Smuggling EVIL Past the Revenue Men! “Night Creatures” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Scream! Factory)

The Marsh Phantoms are Coming to a Blu-ray Near You!

A savage pirate is left for dead on a remote island by his ruthless captain, a small village avoids taxation from the British King’s revenue men by smuggling French Brandy, and on the same village’s marsh land, ghostly skeletons ride into the night, placing the fear into wanderers with ghastly-glowing skulls and undead horses. At the center of it all is Dr. Bliss, the Romney Marsh village Vicker, who also heads the liquor smuggling ring in town and plays the King’s tax revenue soldiers as fools by misdirecting their attention to elsewhere and away from their illegal brandy run. Keeping up with a ruse that’s cracking at the foundation with one of Romney Marsh’s irresolute community leaders forces Dr. Bliss to think fast and stay on top of a smuggling operation at the constant brink of collapse, but a return of a familiar face stirs up conflict and the captain of the revenge men continues to push for the truth no matter the cost.

Peter Cushing is well-known for his solemn gothic horror roles in nearly a slew of countless Hammer films. An unequivocal and stoically determined vampire hunter, the intelligently disillusioned creature maker befallen by his creation, and a wizard sleuth with a nose for clues in tracking down murders are just a few of his linchpin roles for Hammer Productions that the English actor portrayed so very brilliantly in the company’s peak, and off-peak, years. Yet, one of his most pinnacle performances stem from one the lesser-known Hammer productions based off the English author Russell Thorndike’s anti-hero and swashbuckling novel “Dr. Syn” published in 1915. Known in the United Kingdom as “Captain Clegg” and “The Curse of Captain Clegg” because of legal rights issues with the Thorndike title and Disney (yes, that Disney!), U.S. audiences might recognize the Cushing film as “Night Creatures,” directed by a Hammer one-off in Peter Graham Scott (“The Headless Ghost”) and is written by Hammer vet Anthony Hinds (“The Brides of Dracula,” “The Kiss of the Vampire”) under his usual pseudonym John Elder with additional dialogue from Barbara S. Harper. John Temple-Smith produces the film under Hammer Film Productions

Though the cast, crew, and production company were bound not able to use “Dr. Syn” in the film that didn’t stop Peter Cushing in becoming Dr. Bliss, the peoples of Romney Flat’s very own Vicker who revitalized the small town and severed them from hefty taxation with a scheme of smuggling. Clearly, Cushing is in his glory, in his element of wide range, and can be seen as having a ball with playing a dualistic character in Dr. Bliss. Dr. Bliss bares no sign of being saintly stiff around the gills as any pious man might be portrayed and Cushing, at times, can be as rigid as they come in certain roles. Not Dr. Bliss though as a man playing the facade to hide behind-the-curtain his good intentions from those who want a piece of the pie for king and country. Opposite Cushing is “Never Take Candy from a Stranger’s” Patrick Allen as Captain Collier who trucks men by boat to land a surprise inspection after being tipped off about a possible smuggling ring. Allen’s cuts Collier from the clever cloth but the leader of revenge men is always one step behind his time as Pirate chaser and now as a fraud nabber. Another excellent act of thespianism in “Night Creature” is another Hammer household name in Michael Ripper (“The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb,” “The Plague of the Zombies”) after a long stint of playing unnamed sidelined roles early in Hammer’s beginnings. Ripper has an unforgettable look with gravely gruff voice and a quick timed wit that makes him a pleasure every time he steps into the scene. Just coming onto the scene is Oliver Reed on the coattails of his success with “The Curse of the Werewolf” and though his role is purely supportive, his act as the love stricken and loyal to the smuggling cause son of the naive local squire and magistrate (Derek Francis, “The Tomb of Legeia”) who isn’t in on the scheme. “Night Creatures” rounds out the cast with Yvonne Romain (“Circus of Horrors”) as about the closest thing resembling a love interest, Martin Benson (“The Omen”), and Milton Reid (“Deadlier Than the Male”) as the Mulatto pirate exploited as a shackled hound dog to sniff out French Brandy…literally.

A swashbuckling, smuggling caper with notes of macabre imagery and a purloin-the-show performance by Peter Cushing stows “Night Creatures” away as one my favorite Hammer productions. Laced with characteristically grand production pieces and sets, mostly shot at Hammer’s Bray Film Studios, “Night Creatures” looks luxurious and feels expensive as pirate ship interiors, magnificent church hall, and haunting shots of a scarecrow with voyeuristic eyes propped on the countryside landscape elevate not only the story but also the rich characters brimming with complexity. Scott does a fine job sustain an ambiguous Dr. Bliss who, from our own suspicions, can be immediately pinpointed with a backstory that never falls in the pit of exposition. The true story behind Dr. Bliss is practically pressed, squeezed, tugged, and pulled by tooth and nail to finally be revealed to the audience and the moment is greatly satisfying when admission to something we all know is finally out in the open. While Dr. Bliss purposefully misguides the revenge men astray from his illicit activity, “Night Creatures” is also misguiding the audience with ghastly suspense in the existence of the Marsh Phantoms, a luminescent design of full body skeletal depictions on top of midnight cloaks and onesies, pulled off by special effects supervisor Les Bowie (“Paranoiac”) and his team to add a taste of horror to a rather subterfuge storyline of rebirth and sacrifice.

