IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: NIGHT CREATURES (1962)

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NIGHT CREATURES (1962) (also known as CAPTAIN CLEGG) is one of my all time favorite Peter Cushing movies.

Technically not a horror movie, NIGHT CREATURES is instead an energetic and atmospheric pirate adventure, filled with mystery and intrigue, and since it was made by Hammer Films, the horror elements are certainly highlighted, including the eerie Marsh Phantoms.

In NIGHT CREATURES, Peter Cushing plays Dr. Blyss, the local reverend in the small village of Dymchurch, but all is not as it seems, as Blyss is secretly the infamous pirate Captain Clegg, who years after escaping his own execution (Hmm, sounds like something Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein once did…) settles into Dymchurch and decides to turn over a new leaf, to do good for a change. Up to a point. See, Blyss is also the leader of a secret smuggling operation which smuggles illegal goods in and out of Dymchurch and uses the mysterious Marsh Phantoms as cover.

When Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) arrives with a troop of a soldiers, he sets out to expose and thwart the covert smuggling operation. Collier is also the man who spent his life chasing down Captain Clegg. Hmm. Interesting.

And this one is much more than interesting. This rousing adventure set in 18th century England is so full of atmosphere you’ll feel like you’re riding the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney! It’s also a helluva entertaining story.

The cast is first-rate.

At the top is Peter Cushing, channelling the same energy he used to portray Baron Frankenstein here as Dr. Blyss/Captain Clegg, and he’s at it again playing the heroic villain. We should not like Clegg very much, but in Cushing’s hands, we root for him. The script by John Elder provides Cushing with many memorable moments, from his admonishing of the weasel Mr. Rash (Martin Benson)… “Mr. Rash!” to his verbal spars with Captain Collier. At one point, Blyss is doing everything in his power to make sure Collier and his men have nowhere to stay the night in Dymchurch, but Collier declares his men are definitely staying, to which Blyss utters under his breath, “Really? I wonder where?”

Another fine moment comes when Collier believes a man his men shot in the arm is Blyss, and when he grabs Blyss by the wrist, he flinches, but there’s no bullet wound. Collier asks him why he flinched when he grabbed his arm, to which Blyss answers, “It wasn’t my arm, Captain. You trod on my foot!”

Veteran character actor and Hammer favorite Michael Ripper delivers one of his all time best movie performances as Jeremiah Mipps, the coffin maker, Blyss’ loyal right hand man. He too has numerous memorable lines of dialogue and key moments in the film, like one where he is seen sleeping in one of his coffins. One of his better lines comes when an angered Captain Collier at discovering one of his key witnesses has been found dead, demands of Mipps to know why the man was out on the Marshes. Mipps replies, “I couldn’t well ask him, seeing that he’s dead.”

A young Oliver Reed, fresh after his performance as the werewolf in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) makes for a dashing young Harry Cobtree, who is also part of Blyss’ operation and is in love with Blyss’ daughter Imogene (Yvonne Romain).

And Patrick Allen is excellent as Captain Collier, the man who matches wits with Blyss throughout the movie. Allen also starred with both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in the science fiction thriller ISLAND OF THE BURNING DAMNED (1967), and his voice was also dubbed in for the character Rex Van Ryn in the Christopher Lee Hammer classic THE DEVIL’S BRIDE (1968).

NIGHT CREATURES also features a rousing music score by Don Banks, who also scored Hammer’s third Frankenstein movie, THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964).

Director Peter Graham Scott fills this one with lots of memorable scenes. There’s an exciting fight scene between Blyss and the hulking Mulatto who is out for revenge against Captain Clegg, and the climax to this one is also action-packed. The special effects on the Marsh Phantoms are first-rate. All in all, this is one Hammer Film you do not want to miss. It’s topnotch entertainment from beginning to end, without a slow moment in sight.

Incidentally, Hammer had to change the name of Cushing’s character from Dr. Syn to Dr. Blyss, since Disney owned the rights to the character, which is based on Russell Thorndike’s Doctor Syn stories. Disney made DR. SYN, ALIAS THE SCARECROW (1963) starring Patrick McGoohan in the lead role, which was later aired in three parts on TV on THE MAGICAL WORLD OF DISNEY.

If you are looking to bust yourself out of the winter blues this January, look no further than the thrilling pirate adventure NIGHT CREATURES, which features a talented cast touting out their A-game, with Peter Cushing leading the way with yet another of his phenomenal movie performances, this time as the heroic Dr. Blyss, doing his best to move on from his villainous past as the notorious pirate Captain Clegg, but only when it suits him, as he is more than comfortable running his secret smuggling operation. And when the relentless Captain Collier arrives, the stakes are raised, and Blyss’ cover and entire operation are suddenly in jeopardy.

NIGHT CREATURES is an underrated gem, one of Hammer’s best, and a must-see for all Peter Cushing fans. But be on your guard! Captain Collier and the King’s men are on the prowl! But don’t fret. Just look to the scarecrow across the way for his signal, and if his hand moves, then it’s time to run!

