Color, 1962, 82 mins. 11 secs.
Directed by Peter Graham Scott
Starring Peter Cushing, Yvonne Romain, Oliver Reed, Patrick Allen, Michael Ripper, Martin Benson
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Anolis (Blu-ray) (Germany RB HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Universal (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Final Cut (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (2.00:1) (16:9)

Though its macabre marketing ensured it still got mistaken for a Hammer horror film, Captain Clegg (retitled Night Creatures in the U.S. with an emphasis on its painted skeletal riders) is more in line with Captain Cleggthe company's cycle of pirate adventure films. Based on the Captain CleggDr. Syn books by Russell Thorndike, the film ended up changing its most famous character's name due to the impending TV adaptation by Disney, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, that ended up being aired the following year in 1963. The tale is set around Romney Marsh of course in the late 1700s, where horseback-riding "phantoms" strike terror in the locals who still whisper about the infamous Captain Clegg, a hanged pirate buried in the village. The local parson, Dr. Blyss (Cushing), preaches to an eclectic congregation including the restless young Harry (Reed), bar owner Rash (Benson), and his beautiful ward, Imogene (Romain), all of whom are affected when smuggler Captain Collier (Allen) and his crew show up toting along one mute survivor of Clegg's extreme punishment (Reid). The discovery of a secret passage and multiple fights and fatalities ensue as family secrets start tumbling out into the open.

A beautifully mounted and fast-paced tale with a colorful cast, Captain Clegg is above all a great showcase for Cushing who gets to show off a more nuanced and conflicted character than you might expect from a typical adventure yarn. Of course he was a pro at this with his multiple portrayals of the arrogant but layered Baron Frankenstein, and he excels here particularly in the feverish, twist-filled final fifteen minutes. The fact that both Reed and Romain from Curse of the Werewolf get paired up here is enough to bring a smile to any monster kid's face, too, and the marsh location is used effectively along with the various stony locales. In short, tons of fun.

Projectionist notes in the Universal vaults indicated that this and a handful of other films (The Brides of Dracula, The Curse of the Werewolf, etc.) were ideally intended to be projected at the odd 2.00:1 aspect ratio, something that seems highly questionable in practice with the tops of actors' heads often sheared off in the compositions. (The same issue plagues many of the studio's Douglas Sirk films.) Those aspect ratios stuck when Universal brought them all to DVD in 2005 as part of the Hammer Horror Series set, which compiles all of the Universal Hammers into one package (with zero effort for extras). In 2016, Universal upgraded all of its films to Blu-ray with the equally no-frills Hammer Horror 8-Film Collection, retaining Captain Cleggthe odd aspect ratio with this one looking quite tight if fairly workable in motion. That same ratio appeared on the U.K. disc from Final Cut, which was still noteworthy for including the 31m58s "The Making of Captain Clegg" documentary narrated by John Carson. Better was a German Blu-ray from Anolis, Captain Cleggwhich opened the framing up to 1.78:1 (with 1.55:1 opening credits for some reason); image quality is comparable to the earlier release in terms of detail, color, and so on, with English and German DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono tracks provided with optional German subtitles. Extras include a German commentary (by Dr. Rolf Giesen, Uwe Sommerlad, and Volker Kronz), the making-of doc from the Final Cut disc and an interesting look at Hammer carriage provider George Mossman (6m53s), the U.S. and German trailers, German, French and British press material galleries, a German film program, and a general promotional gallery.

