Ah, Hammer Film Productions…a British institution best known for its horror output between the 1950s & 1970s. When most people think of the UK, they think of things like the BBC, tea, fish & chips and a stiff upper lip. When horror fans think of the UK (in particular London) they think of Hammer horror.
Night Creatures (also known as Captain Clegg) is a 1962 effort that puts Hammer regular Peter Cushing in a lead role. By today’s standards it is a tame offering in regard to horror (like most Hammer films to be fair) but it’s easy to see why it would have been a terrifying experience back in the early 1960s.
In a sleepy English coastal town marsh phantoms appear at night & terrorise the townspeople. On order of the King, Captain Collier & a group of sailors arrive to investigate rumours of smuggling activities occurring within the town.
The captain & his sailors aren’t exactly given a warm welcome with the local priest being particularly hostile (all in that wonderfully polite British style). The priest, played by Cushing is a joy to watch, devious & intense but filled with warmth towards others that suggest a good man at heart.
Him & the Captain (played by Patrick Allen) light up the screen when they are verbally sparing even if you don’t realise they are (it’s all in the eyes).
As stories go it’s pretty exciting even if it quickly becomes less about the phantoms & more about a villages smuggling operation. A sub-plot regarding Harry & Imogene (Oliver Reed & Yvonne Romain) feels a bit tacked on to give the movie length & a romance angle.
Unfortunately it does take a misstep regarding the portrayal of Mulatto (played by Milton Reid), a mute Indian man who was picked up by the crew & kept for their amusement. They treat him like a pet & he is shown as a bit of an idiot with sudden brutish behaviour.
It’s one of things where it’s easy to look at the era the movie was made & excuse it on that basis but simply put, that isn’t good enough. The character is an exaggeration of the mute, dumb foreigner with sudden violent tendencies. That being said, the actor puts in a very fine & memorable performance!
The movie does have a very cool twist at the end that reveals more detail surrounding Cushing’s priest but this is definitely one of the more ‘tame’ Hammer horrors on the market.
It still remains a very entertaining movie, well shot with some great effects & costumes. The locations (as they often do in Hammer films) feel dreamy & make-believe but with plenty of English character. The acting is excellent stuff with some memorable musical flourishes & it never overstays its welcome.