—END—

THE QUOTABLE CUSHING: NIGHT CREATURES (1962)

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Peter Cushing as Dr. Blyss/aka Captain Clegg in NIGHT CREATURES (1962)

Peter Cushing as Dr. Blyss/aka Captain Clegg in NIGHT CREATURES (1962)

THE QUOTABLE CUSHING:  NIGHT CREATURES (1962)

By

Michael Arruda

 

Welcome to another edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, that column where we look at and celebrate Peter Cushing’s best lines in the movies.  Today we look at one of my favorite Peter Cushing movies, the hardly heard of and extremely underrated Hammer Film NIGHT CREATURES (1962).

 

NIGHT CREATURES was one of Hammer’s forays into the pirate movie genre, and yes, they made several movies about pirates.  At the time, NIGHT CREATURES was most notable for its competition with a Walt Disney production of the same story.  As you would expect, the Disney version, DR. SYN, ALIAS THE SCARECROW (1963), starring Patrick McGoohan in the lead role, dominated at the time and was a hit back in the early 1960s when it aired in three installments on the Disney TV program Wonderful World of Color in 1964.  It was later was re-edited into a feature length film.

 

What this meant for HAMMER, was that for years NIGHT CREATURES was lost in the shuffle and remained largely an unwatched film, which is too bad, because it’s one of Hammer’s best.  It was never released on VHS in the United States. It is available now on DVD.

 

In NIGHT CREATURES, Peter Cushing plays Dr. Blyss, aka Captain Clegg, a reformed pirate who is now posing as a parson, while still involved in illegal rum smuggling in the town of Dymchurch.  But he is very much reformed, as he prohibits his men from using violence, and like Robin Hood, he uses the money earned from the rum smuggling to help the poor and hungry. 

 

Things grow complicated when Captain Collier (Patrick Allen), the man who had chased Captain Clegg over the high seas, arrives in Dymchurch with a company of soldiers to investigate reports of drug smuggling.

 

In the Disney version, the main character Dr. Syn disguised himself as a scarecrow, hence Disney’s title.  In NIGHT CREATURES, it’s Dr. Blyss’ young associate Harry Crabtree (Oliver Reed) who dons the guise of a scarecrow to serve as a lookout.

 

Here’s a look at some fun quotes from NIGHT CREATURES, screenplay by Anthony Hinds and Barbara S. Harper, based on the novel Dr. Syn by Russell Thorndike: 

 

 

When Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) first meets Dr. Blyss (Peter Cushing) he doesn’t recognize him as Captain Clegg, since he’s dressed as a parson and it’s likely the captain never set eyes on the pirate while chasing him.  Plus, Captain Clegg is reportedly dead.

 

Collier is looking for a place for his men to stay the night, but Blyss has no intention of helping out.  He wants Collier to march his men back to their ship for the night so he can deliver the rum shipment without impediment.  The dialogue throughout the film between Blyss and Collier is some of the most lively and most memorable in the film.  Let’s listen:

 

DR. BLYSS:  Ah, Captain, admiring our little church?  And you’ve removed your hat I see.  Are you no longer in the service of the king?

 

CAPTAIN:  I came to find the Squire.  But I’m also looking for quarters for my men, Parson. 

 

DR. BLYSS (looking at the interior of his church):  Not in here, I hope.

 

CAPTAIN (smiling): No.  But you’ll know the most suitable places.

 

DR. BLYSS:  Ah, yes.  Have you tried the inn?

 

CAPTAIN:  Oh come now, Parson, there’s only one room in the inn.

 

DR. BLYSS:  And you’ve taken that I expect.  Well, it’s hardly big enough for all of you, is it?  Let me see now.  There’s Mrs. Wagstaft, but no, she’s just had another, hasn’t she?  Her thirteenth I think it is.  That would be a little crowded, wouldn’t it?  And a little noisy too I expect!  (laughs) Would you mind just holding that?  (hands Captain his prayer booke so he can put on his gloves.) Dr. Pepper has a spare room.  But he’s been attending some rather nasty cases of the plague recently so I couldn’t really recommend there. 

 

No.  No, I’m afraid the inn is about all we can offer.  Thank you.  (takes back book)  Really I think the best thing you can do is to march your men back to the ship just for tonight and then march them back again here tomorrow.

 

CAPTAIN:  We’re staying the night in Dymchurch.

 

DR. BLYSS:  Are you?  (with a curious grin) I wonder where?

 

 

 

Earlier Dr. Blyss has to deal with one of his most unreliable men, Mr. Rash (Martin Benson).  Hammer favorite Michael Ripper also appears in this scene, as he enjoys one of his best roles in this one, as Dr. Blyss’ right hand man, the coffin maker, Mr. Mipps.  In this scene, Rash panics over the presence of Captain Collier and his men, and he orders his fellow smugglers to destroy the rum, but Dr. Blyss arrives and is none too happy with Rash’s behavior here.

 

RASH (ordering the disposal of the rum):  Get rid of it!

 

DR. BLYSS:  Mr. Rash!  Since when have you given orders?

 

RASH: Well, I thought with all them fellas snooping ar—.

 

DR. BLYSS:  There’s no need for you to think.  I think for all of you.  Is that clearly understood? 

