Most tend to think of Hammer as a horror production company, but along the way it did dive into a number of different genres including the swashbuckler/pirate oeuvre, including The Pirates of Blood River, The Devil-Ship Pirates, and The Stranglers of Bombay. Along with those came Night Creatures (also known as Captain Clegg in the UK), born from a series of novels by Russell Thorndike involving the character Doctor Syn. While rights issues got in the way of using the original character name, Hammer was able to find some semblance of luck in the production by casting Peter Cushing in a main role as Rev. Dr. Blyss, by day acting as a kindly pastor and by night smuggling liquor into town to avoid the English government’s ridiculous taxation. Here, Cushing ditches his horror past for a more nuanced display of an antihero, both gentle and treasonous by turn.
Set in 1792, the film follows Blyss and his townsfolk as they attempt to avoid their illegal trade being discovered by the Royal Navy led by Captain Collier (Patrick Allen), who has come to town on suspicion but ultimately finds his only witness dead at the hands of the marsh phantoms that purportedly haunt the marshes on the outskirts of town. Ultimately, these ghastly horse-riding skeletons are the only vestige of horror that crops up in Night Creatures, a film that was certainly deceptively named for good reason considering its rights issues prevented Hammer from tying it back to the Doctor Syn series.
That means that those looking for horror will need to look elsewhere, but what viewers do get is a fairly fun yarn about illicit smuggling that involves some minute swashbuckling and a number of athletic sequences with Cushing in fights. Truthfully, Cushing is the sole attraction here despite good turns by Oliver Reed and Yvonne Romain in a minor romantic fling, and were he not here Night Creatures would most likely be wholly forgettable. But his presence elevates every scene he’s in, alternating between commanding, beneficent, and sardonic.
Night Creatures is a fairly good attempt from Hammer at stepping outside its usual bounds, with a couple of forays into the supernatural to keep its fanbase interested. Straight horror is not to be expected here, though; keeping those expectations tamed will ultimately reward the viewer that opens themselves up to something slightly different.
Scream Factory has released Night Creatures on Blu-ray as part of its Collector’s Edition series with a new 2K scan from the film’s interpositive. Previously the film had a release as part of Powerhouse Films’ Hammer Blu-ray collection (volume 6 specifically), but that reportedly suffered from some issues with the source. While it’s not clear what Powerhouse Films used in its HD transfer, the transfer from Scream Factory looks to be moderately better based on screenshot comparisons, though many of the same source issues appear.
In general, close-ups and medium-range shots fare very well with this scan, offering up a high level of detail. Skin tones retain a bit of ruddiness but overall appear appropriate textured. The color timing is robust, although it does tend to highlight some of the more inappropriate day-for-night shots that appear in the film. The larger issues crop up during wide-angle shots particularly involving skylines and scenery; these tend to have much heavier, somewhat streaky grain. These are more noticeable towards the beginning of the film, though occasional dark shots later on still retain more grain that obscures some details. Update 4/20/22: There seems to be some confusion regarding the aspect ratio on this release due to some erroneous information released by Scream Factory on their box art and press. They list this release with a 2.00:1 aspect ratio, but that is incorrect; the film on this disc is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
However, Scream Factory’s transfer seems to be a large step up from the previous HD scan in most ways, and it is certainly worth a purchase if you don’t already own the Powerhouse set. Even then, this standalone disc is still a strong contender for a double-dip.
Audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono, and it sounds fairly good despite some occasional muffling. The orchestral score is strong otherwise, and no noticeable drops in dialogue volume appear. English subtitles are also included.
Extra features offer a new mix of interviews, including one with Kim Newman who discusses the rights and background behind the Doctor Syn books and the making of Captain Clegg, and Jonathan Rigby provides a look at Peter Cushing’s filmography and shift in genres when he decided to work on Night Creatures (and subsequently write a treatment for it!). A new audio commentary with film historian Bruce Hallenbeck goes in-depth with the film’s actors and behind the scenes elements. Also new on this release is a short interview with special effects artist Brian Johnson, who worked fleetingly on the film; he mostly discusses working with Les Bowie on the production.
Collected for this release are some additional older features, including a 30-minute making of featurette that goes into great depth about nearly everyone working on the picture. A short featurette on George Mossman’s carriages at the Mossman Carriage Collection is included. Finally, theatrical trailer and still gallery round out this release.
- NEW 2K Scan From The Interpositive
- NEW Audio Commentary With Film Historian Bruce Hallenbeck
- NEW Pulp Friction – The Cinematic Captain Clegg – An Interview With Author/Film Historian Kim Newman (1080p; 22:07)
- NEW The Hammer Must Fall: Peter Cushing’s Changing Directions – An Interview With Author/Film Historian Jonathan Rigby (1080p; 28:09)
- NEW Brian With Bowie – An Interview With Special Effects Artist Brian Johnson (1080p; 7:56)
- The Making Of Captain Clegg Hosted By Author Wayne Kinsey (1080p; 32:02)
- The Mossman Legacy: George Mossman’s Carriage Collection (1080p; 6:55)
- Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 2:29)
- Still Gallery (no chapter breaks; 3:32)
What’s missing?Show Features
Powerhouse Films Blu-ray Boxset
- Original Captain Clegg title card version
- Audio commentary with film historian and filmmaker Constantine Nasr
- The BEHP Interview with Peter Graham Scott: career-spanning filmed interview, made as part of the British Entertainment History Project, featuring Graham Scott in conversation with Darrol Blake and John Sealey
- Hammer’s Women: Molly Arbuthnot and Rosemary Burrows: overview of the prolific Hammer wardrobe mistresses by film historian Josephine Botting
- Kim Newman Introduces ‘Captain Clegg’: appreciation by the critic and author
- Peter Cushing: Perspectives: documentary looking at the life and work of Peter Cushing, featuring contributions from actors Derek Fowlds, Judy Matheson and Madeline Smith
- Smugglers’ Gothic: David Huckvale, author of Hammer Film Scores and the Musical Avant-Garde, on Don Banks’ score and the influence of the head of Hammer Films’ music department, Philip Martell
Night Creatures is certainly a treat thanks to Peter Cushing and his swashbuckling adventures, though fans of straight horror should look elsewhere. This new Scream Factory Blu-ray sports a good transfer and a number of extra features that make it worth thinking about a double-dip.