Night Creatures - 1962

Night Creatures - released June 13, 1962. Directed by Peter Graham Scott

The 1962 Night Creatures from Hammer Films is packaged as just another horror movie from the famous British film company which specialized in scarey films, but it isn't one at all. It does contain some footage of ghostly horse-riding, but this is only a facade used by a group of ex-pirates to conduct a smuggling operation and to frighten away inquisitive villagers (the highly mobile skeletal figures are called 'marsh-phantoms' in the story).

Yvonne Romaine, Peter Cushing, Patrick Allen and Oliver Reed are our main cast and characters they play provides a mixture of mystery and romance set in 18th century England, surrounded by sumptuous Hammer-style art direction that typically gives all of their output a look of tasteful luxury. Costuming is also first-rate, which is also standard to Hammer Films.

There is a brief interlude aboard ship at the beginning of the film, but otherwise our pirate (or really, ex-pirate) cast is generally land-bound. Yvonne Romaine is Imogene who works as a 'serving wench' at the ale house, and Peter Cushing is Dr. Blyss, the local pastor at the church which is also incidentally a headquarters for the smuggling operation. Dr Blyss isn't everything he seems, and a special police investigation sent by the King to locate the supposed smugglers will eventually end up at his doorstep. But there is much more at stake than just the secrets about moving contraband.

Redemption isn't a usual Hammer Film theme, but it shows up here. Oliver Reed (as Harry Cobtree) is brooding and handsome, and his (secret) love affair with Imogene is an additional complication (Cobtree comes from a higher social position, a genuine problem for a 'serving wench' in 18th century England). Meanwhile, Imogene's legal guardian Mr. Rash the innkeeper (Martin Benson) can barely keep his hands off Imogene (she either shoves or slaps him out of the way when he can't contain himself) but when he learns a few secrets about Dr. Blyss he thinks he has finally found a tool to control the beautiful bar maid. He, of course, is mistaken.

The direction by Peter Scott makes the best of the limited number of sets and the galloping ghosts are very impressive. Scott seems to treat Yvonne Romaine's beauty as one of the movie's special effects, and Peter Cushing is his usual all-business serious self, with humor showing up just around the edges.

The fashion in early 1960s film (and especially TV drama) was to push the camera up close to the faces of the characters, and that happens a lot here. Cushing, Oliver Reed, Patrick Allen and Yvonne Romaine all have interesting faces so that's not necessarily a bad thing, but this does try to charge a scene with tension, artificially, that simply isn't provided by the script. The worst example of this artificiality is the simple task of the investigating Royal police marching across swamps and the music pounds away as if this brisk walk is a risky episode that may end in terror. It never does.

Original Page January 7, 2016
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