Now on a part of their Collector’s Edition line, Scream! Factory releases “Night Creatures” onto Blu-ray home video with a new 2022 2K scan from the original interpositive. The result is mostly immaculate with visualize details along the skin lines that makes every bead of sweat and every follicle more apparent to the eye. The release is presented in a 1080p high-definition transfer in what’s now labeled Univisium, an aspect ratio that is 2:1 (2:00.1), reformatted from the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Less than a handful of scenes display what looks to be posterization and a degrade in the scan, causing the scene to revert back to the original transfer for a split second. For this you receive a little more width that, ironically enough, homes better in on the focal image. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio mono mix has little to speak ill of as the dialogue, with a hint of continuous static, is greatly clean and clear, ambient track is balanced in range and depth, and you can follow every clashing note in Don Banks’ dramatically orchestrated score. Special features include a new audio commentary with film historian Bruce Hallenback, a new interview with Les Bowie’s special effects technician Brian Johnson, Pulp Friction with film historian Kim Newman on his take on the clustering mess of “Dr. Syn” film rights, Peter Cushing’s Changing Directions with film historian Jonathan Rigby mostly on Peter Cushing’s admiration for the role and his invested interest in playing the main role, a making-of featurette narrated by John Carson, The Mossman Legacy of film historian John Carson showcasing the lot of antique carriages crafted by the George Mossman company in Hammer films, a still gallery, and the original theatrical trailer. The unrated, 83-minute feature also includes a cardboard slipcover with new illustrated from cover art by Mark Maddox. Don’t let a claggy title like “Night Creatures” fool you! Though not the sexiest title, “Night Creatures” will enliven with the mystery of Marsh Phantoms, the suspense of the cat & mouse smuggling game, and the pure bliss on Peter Cushing’s face as he fully immerses himself into the role of his lifetime.

The Marsh Phantoms are Coming to a Blu-ray Near You!

Is Deceptional Fraud More EVIL Than Psychopathy? “Paranoiac” reviewed! (Scream Factory / Blu-ray)

Get “Paranoiac” on the Collector’s Edition Scream Factory Blu-ray!

The parents of siblings Tony, Simon, and Eleanor Ashby die in a tragic plane crash. Two years later, Tony commits suicide by plunging himself off a cliff into a watery grave with his body never having been recovered from the ebb and flow of crashing waves upon the oceanic rocks. Eleven years later, the long thought dead Tony suddenly and unexpectedly returns to what’s left of his family: an overprotectively cold and matriarchal substitute in Aunt Harriet, a narcissistic and alcoholic brother Simon, and a sister, Eleanor, on the precipice of losing her mind from grief over Tony’s death. Shocked by this return, the surviving Ashby siblings split their concerns regarding Tony’s authenticity. Eleanor believes her brother is alive and has come back to rebuild the happy relationship between them whereas Simon denounces Tony’s validity and works underhandedly to either expose Tony as a fraud or to get rid of the imposter by any means necessary, especially when the conditions of receiving the Ashby family fortune have nearly come to an end and a hefty inheritance awaits his opulent tastes. Tony’s arrival causes complications with the inheritance, opens up old wounds, evokes new romantic sensations, and regresses transgressional guilt toward a fiery conclusion to the Ashby family mystery.

A ravishingly dark, mystery thriller inspired by Scottish author Josephine Tey’s crime novel “Brat Farrar” from 1949, the 1963 “Paranoiac” works from off of Tey’s dysfunctional and deceptional family building blocks and extending it into a gothic framework of demented greed in a brand-new of-shooting avenue of psychological thrillers from Hammer Films, hoping to branch off the traditional horror trunk and piggyback success off of the American released, 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film, “Psycho.” “Paranoiac” is the junior film of Freddie Francis (“The Skull,” “Torture Garden”) and penned by the longtime Hammer writer, who basically wrote all of Hammer’s classics, Jimmy Sangster (“Horror of Dracula,” “The Revenge of Frankenstein”). Anthony Hinds and Basil Keys served as producers.

