Peter Cushing stars as a man who goes from pirate to priest to bootlegger in Captain Clegg, an adventure/horror hybrid of a film much unlike anything that Hammer would normally release and a treasure amongst its lesser-known pictures. Cushing would give one of his very best performances in the film as a man who was once a terror on the seas and after a very close call with death, very narrowly escaping the hangman’s noose, he would turn to the lord and to providing a community with the means to look after itself financially. As the good and quick-witted Parson Blyss, Cushing looks to defy the King’s men still and he does so in a very witty manner with a little black humour here and there to keep you not only in rapt attention but doing so with a smirk on your face. The man is as magnetic as he has ever been and he seems more at home here with not only the clever dialogue by Anthony Hinds but the swashbuckling adventure of it all.
Though not necessarily a true horror film, there is a bit of it sprinkled throughout and enough that it tends to be an eerie exercise at times more than a frightful one. This would be a little different than what most would expect to see in a horror picture from Hammer as the trepidation comes from a group of bootleggers disguised as skeleton men riding skeleton horses, called phantoms by the local populace. There is a superstition that has arisen around them and nobody ventures out onto the moors at night for fear of running into them. Even though it is tense and suspenseful, the horror is light and in the larger picture overall, is just a small part of it. The movie features much more drama, comedy and action than it does horror and while it might be eerie, it is not necessarily enough to scare the viewer and arguable, not enough to call this a horror film at all.
One of the better things to be found in this movie is the fact that while it seems like it is going to be one thing, with you knowing who the heroes and the villains are, it gets turned on its head and surprises you when things do not seem as black and white as you had first thought. From that moment on, things enter a grey area because even though Cushing and the smugglers turn out to be the good guys in the film, it is not as if Captain Collier played by Patrick Allen is a bad man either. The man is simply looking to keep law and order in the land and has a deep disdain for pirates, specifically Captain Clegg who has supposedly passed away. Allen’s character is a little brusque, determined and dedicated and he is a perfect foil for the almost carefree Blyss, who tends to play at things with the soldier, almost not caring about what he says as if knowing that the man will never catch him. It is an interesting relationship between the two because Blyss as played by Cushing, seems to float between the responsible person and his old life as a scoundrel and it is extremely humorous and entertaining to watch.
Oliver Reed puts in an appearance as does Michael Ripper and exquisite Hammer beauty Yvonne Romain, who is simply captivating. They may not be quite as good as Cushing who utterly steals the show, but there are no weak points in this film from an acting standpoint and it is rare to say that about any picture. The sets were great, the pacing and direction just as good and when all is said and done, the film turned out to be a nice little jewel in Hammer’s crown. Captain Clegg, or Night Creatures as it was called in the US of A for some reason, is a truly underrated film and if you get the chance to see it, there should be nothing stopping you from taking it.