Night Creatures/Captain Clegg
In our continuing series of articles 'The bloke down the pub' will tell us all about his favourite Hammer Horror films. In his twelfth review he's thanking himself for letting 1962's Night Creatures play longer than 5 minutes and wondering if the alternate title of Captain Clegg works or not... Enjoy!
I watch most of my movies on the Netflix these days, but you know what I miss? Movies that you’re pretty sure are rubbish after only five minutes, but because you’ve paid good money you have to stick with them, at least for a while. Not like on that Netflix where there’s a thousand other films you could be watching. And I miss that because every now and then you’d get a movie that you think is not much cop to begin with, but slowly and surely it starts winning you over.
You take Night Creatures; it would have been a crying shame to miss seeing that just because after five minutes you thought ‘Ey up, these effects are a bit crap, laughably crap actually - the ghostly phantoms look just like blokes in cheap skeleton costumes riding horses…’ Because, you know what? It turns out that’s because they ARE just blokes wearing skeleton costumes riding horses - pretending to be phantoms to perpetuate a rather cunning plan. Just like with the people you meet in this here pub, your first impressions aren’t always right.
And I always think fondly of movies that take me by surprise. But how can you subvert expectations these days, if no bugger’s got the patience for anything except having their expectations met? It also depends on what the bloody thing’s called of course. That’s something else I miss actually, lurid retitling of movies for a bit of that sweet ‘cheated audience’ cash. Usually it just doesn’t work, and the original title is much better. And I don’t know how I feel about ‘Night Creatures’ to be honest. On the one hand, its original title ‘Captain Clegg’ is certainly more accurate, but if it had been called that I don’t think I would have enjoyed it half as much. Because here’s the thing, an old Hammer film called ‘Night Creatures’ about mysterious phantoms stalking an old English coastal village starring Peter Cushing as a priest, well… you have a certain expectation as to what that film is going to be. You are, let’s face it, unlikely to be too surprised by what happens, you just hope that they do it well. So when the aforementioned crap skeletons on horses turn up you think ‘Uh-oh, this doesn’t look good...’ But you’ve paid your money so you stick with it. And you see Cushing with a mad puritan hairdo with a silver streak down the middle, obviously having a lot of fun with his zealous preaching, and there are a few other Hammer stalwarts in attendance like Oliver Reed and a brilliant Michael Ripper who’s usually a crap comic relief but here he’s an excellent scheming undertaker, and who doesn’t love a well played scheming undertaker? But still, no horror. Where’s the horror? I mean you’re happy the unconvincing horse powered skeletons haven’t come back, but are we expecting more phantoms? Different phantoms? And then you realise that this isn’t a horror film at all, it’s a fun little period thriller with a horror movie’s atmosphere. That’s why Cushing is having so much fun - he’s not playing the last hope of good standing alone against a horde of evil - he’s playing a likeable cad, a reformed bad guy, a man so charismatic that a ship or even village full of people will follow him whether it’s good or evil. You don’t ask questions when the man in charge never does you wrong I suppose. It’s not much of a moral grey area mind, as it’s clear at the end that the village loves him because he gives them a share of the booty and protects them from government interference. It’s all rather Republican really.
It’s also very neat this whole village as ship thing they’ve got going on, complete with trapdoors to basements that feel like holds, narrow wooden passages connecting all the vital areas of the place, and of course a fiercely loyal crew.
But it’s all about Cushing this one, playing Clegg as he goes from enthusiastic preacher to head of a secret criminal organisation to blaggard of the high seas and finally to folk hero in one completely believable role all the while anchoring a movie that has to keep his true identity a secret until the end. How the bloody hell do you carry an entire movie when the audience aren’t allowed to know who your character even is! When you’re Peter bloody Cushing, that’s when.
So, alright, maybe the film should have been called Captain Clegg, strictly for accuracy. But then we would have known who Cushing was for sure, spoiling the whole twist of the movie - which makes me think Captain Clegg was a rubbish title to begin with. But more importantly, we wouldn’t have stuck around for more than the Netflix five minutes and been taken by surprise by a fun little Hammer movie about a village being run as a pirate ship by Peter Cushing having the time of his life.
So I suppose we should thank the sneaky marketing department that thought ‘Who cares about some guy named Clegg? But you know what people do like? Creatures of the night!’ Alright, maybe they’re swine... but even greedy swine have good ideas once in a while. Speaking of which…