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.