Captain Clegg (1962)
When I put this movie in, I really thought I was going to craft a review very reminiscent of how one might review Plan 9 from Outer Space with plenty of “Who the hell did they think they were fooling?” comments. Within 15 minutes, I proved myself wrong. Captain Clegg, otherwise known as Night Creatures, is a Hammer Studios film on par with their well-known masterpieces.
I can’t say much about the plot without releasing a spoiler, so I will simply say it involves illegal alcohol trading, grumpy British officers who look very much like pirates, and a herd of demons riding horses in the marsh. Just take my word for it that it comes together in the end, which alone is a point of note. Hammer plots are traditionally very linear and focus on one main plot. Captain Clegg took three plot points and weaved them together so they connect at the end, a type of plot we do not expect from The House That Dripped Blood. The film reminded me very much of low-budget version of The Village, not necessarily in the story but the way the plot is designed. It was a complex story with several seemingly unrelated factors at work. I seriously didn’t think Hammer could pull it off, but on a purely superficial level they managed to do so in a way that satisfies the viewer. Just don’t do yourself the disservice of actually thinking too much about it, because then nit-picky plot holes will arise. Remember, it’s a Hammer film, therefore thinking too much of the plot is contraindicated.
The second point of note is the acting. This is one of Peter Cushing’s best roles for Hammer Films, which I would never have guessed when I first saw him on the screen as he plays a priest whose hair resembles a lunch lady with a skunk fetish. So, as you could imagine, it was a little hard to take him seriously right off the bat. But his character turned out to be very multi-dimensional (as opposed to the one-dimensional characters we are used to see him play), which showed -- above all other roles -- that he was indeed a serious force in the realm of acting instead of just a fine horror actor. His character had to be droll, threatening, loving, and stoic, often times at the same time. And he swung on a chandelier. That was pretty much all I needed, quite frankly.
I have to praise both the action and the element of surprise. There were very few low points in this film and they all came at the beginning. For the first 15 minutes or so, Hammer stumbled a bit multi-tasking between introduction of the characters and keeping my attention on the story (a very common problem with Hammer). After that, it straightened itself up and got the ball rolling, and I was glued to my screen until the end credits rolled. That is a feat in itself, but even more impressive was the fact that I did not completely predict the ending until the director wanted me to have the “a-ha!” moment. This could very well be because I was not expecting a surprise ending in a Hammer film, or because the director did a good job of keeping my attention elsewhere. In reality, it’s probably a combination of both factors, which made it such an effective little film.
Finally, there was something going on in this film that I don’t see in many Hammer films that are not directed by Terence Fisher – depth. As I have mentioned in other reviews, Terence Fisher has a gift of making his characters real because he makes good and evil ambiguous. In doing so, he makes the film more real and also gives the characters depth. The same was done with many of the characters in this film, especially Peter Cushing’s character. During the film’s conclusion, there is a rather tender moment with Peter Cushing and a couple in love (more info can not be given as it would yield a spoiler), that is actually so-touching that it forces you to have mixed feelings about the big surprise at the end, instead of “Yay! Evil is punished... let’s have a beer.” Not that this is necessarily a bad thing -- Hammer has seemed to make a career of that type of ending -- but it was so refreshing to see Hammer do a movie with this level of depth. It is films like this that confirms Hammer is a true master of horror.
Since They Who Control Hammer Distribution have finally woken up, I’m proud to announce that Captain Clegg will soon be available on DVD under the American title Night Creatures. This was a great choice as this is clearly one of the most underrated Hammer films. A must for passive and diehard Hammer film fans, Peter Cushing gurus, and anyone with a love of classic horror, I can guarantee this will instantly become a favorite.