The U.K. Indicator release in 2021 as part of the Hammer Volume Six: Night Shadows box comes from what appears to be the same source scan-wise, slightly reframed to 1.85:1 (which is likely how it would have actually appeared in theaters) with the main titles presented that way as well; you get the option of watching it with either the Captain Clegg or Night Creatures title sequences, but otherwise your viewing experience will be the same. A very familiar and welcome name from Scream Factory's line of Hammer titles, Constantine Nasr provides a very thorough and illuminating new audio commentary charting the whole Dr. Syn situation, Cushing's career status at the time and obvious enthusiasm for the juiciness of his role, the film's unusual placement in the pirate movie streak from the studio, and tons of details about Hammer's operations. The epic "The BEHP Interview with Peter Graham Scott" (200m46s) - yes, you read that runtime correctly - is an incredibly detailed chat with the film's director from 2004 in conversation with Darrol Blake and John Sealey, shot on SD video and covering his entire life; his film work is covered here (with a roster including the drive-in staple The Headless Ghost), but his real claim to fame covered here is his spectacular TV work on shows like The Avengers, Danger Man, The Prisoner, and kid-friendly genre classics like Children of the Stones and Into the Labyrinth. His path is a fascinating one, including an early affinity for theater that had him donning disguises in a number of roles. Another "Hammer's Women" (13m47s) has Josephine Botting focusing on Hammer wardrobe mistresses Molly Arbuthnot and Rosemary Burrows, noting how their backgrounds in theater, acting, and the early days of cinema prepared them for the daunting challenge of mounting elaborate period films on limited means. A new intro Captain Cleggby Kim Newman (13m55s) focuses on the cinematic antecedents in smuggling and "three-cornered hat" films as well as the whole literary Captain Cleggpedigree behind this one, as well as bemoaning the fact that this couldn't have spun off into a series (along with Cushing's one-off Sherlock Holmes film for Hammer). "Peter Cushing: Perspectives" (28m59s) is a poignant look at the actor's life and career with reminiscences by actors Derek Fowlds, Judy Matheson and Madeline Smith, framed by director Richard Edwards who notes how his long interview with Cushing was reflective of the legend's generous nature. Huckvale returns for "Smugglers' Gothic" (21m21s), an analysis of the score by Don Banks and the role of studio music department head Philip Martell (who composed for Hammer in his own right), with this score standing out as quite a different achievement from Banks' other work on films like Hysteria. The older making-of doc and Mossman piece are both carried over here, and the disc rounds out with the U.S. trailer and separate galleries for 104 production stills and 88 images of promotional items. The 36-page insert booklet for this one features new essays by Frank Collins and Kieran Foster, press material samples, and critics' notices.

In 2022, Scream Factory issued its own special edition highlighted by a new 2K scan from the interpositive. Though the announcement and even the packaging itself list the aspect ratio as 2.00:1, thankfully it's actually 1.85:1 throughout and nicely framed. The big difference here is actually the color timing, which is quite a bit richer than past transfers with deeper blacks as well. It's much closer to that robust Universal Hammer look we know and love from other titles, and the result here is quite satisfying throughout. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 track is in prime condition and features optional English SDH subtitles. Here you get a new audio commentary by Bruce Hallenback who delivers tons of info about the source novel, the rival Disney version and the legal loopholes, Cushing's career at Hammer, and lots more. It's completely packed and informative, and he even gets in a few brutal digs at the Mouse House, too. "Pulp Friction: The Cinematic Captain Clegg" (22m7s) is a new, different analysis of the film from Kim Newman, posing in front of several of the series novels and reeling lots of great material about the adaptation to the screen including Cushing's very gung-ho attitude to the project and his desire to pitch a sequel. Then "The Hammer Must Fall: Peter Cushing’s Changing Directions" (28m9s) features Jonathan Rigby honing in exclusively on Cushing, his dedication to the project, his love for parts that capitalized on his love of adventure films, the swashbuckler elements the actor adored, and the state of his career at the time. Ported over from the earlier releases are "The Making of Captain Clegg" and the Mossman featurette, while "Brian with Bowie" (7m56s) has special effects artist Brian Johnson recalling his time on the film providing his memories of time on the set and relating how he got into the business. Finally the disc closes with the American trailer (in a fresh HD scan) and a 3m32s gallery of international stills and theatrical poster art.


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Updated review on April 2, 2022