B-Movie Inspirations: Captain Clegg (1962) & Crescendo (1970)

B-Movie Inspirations: Captain Clegg (1962) & Crescendo (1970)

I have started watching a lot of old Hammer films lately – a collection of psychological horror as well as gothic horror films because I have always liked that style of movie. I did not realize that Hammer did so many outside of just the standard goth horror movies I remember. What I have learned is that alongside the 1960s gothic horror films, Hammer made a series of films that were sort of mini-Hitchcock movies – exploring the horror of insanity and the like. These were of course low-budget and always ended with some sort of twist. He also did a few dark themed swashbucklers that also had interesting stories. Watching a couple of both, I feel like these stories today would be told in much shorter form, perhaps because this era established the tropes we now see. I felt Crescendo especially could be in an episode of something like Supernatural or X-files.

In this review, I am looking at one of each and maybe we can see if we can make a single RPG plot of them.

Captain Clegg is the swashbuckling tail of a pirate captain that peaked my interest because Peter Cushing is in it. It starts out a little obscure and vague. First we are in 1776 on board a pirate ship captained by the legendary ruthless (unseen) Captain Clegg, where a crew member (a mulatto, in their words) is condemned to a isolated island with his tongue cut out. But this is scene brief, then jumping to scrolling text that takes us to 1792 France where Clegg was supposedly been captured by the Royal Navy and hanged. The village is called Dymchurch on the Romney Marsh, and it is his resting place. However, the surrounding countryside is home to the Marsh Phantoms – figures on horseback who ride by night and bring terror to the village, as well as creepy scarecrows with human eyes.

In the village, we meet the Church Parson, who seems to be more in charge than he should be, the Inn Keeper, the Bar keep, the Undertaker and a young lady Imogène. A group of Royal Navy sailors led by Captain Collier arrive to investigate rumors of smuggling of French alcohol. With them coincidentally is the mute mulatto was rescued by the good captain and kept as a slave. This guy adds a certain level of Frankenstein’s Monster creepiness to it because he can’t speak.

Long story short, Captain Clegg did not die when hung, but saved by the executioner in return for helping his beloved town from getting on of the doldrums that it was in. There was also an implication that the king made a deal with the captain to pardon him if he stopped his pirating ways, but I didn’t get the full story on that. Clegg is the Church Parson and Imogène is his daughter. The enslaved mulatto is the only one that recognizes the Captain and ironically can not tell anyone directly.

They have been running an lucrative smuggling operation out of the town using the coffins of the Undertaker. The Scarecrows are actually some of the crew acting as scouts along the hilltops around the town, and the Marsh Phantoms are other crew members in specially painted skeleton costumes used to scare interested parties away and keep some of the less-grateful villagers in line. In return for this operation, the town sees prosperity.

Crescendo is a totally different tale. In modern day 1970s, a girl named Susan Roberts is drawn (invited, I believe) to the south of France to research the late composer Henry Ryman. She is a music student working on a thesis and was invited or asked to spend some time on his chateaux by his widow Danielle. Also in this nice mansion like house is her son, Georges, who is in a wheel chair and we find out his also addicted to drugs.

Spoilers ahead but the basic background story that is revealed over time is Ryman and his wife had twins – Georges and Jacques. Jacques was married to a woman that looks a lot like Susan, named Katherine. Momma Danielle wanted both boys to follow in dads foots steps and I would guess his death did not hit her well. However, much to her disappointment, only Jacques became the musician, while Georges went on to be an athlete. I got the general feeling, that there was not something right about Jacques to begin with but it is not said outright.. However, it is implied through the story, particularly through flashbacks, that Jacques’s wife ended up preferring the other twin to the point of an affair. This leads to Jacques going totally crazy, murdering his wife and paralyzing his brother with a shotgun.

Now we don’t know any of this until the end. Jacques is locked in the dungeon-like wine seller (with full mobility) axe murdering mannequins dressed up like Katherine that his mother supplies in hopes that it will cure him. Every once in a while, the mother lets him out to play the piano for her. I think she gave up on the mannequins and was delighted that someone like Susan came along. The end is a big reveal of the twins, the crazy rantings of a morning husband that can’t get a grip on the death of his wife and the crazy mom who thinks she can fix her favorite son by replacing the wife. There is also a subtext of being the family disappointment and the despair that can bring to a man.

How can we combine these two into a coherent and interesting plot?

First define the setting and the characters. Using the swashbuckling side as the main setting, but it can be in fantasy or sci-fi, the main characters will be:

  • Captain George Clegg – former captain of a pirate ship called the Black Phantom. The Captain lost one leg in a pirate raid and has a pegleg.
  • Jacque Clegg – the insane or otherwise afflicted hidden twin of George, the reason for the mystery behind this story.
  • Various crew members (some of which are Phantoms).
  • Various Villagers

The location is a Town somewhere remote but also close enough to the mainland or the core that it could act as a great place for a smuggling operation. It could be a colony in a sci-fi setting or a village in a fantasy setting.

The change to the background is that the Black Phantom was a pirate ship that was lead by Captain Clegg. However, this ship became known as the cursed ship because at every port it would dock, a handful of women (usually whores) would be axed murdered. Soon not only were the authorities hunting them down, many pirates were too. It became more and more difficult for the ship to dock so the Captain made a decision to fake his death and take over a remote town – The Town – and run a smuggling operation out of that would benefit everyone.

However, instead of overtly taking over, the captain is a little more strategic about it and slowly inserts his crew in the Town’s infrastructure – the Inn, the Tavern, the Funeral Home and of course, the church – and slowly working in the smuggling operation behind the scenes. The Town’s people are none the wiser. This infiltration would probably take a little bribery so perhaps some Elders or Administrators were paid off.

His Black Phantom Riders will act as his enforcers for surrounding towns, while his crew kept the towns people in line. The trouble came when the Captain had to deal with his twin. The truth about that is that the twin has been kept in the lower decks of the ship, and the captain is forced to let him out every once in a while to allow him to “feed.” This can be a supernatural feed or something similar to the movie where he seeks revenge on his wife for cheating on him.

The captain takes on the role of a holy man of the town, hiding his pegleg with a more realistic wooden leg. He walks with a limp and claims it is an old “war wound.” Now the captain and crew are no longer at sea. This makes it harder and harder for the Captain to keep his brother under control. The captain has to come up with a way to deal with him – stranding him on an island was his only solution.

Suddenly, women begin to die around the town and the new town holy man is nervous because it seems all too familiar. The players can be the local authorities arriving to deal with the rumors of the Phantoms or following a string of murders that lead to this town. The story is a mixture of mystery and potential pirate intrigue. Other crew members could have plans to betray the captain. Perhaps a villager or two have gotten wind of the smuggling operation. Or a prominent person in a neighboring town was killed by the Phantoms. Maybe the Phantoms were originally set up to scare people but an overzealous crewmember took it too far.

The ending is really about who is the real enemy? Is it the pirates running a smuggling operation that has a good side and a bad side – the good bring helping the town while the bad is the Phantoms. Or is it the twin? Which evil do the players face off with.