HORRORTHON '10: Captain Clegg (Peter Graham Scott, 1962)

Adapted from Russell Thorndike's literary series about a town that thrives on bootlegging, Hammer Studios' Captain Clegg was originally to be titled "Doctor Syn". The name was changed so not to conflict with Disney's own impending adaptation (a three-part miniseries ultimately titled The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh). Hammer had also planned an adaptation of Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend" named "Night Creatures", but canned the idea upon warnings it would likely be banned in England, leaving an unfulfilled promise to the United States for a "Night Creatures" film. For a quick solution, they re-branded Clegg yet again for Stateside release.

Hammer often has an interesting way of handling their protagonist/antagonist angles. More often than not we are in the realm of the antihero. While the characterization creates seemingly clear lines between who we are intended to side with and who we are intended to scorn (no matter how righteous they may actually be from an objective stance), the favored side rarely wins out. Is this a lesson? Is it cruelty? Whatever the case, Clegg's handling here is a bit more careful, as where it does play with the line in spite of an otherwise clear good/bad division, it comes off overall as a moral fable. The story, though loaded with captivating but ultimately extraneous subplots, could easily be boiled down and told in the style of Aesop.

Clegg is a thoroughly entertaining and seamlessly woven tale rife with distinct and colorful characters. On a list of favorite non-franchise Hammer, I'd place it close to the top, just shy of The Hound of the Baskervilles (which features the best Cushing performance I've seen thus far) but still munching The Devil Rides Out's dust. It also holds the honor of being only the second Hammer to actually frighten me a bit, as I found its "marsh phantoms" to be quite creepily well-accomplished (the first to frighten was the aforementioned Devil Rides Out, which features a truly marrow-freezing depiction of Satan). With much of the focus on story progression and suggestion, there aren't too many punches to throw, but the ones we do encounter certainly aren't pulled.

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