21 December 2014

Night Creatures (1962)
80 min.
Directed by Peter Graham Scott.
With Peter Cushing, Yvonne Romain, Patrick Allen, Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper, Martin Benson, David Lodge, Derek Francis, Daphne Anderson.
It's the 18th century. And when the Royal Crown believes there's some smuggling and bootlegging going on within its territories, well...it wants in on the action!

Enter rugged Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) and his team of soldiers who are dispatched to a small coastal town to investigate the purported trafficking of alcohol.

Collier and his crew get more than they bargained for once they reach the village, however: tight-lipped townies who are hesitant to cooperate with the investigation, a gruff squire named Cobtree (Francis) and his mysterious son Harry (Reed), not to mention Parson Blyss (Cushing), a likable - if quirky - clergyman who seems to be hiding something.

But what Collier finds most disturbing are reports of "Marsh Phantoms," ghostly spectres who ride horseback by night...and who are offing the locals one by one!

What diabolical secret is the town trying to hide? And what's the truth behind the Marsh Phantoms?

To be sure, this 1962 costume period piece from Hammer is more mystery-thriller than horror. The atmosphere is at a low ebb throughout, and there are precious few scares.

The moments of inspiration come when the titular creatures go on the prowl, aided by the all-too-human eyes of a scarecrow who keeps watch over the netherworldly ghouls and their nightly raids.

Night Creatures makes up for the lack in terror with charisma and gutsy performances. Cushing steals the show as the vicar with a past, delivering a spirited turn here which opens full throttle by the climax. And while Reed is underused, his backstory with the lovely Romain proves a decent enough distraction.

Part thriller, part swashbuckler, part pirate yarn, part horror, Night Creatures categorically hedges its bets. And it's all the better because of it.

Thanks to a clever screenplay by Hammer producer-writer Anthony Hinds which weaves together several disparate plot points, the result is an entertaining composite buoyed by genre anchors Cushing and Reed.

Also known as Captain Clegg.

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