“Paranoiac’s” ensemble cast is quite brilliant in their respective roles.  Oliver Reed (“Curse of the Werewolf,” “Gladiator”) stands out immensely with a flamboyantly cruel and warped performance as the erratic Simon Ashby constantly under the influence of Brandy, Champagne, or whatever alcoholic beverage he can get his organ-playing hands on.  Reed puts out this hateful energy that can’t be ignored and outlines Simon with defined truth about where the character stands with his own flesh and blood – a callously cold and calculating black sheep.  Simon becomes fascinating in every scene, every scenario, and continues to unravel as a wild card that always leave us wondering what he’s going to do next.  Then there’s sweet and innocent but overly distraught Eleanor from Janette Scott in complete sibling behavioral polarity that sinks Eleanor further and further into madness designed by those close to her.  Scott, who also had a starring role in “The Old Dark House” that was released the same year, came aboard relatively new to Hammer but equates her status against Reed, who Hammer was grooming to be a prominent leading man for more of their productions, by selling Eleanor’s despair and the deep-seeded craving for her other, more sweeter, brother, Tony.  Encompassing the thought dead younger brother is Alexander Davion, another newbie to Hammers’ brand with, in my opinion, a neutral and bland face that doesn’t fit the Bray Studio’s swarthy and distinguished lot of male actors.  Davion’s also doesn’t do terribly much with Tony’s sudden resurrection as he folds himself back into Ashby manor.  While this could be Freddie Francis’s shrouding display of truth upon Tony’s legitimacy, there is literally no life or passion behind Alexander Davion’s eyes as he stares blankly at accusations and even Eleanor’s incestuous flirtations.  Yes, incest becomes a rummaged theme that walks a tightrope between more than just two family members.  “Alone in the Dark’s” Sheila Burrell is the stern protector in Aunt Harriet, “Blood Beast from Outer Space’s” Maurice Denham ruffles Simon’s feathers as the Ashby estate treasurer holding all of his inheritance, “The Maniac’s Liliane Brousse nurses a façade over the well-being of Eleanor and the love interests of Simon, and the cast wraps up with John Bonney as the treasurer’s fraudulent son.

Hammer had by 1963 already established itself as a horror powerhouse with the success of colorfully bold, violently stout, and sexually-saturated innuendo classic monster features, such as with “Horrors of Dracula,” “The Curse of Frankenstein,” and “The Mummy.”  Capitalizing on the coattails of Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and sitting on the adaptational rights for Josephine Tey’s “Brat Farrar,” Hammer decided to pivot into the crime and suspense thriller direction that alluded to the aftereffects of cerebral breaking blended into elements of collusion, creating an endless tense-filled turbine revolving around the whodunit particles and the who’s veneer is covertly smeared by corruption.  In a way other than the similar one word title and an unhinged theme, “Paranoiac” could be mistaken as a Hitchcockian-shot production with the larger than life and depth rich landscapes; the vast wide shots of Isle of Purbeck’s peaks and cliff steeps are engulfed oxymoronically as an idyllically menacing key peninsula landscape centric to Tony’s long thought demise as well as a place of hopelessness as the natural English Channel waves crash relentlessly onto the rocks below.  Francis and Sangster hinge the film success on the colossal subtext of brittle strength, guilt, and a vague but prominent suggestion of incest between sister and brother and brother and aunt that, in all honestly, was a personal surprise to myself that it passed the British Board of Film Certification (BBFC).  Yet, the insinuation did and paved a real pothole plague path for viewers in a good way that the story kept evolving, kept us on our toes, and when it spiraled, it spiraled quickly and sharp in a descent onto those very hopeless rocks below waiting for our emotions to be swept away lost in a mobile, violent current. 

Paranoia runs rampant like an epidemic in this Freddie Francis aptly entitled sullen celluloid “Paranoiac,” the next Hammer film receiving a collector’s edition Blu-ray treatment from Scream Factory, the horror sublabel from Shout Factory! The region A locked encoded Blu-ray features a new 2K scan from the interpositive. By 1963, Hammer was well versed in technicolor, especially for Stateside releases of UK films, but “Paranoic” opts for the black and white picture in another subtle nod to “Psycho.” Under veteran Hammer Film’s cinematographer Arthur Grant, that famous gothic-cladded manor house is aesthetically fetching with in every detail captured by Grant’s 35mm camera as well as the broad wide shots in the bird’s eye view of Isle of Purbeck. Scream Factory releases the film in 1080p, full high definition of the original aspect ratio 2.35:1 with sterling results in extracting details and balancing the contrast without brightening or darkening where not needed or intended. There were no real damage spots to point out nor were any crops or enhancements made to touch up possible problematic or stylistic areas. The release comes with a single audio option in a DTS-HD Master Audio monaural track with slight static in the background. Dialogue is clean and mostly clear with an occasion hiss during more boisterous moments, but the range and depth of a faultless ambience and Elisabeth Lutyens brassy and bass soundtrack comes through symmetrically balanced. English SHD Subtitles are also optional. The special features include a new audio commentary with Film Historian Bruce Hallenbeck, two new interviews with author and critic Kim Newman in Drink of Deception and with film historian Jonathan Rigby in A Toast to Terror – two familiar faces seen in recent Scream Factory’s restorations of Hammer productions, a making-of segment that dives archive interviews with Jimmy Sangster and others going over the genesis of the story and into Hammer’s aspirations at the time, and a theatrical trailer. “Paranoiac” is more than just its creepy, bulbous mask that graces the Mark Maddox gorgeously green illustrated slipcover and snapper case cover art. Rarely does a film evolve from one narrative into another without crisscrossing the stitchwork, becoming overly convoluted beyond repair, yet “Paranoiac” digs in and dilates the already volatile chemistry with integrated and powerful performances from Oliver Reed and Janette Scott that makes this film high on the Hammer watch list.

Get “Paranoiac” on the Collector’s Edition Scream Factory Blu-ray!