Alternate Title: Night Creatures (US Title)
Review Date: 5/11/20
Cast: Peter Cushing, Yvonne Romain, Patrick Allen, Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper
Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) of the British Navy visits a small town to follow up on a smuggling lead. The townsfolk aren't particularly helpful and they all harbor a superstitious fear of "the marsh phantoms" that ride at night and terrorize those who stray too far from town. The town vicar, Dr. Blyss (Peter Cushing), is a charming and smooth talking fellow who offers help and hospitality to Collier and his men, but also shrewdly deflects his inquiries and obstructs his progress. It's immediately clear that Blyss is involved in the operation and isn't who he claims to be, but watching him outsmart the brash and stubbornly persistent Collier is where the film really shines. They're like two alpha predators, slowly circling each other while looking for an opening to exploit. Oliver Reed and Yvonne Romain are the attractive young lovers who are caught up in the sins of their fathers, which adds more drama and romantic tension to the plot. While the somewhat downbeat ending comes as no surprise, it hits all the right notes and Blyss's downfall is handled with dignity and respect.
This film turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and is highlighted by a solid script and some wonderful performances. Peter Cushing is fantastic as the duplicitous and multi-faceted vicar, who inspires fear, respect, loyalty, and admiration in everyone around him. He's extremely smart and cunning, but also caring and compassionate. While he may be the villain, I viewed him as more of an antihero, and even though he's doomed, you can't help but sympathize with him and cheer him on. Michael Ripper also gives one of his finest performances as a local coffin maker and Blyss's righthand man. Patrick Allen's Captain Collier is an uptight and unlikable fellow, but he's also a serious-minded officer who's just doing his job in the service of the King. He's like a mad dog, threatening violence and constantly nipping at Blyss's heels, but he's also an intellectual, and watching him mentally spar with Cushing as he slowly unravels the smuggling case is shear delight. Oliver Reed and Yvonne Romain are seemingly the only young people in the entire town, and the voluptuous Romain is quite lovely. Like most Hammer productions, it's a well-lit and good looking period piece, although a couple of poor matte paintings look awkward and out of place. The actors' accents tend to drift a bit throughout the picture, but that's hardly a deal breaker. The marsh phantoms are appropriately creepy looking, but they only show up at the beginning and the end of the film to generate an atmosphere of supernatural horror.
An interesting bit of trivia is that Hammer promised US distributors a film called "Night Creatures," but British censors refused to let them make it. So they just changed the name of the already completed "Captain Clegg" and gave them that instead. I personally prefer the "Night Creatures" title, because "Captain Clegg" literally gives away the story's big, but rather predictable reveal.