Though they’re best known today for their Gothic horror films, Hammer Film Productions dabbled in a number of different genres. Some of the genres that Hammer produced films in included war films, science fiction, crime films, psychological thrillers (especially after the success of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960) and even comedies; however, one of the studio’s best genres outside of horror was the adventure film, of which the Gothic swashbuckler Night Creatures (AKA Captain Clegg) was among their best. Universal previously released the movie as part of an 8-film Hammer Horror Film Collection on both DVD and Blu-ray, but Shout Factory – through their Scream Factory sub label – has given the movie a Collector’s Edition release.
The Production: 4/5
“The Romney Marshes – flat and desolate – was the land of a proud and independent people. Their shores faced the shores of France – and was the shipload of wine and brandy smuggled across the sea in defiance of the King’s Revenue men. Many legends have come from this corner of England – but none so widely believed or widely feared – as the legend of the Marsh Phantoms – who rode the land on dark misty nights – and struck fear into the hearts of all who crossed their paths…” – final title card.
In 1792, the coastal village of Dymchurch is dealing with not only the Marsh Phantoms in the surrounding countryside, but also the arrival of Royal Navy Captain Collier (Patrick Allen), who’s there to investigate the claims of smuggling in the village. The local parson, Dr. Blyss (Peter Cushing), is cordial but not very helpful to Collier and his band of sailors; in truth, the parson is really Captain Nathaniel Clegg, supposedly dead after being captured and hanged by the Navy. However, circumstances beyond Clegg’s control threaten the carefully managed facade of the town and may just bring a final end to Clegg’s exploits once and for all!
Loosely based off of the Doctor Syn novels by Russell Thorndike – and previously filmed with George Arliss in 1937 in addition to being portrayed by Patrick McGoohan in a three-part TV adaptation by Walt Disney a year after this movie’s release – Night Creatures is a fun little swashbuckler that bears the company’s signature style. First of all, the film is wonderfully shot by Arthur Grant, who helps to sell the illusion of the Romney Marshes despite being filmed on the Bray Studios backlot. Also, the presence of production designer Bernard Robinson, art director Don Mingaye (another Hammer regular with Robinson), special effects supervisor Les Bowie and composer Don Banks (his first score for the studio), further help to sell the mood of eeriness with a little bit of playfulness as well. Finally, under the direction of Peter Graham Scott, the plot – adapted by Anthony Hinds, with additional dialogue contributed by Barbara S. Harper, and changed slightly from the 1937 adaptation and also to avoid legal entanglements with Disney – breezes along like the wind across the Romney Marshes with solid performances from the cast and crew. All in all, Night Creatures is an effective blend of horror and swashbuckler elements to create a fun little adventure that’s quietly become one of Hammer Films’ best efforts of the 1960’s.
Made during a time when he wanted to break free of typecasting in the horror genre, Peter Cushing has one of his best performances for Hammer as Captain Clegg, masquerading as the Reverend Dr. Blyss; he would consider this to be one of his favorite roles and even tried – to no avail – to get a Doctor Syn film adaptation made a decade after this film. Hammer regulars Oliver Reed and Michael Ripper have some of the film’s more notable supporting performances as the son of the village squire and the coffin maker, respectively; Reed got the chance to play a sympathetic part here while Ripper likely has his best and most substantial part out of the 35 films he made for the studio. Yvonne Romain – whose exotic looks beautified many a British horror film in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, including Hammer’s own The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) – brings the glamour as the barmaid Imogene while Patrick Allen brings an air of the hero who steely facade softens as Captain Collier, determined to get to the bottom of the strange happenings in Dymchurch. Filling out the cast here are Martin Benson as the traitorous Rash, Derek Francis as the village squire, David Lodge as the Navy bosun, Daphne Anderson as Rash’s wife, Jack MacGowran in a scene stealing appearance as the “frightened” man, Milton Reid as the mulatto sailor with a score to settle with Clegg, an uncredited Kate O’Mara – later to return to Hammer Horror with The Vampire Lovers (1970) – as one of the girls at the inn and Sydney Bromley as the man frightened to death by the Marsh Phantoms at the beginning of the film.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio (despite the press release for this Blu-ray release stating a 2:00:1 aspect ratio), taken from a brand new HD transfer from a 2K scan of the interpositive. Color palette and fine details are faithfully represented – preserving Arthur Grant’s exceptional camerawork – and the overall image maintains a film like sheen with minimal cases of issues like scratches, dirt, tears or vertical lines present. This release likely represents the best the movie will ever look on home video and easily surpasses previous DVD and Blu-ray releases from Universal.
The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue tracks, sound mix and the full-blooded music score by Don Banks are all given faithful, strong and clear presentations with minimal cases of distortion, crackling, popping or hissing present here. Again, this is likely the best the film will ever sound on home video and another improvement over previous Universal DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film.
Special Features: 3.5/5
Commentary with film historian Bruce G. Hallenbeck – Newly recorded for this release, Hallenbeck shares details on the film’s production as well as the legal stumbling block that threw up some challenges during pre-production.
Pulp Friction: The Cinematic Captain Clegg (22:07) – Author and film historian Kim Newman talks about the legacy of Doctor Syn – the character created by Russell Thorndike – and the subsequent film adaptations in this new featurette.
The Hammer Must Fall: Peter Cushing’s Changing Directions (28:09) – Film historian and author Jonathan Rigby talks about Peter Cushing’s time and attempt to distance himself from the horror genre in the early 1960’s following his newfound success – as evidenced by this film – in this new featurette.
Brian with Bowie (7:56) – Oscar winning special effects artist Brian Johnson talks about his time working as an assistant to Les Bowie on this film in the brand new interview.
The Making of Captain Clegg (32:02) – This legacy featurette from 2014 – hosted by Wayne Kinsey and narrated by John Carson – looks at the making of the film, covering much of the same territory as in the commentary track; this is one of two special features carried over from last year’s Region B Blu-ray box set released by Indicator.
The Mossman Legacy: George Mossman’s Carriage Collection (6:55) – This brief legacy featurette from 2014 (and carried over from the Indicator Blu-ray box set release) takes a look at the Mossman carriages used in the Hammer films including Night Creatures.
Image Gallery (48 stills) (3:32)
U.S. Theatrical Trailer (2:29)
Special features from the 2021 Region B Indicator Hammer Volume 6: Night Shadows Blu-ray box set that didn’t make the cut here were the UK presentation of the movie featuring the Captain Clegg titles, a commentary track by film historian Constantine Nasr, an introduction by Kim Newman, a 2004 filmed interview with director Peter Graham Scott, a profile on Hammer wardrobe mistresses Molly Arbuthnot and Rosemary Burrows, a documentary on Peter Cushing’s life and work and a featurette on the music score by Don Banks in addition to a booklet featuring essays by Frank Collins and Kieran Foster, archival interviews, articles and critical responses to the film.
Released on a double bill with the studio’s take on The Phantom of the Opera on its initial theatrical run, Night Creatures has become regarded as one of Hammer Films’ best ventures outside of the horror genre. Shout Factory has done a solid job with the film – completing the upgrading of all films from Universal’s previous DVD and Blu-ray sets – with a quality HD transfer and an equally solid slate of special features both new and previously released (although not all special features from the Indicator Blu-ray box set were carried over here). Highly recommended and worth upgrading from previous home video releases.
Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.
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