During 1776 there was a notorious pirate sailing the high seas named Captain Clegg. When one of his crew, a mulatto (Milton Reid), killed his wife shortly after she gave birth, he cut out the man's tongue and marooned him on an island on the coral reef - however, this man was picked up by a passing ship later on... Moving forward to 1792, and the Romney Marshes in southern England are host to smugglers who the King's men are desperately trying to catch and stop from illegally importing alcohol without paying duty on it. One of the villages on the marsh has Dr Blyss (Peter Cushing) as its mild-mannered pastor, and today he is giving a sermon to the townsfolk in the local church. A troupe of the King's men led by Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) arrive in the area at the same time - will they uncover any wrongdoing?
Captain Clegg, or Night Creatures as it was known overseas by a less giveaway title, was a Hammer exploit in the historical adventure stakes, a remake of the nineteen-thirties George Arliss vehicle Dr. Syn. Although it has elements of a horror film, it's not really part of that genre; in spite of the spectres haunting the marshes and the touches of macabre and the occasional brutalities, it's more of a romp, played straight but with the odd item of wit to lighten the story. It was scripted by Anthony Hinds under his John Elder pen name, with additional dialogue from Barbara S. Harper, and wins you over with its spirit and atmosphere.
That said, it's not what you could call surprising, so it's a better watch if you're feeling indulgent towards its predictability - although the film attempts to play games with the viewer's expectations, there's no doubt about who is doing the smuggling and who is really who under an assumed name. Cushing is a lot of fun here, whether preaching from his pulpit and encouraging his congregation to sing with more gusto, or revealed as the mastermind behind the illegal activities, here painting him as something of a Robin Hood figure with the best of intentions toward the villagers, if not the badly-behaved soldiers.
Every Robin Hood needs his Sheriff of Nottingham just as every good hero (or anti-hero, I guess) needs a formidable villain to show him off to his best advantage, and here the stern, booming-voiced Allen is the equal of Cushing. The plot throws in who turns out to be the daughter of Clegg, Imogene (Yvonne Romain), who works as the serving wench at the inn and wishes to marry Harry (Oliver Reed as a romantic type), the son of the squire, but how will he react when he finds out her lineage? Then there's the mute mulatto from the prologue who is kept on a leash by the soldiers and sniffs out any illegal alcohol - why does he seem to recognise Dr Blyss? Well, it's not too difficult to work out, is it? It's nice to see Hammer regulars like Reid and Michael Ripper, especially good as the undertaker, get a bit more to do than usual, and overall Captain Clegg proves most diverting, if never inspiring. What it really needed was a good old-fashioned swordfight. Music by Don Banks.