina, over the weekend. I finally got around to checking out Night Creatures (1962, UK title Captain Clegg).
There’s an interesting bit of history to this one. Hammer Films planned to remake Dr. Syn (1937), which starred George Arliss as the mysterious smuggler Reverend Doctor Christopher Syn — based on the novels by Russell Thorndike.
But it turned out that Disney also had their eye on Dr. Syn, for their Wonderful World Of Disney TV show, and had acquired the rights to the novels themselves — versus Hammer’s remake rights to the old movie. Disney’s eventual three-part TV program starred Patrick McGoohan and William Sylvester. (In the mid-70s, it was re-cut and played US theaters as Dr. Syn, Alias The Scarecrow. I thought it was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen.)
Anyway, back to Hammer. To avoid any legal hassle from the Disney people, Hammer changed the character’s name to Captain Clegg and made a few other modifications. There’s still a scarecrow, there’s still plenty of brandy to be smuggled and taxes to be avoided. But we now get the creepy Marsh Phantoms. Stills of the Phantoms that turned up in my monster movie books and magazines had me wanting to see this movie to a ridiculous degree.
Somehow, it took me more than 40 years to catch up with Night Creatures. But it was worth the wait.
Turns out, it’s not really a horror movie at all, it’s a dark, moody pirate/adventure story. Hammer was pretty good at pirate movies. Their The Pirates Of Blood River, from the same year as Night Creatures and with some of the same cast, is a hoot — and they’d follow it with The Devil-Ship Pirates in 1964. Both star Christopher Lee.
I’m not gonna spoil things by giving you a synopsis. It’s too good a movie for me to screw it up for you.
Night Creatures is Peter Cushing’s movie all the way, in spite of some strong work from Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper (who’s got a bigger part than usual) and the lovely Yvonne Romain. Cushing gets to do plenty of action stuff, which he’s always very good at. It’s shame he’s known these days primarily for standing around and being mean in Star Wars (1977). Cushing is so versatile, and he really gets to show his range in this one, going back and forth from ruthless pirate to compassionate preacher numerous times over the course of the picture’s 82 minutes. Over the last year or so, I’ve developed a real love of Cushing. He’s a joy to watch.
Patrick Allen is appropriately hateful as the government man sent to track down the band of smugglers and clashing with the Marsh Phantoms along the way. The Phantoms’ scenes deliver the goods I’d be waiting decades for — though I’d love to have seen what Jack Asher, Hammer’s other DP, would’ve done with those scenes on the moors. His stylized color effects always knock me out. There isn’t a thing in this movie that isn’t cool.
I finally came across Night Creatures in the Hammer Horror 8-Film Collection Blu-Ray set from Universal. It looks great, as do all the other pictures. I saw Hammer’s Phantom Of The Opera (1962) on film repeatedly as a kid, and the spot-on transfer looks exactly as I remember it. Night Creatures gets my highest recommendation. It’s become a new favorite around my house.