 

RASH:  As you say.

 

DR. BLYSS:  Exactly.  As I say.  The goods will be delivered tonight in the usual way, at midnight. 

 

MAN:  What about the revenue men?

 

DR. BLYSS:  There’s a chance they’ll be gone by then.

 

RASH:  Well suppose they’re not gone?  I don’t like it! 

 

DR. BLYSS:  I am not interested in whether you like it or not, Mr. Rash!  Just as long as you do as I tell you.  You’ve been in this trade long enough to know we all have to take risks. 

 

RASH (to Mipps):  It’s been all right for him.  He’s done very nicely out of it all these years.

 

MIPPS:  Yes, very nicely.  He’s taken all of his fair share and squandered it on food for those who were hungry and clothes for them that didn’t have any.

 

DR. BLYSS:  All right, Mr. Mipps.  Now listen.  I want the word spread that the king’s men are not to be offered accommodation in the village.  There is to be no room for them anywhere.

 

GROUP:  Aye.

 

DR. BLYSS:  And remember:  there’s to be no violence, either.  Mr. Rash! 

 

RASH:  I heard you.

 

DR. BLYSS:  Then say so!  Midnight then.

 

 

Captain Collier arrives in Dymchurch upon the tip of a man named Tom Ketch.  The film opens with Ketch’s death, a victim of “the Marsh Phantoms.”  In this scene, Captain Collier asks Mr. Mipps to take him to Ketch.  The Captain doesn’t know Ketch is dead, and Mipps for his own amusement leads the Captain to believe that the man is still alive.

 

This scene is a great showcase for Michael Ripper’s acting abilities, as he gets to enjoy some great lines as Mr. Mipps here:

 

MIPPS:  But Captain, you came here to see Tom Ketch, didn’t you?  (calls) Tom?

 

(They walk across the room  and in a dramatic revelation, Mipps shows the Captain Tom Ketch’s dead body.)

 

MIPPS:  Came in this morning.  I haven’t had time to touch him up yet.

 

CAPTAIN COLLIER:  He was alive last night.  How did he die?

 

MIPPS:  He was found floating in one of the ponds on the marshes.  The Squire found him this morning when he was out riding, the Squire—.

 

CAPTAIN (angrily): How did he die, man?

 

MIPPS:  Dr. Pepper signed the certificate, natural causes, but I should have thought from the look of the poor fellow that he died of fright.  Now, that’s more like unnatural causes.

 

CAPTAIN:  Frightened to death? What by?

 

MIPPS:  Well, he didn’t tell us of course, being dead, but I think it was the Marsh Phantoms.

 

CAPTAIN:  The what?

 

MIPPS:  The Marsh Phantoms.  People around here don’t believe in them, say they don’t exist, but that’s during the day time of course.  At night if you ask them to go for a walk across the marshes you’ll find that they have something very much more important to do like bolting the door and going to bed.

 

CAPTAIN:  Old wives’ tales.  You said the Squire discovered the body?

 

MIPPS:  Yes. 

 

CAPTAIN:  Where do I find him?

 

MIPPS:  He’ll probably be at the church saying his prayers.  Shall I take you to him?

 

CAPTAIN:  No, I’ll find it.

 

MIPPS:  As you wish.

 

(Exits)

 

MIPPS (To Ketch’s corpse):  Thanks, matey!

 

 

 

 

I’d also like to give a shout out to Patrick Allen who is absolutely spot-on as Captain Collier.  He’s right up there with Peter Cushing and Michael Ripper in this one, in terms of acting.

 

In this scene, Collier thinks he has found his scarecrow, and he thinks it’s Dr. Blyss. The night before, his men shot at a scarecrow that moved, wounding it in the arm, but when they reached the spot where the scarecrow had been, the figure was gone.  They did find blood, however.

 

The next morning, in Dr. Blyss’ home, Collier discovers muddy boots, and he thinks he has found his man.  He intends to prove it:

 

CAPTAIN:  Did you sleep well last night?

 

DR. BLYSS:  Why, exceptionally well.  And you?  Oh, no, you were out looking for the phantoms, weren’t you?  Of course!  Don’t tell me you’ve only just returned?

 

CAPTAIN:  Yes.

 

DR. BLYSS:  Dear me, you must have walked a long way.  Did you have any luck?

 

CAPTAIN:  Yes, and no.

 

DR. BLYSS:  That’s comprehensive, anyway.  (pouring coffee)  Cream?  What did you find?

 

(Captain shows him boots he just found in hall)

 

CAPTAIN:  A scarecrow that bled.  (grabs Blyss’ arm.  Blyss flinches.  Rolls up Blyss’ sleeve but does not see the expected bullet wound)  Why did you flinch when I touched your arm?

 

DR. BLYSS:  It wasn’t my arm, Captain.  You trod on my foot.

 

 

Great line. 

 

If you’ve never seen NIGHT CREATURES, you’re missing quite a treat.  It’s one of Hammer’s best movies.

 

Thanks for joining me today on THE QUOTABLE CUSHING.  I’ll see you next time on another edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING when we look at more fun quotes from another memorable Peter Cushing movie.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

—Michael