December 29, 2005
Finally on DVD - NIGHT CREATURES aka CAPTAIN CLEGG
Finally on DVD:
NIGHT CREATURES (1962)
Out of the blue, a previously unreleased Hammer film suddenly appears on DVD nestled away in a Region 1 Universal DVD Boxset (pictured). Made at the height of the studio’s powers, the only reason this one isn’t hailed as a classic alongside Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, The Mummy and Curse of the Werewolf, is that no one has had much chance to see it before. I can’t remember it even being shown on British TV in the London region.
More popularly known as Captain Clegg, it was made at Bray Studios, and is the best example of Hammer’s ‘swashbuckler’ strand - slightly sadistic period adventure yarns, with a hint of supernatural horror (in this case, luminous skeletal horse-riding marsh phantoms, years before the Knights of the Blind Dead ever rode out).
The cast features many Hammer regulars, but mainly this is a perfect showcase for horror maestro Peter Cushing’s talents. To me he was a versatile and subtle actor who, like Boris Karloff, had the ability to make the supernatural believable. Even with some of the hastily written scripts that were thrown at him, he could still convince an audience that the outlandish events of the plot were actually happening… Here he enjoys playing a pirate captain hiding from the King’s soldiers by disguising himself as the village vicar!
There’s also a marvellous early performance from Oliver Reed, seen here reunited with his Curse of the Werewolf co-star Yvonne Romain.
Perhaps one of the reasons Night Creatures has had a rough ride over the years is because it was based on a story that was also being adapted as a movie by Disney, at the same time! Dr Syn Alias the Scarecrow was a live action movie, starring Patrick McGoohan, and was aimed safely at a family audience.
Beside making a belated debut on home video, Night Creatures has been digitally mastered, it looks fantastic, and is presented in anamorphic widescreen (though the aspect ratio looks closer to 1.85 than the 2.0 stated on the packaging) – there’s a slight letterbox but it looks overmatted - some of the headroom is a tightly framed at the top edge. But the picture definition is sharp and the rich colour does justice to the sets and costumes, not to mention the countryside exteriors – altogether the film effortlessly recreates the 18th century setting.
The boxset features 7 other Hammer horrors from the early 1960’s, some of them making their widescreen debuts on DVD. I must warn you though that all 8 films have been crammed onto 2 double-sided double-layered DVDs, (known as ‘DVD-18’s), a format that is the most technically difficult to manufacture without playback problems. My set, I’m happy to report, plays perfectly.