Quatermass and the Pit

June 8, 2014 in Guest Blogs, Movies by GuestBlogs

A Guest Blog by Hevy782



Based on the TV serial of the same name, Quatermass and the Pit was the third of Hammer’s adaptations of Nigel Kneale’s work and was the first time viewers would’ve been able to see Quatermass in colour, with all three of the original TV serials and the first two films having been produced in black-and-white. Released in the US under the title Five Million Years to Earth, it was written by creator Nigel Kneale who had been unhappy with the liberties taken in the previous two films. For this one the story line was kept much closer to the original with a couple of sub-plots cut out to condense the story so that it would better fit the film’s run time.

The film was released at a time when Hammer was nearing the height of it’s popularity and it had gained a strong reputation for its horror films by this point, of which you can see a lot of influences in here. Upon its release in November 1967, the film was received well be critics and has left a legacy which has affected many popular science-fiction shows like Doctor Who and Sapphire and Steel. The film stars Andrew Keir as Professor Bernard Quatermass, James Donald as palaeontologist Doctor Matthew Roney, Barbara Shelley as Barbara Judd and Julian Glover as Colonel Breen. The story itself begins with an ancient skull being discovered while changed are being made to the underground station at Hobb’s End. Further digging reveals an alien spaceship which leads to new revelations about the origins of the human race and a threat which could destroy the entire world.

First off I’ll give my spoiler-free thoughts followed by some spoiler talk in the paragraph below. I think it’s best to get this out the way first: I love this movie. Everything from the plot to the acting to the direction is all amazing. I will say that I did watch the original TV serial first and it’s amazing how true to that this is. While I ultimately prefer the TV serial because it had more times to flesh things out and build up more tension I must say that this is by no means a poor copy in comparison. There is the change of setting from an aboveground building site in the TV serial to an underground railway station here but I think that helps to get the sense of claustrophobia across in this that was created by the black-and-white in the TV serial. At first I was worried it may be too small of a set but as the dug away more stuff in story the set itself got bigger and my worries went away. The movie itself defiantly had a gritty feel to it which made it look very interesting visually and fit the tone of Quatermass perfectly. The spaceship itself is quite well designed and is more streamlined than the one in the original. It’s also quite unnerving and could be counted as a character in its own right, with the scenes inside it being particularly unsettling. Andrew Keir done a very good job as Quatermass, while I was a bit worried that he wasn’t making enough of an impact at first he soon got much better as the story got going. James Donald was great as Roney and while he wasn’t given as much development as in the TV serial he was still well characterised in this. For me Barbara Shelly failed to make as much as an impact on me as Barbara Judd as the character had in the TV serial, most likely because a sub plot which focused on her in the TV serial was completely cut out here. Julian Glover (who many of you will probably recognise as General Veers in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back) kills it as Colonel Breen and made me completely forget the TV version. Overall, it’s a fun and well acted film which I could easily sit down and watch again. It’s surprisingly true to the original and yet it doesn’t let that compromise it which makes it an instant classic and its easy to tell why it’s lasted so long as a piece of classic science-fiction.

Now onto some spoilers so if you haven’t seen it yet then I recommend you take care here. To begin with I think we’ll look at the horror elements, of which there are quite a few. First of which are the Martians themselves which in the TV serial, despite being described as revolting by the rest of the cast, next really made you believe they were as sickening as they were made out to be. In this I think the colour really helps as the decomposing creatures really do put you off your popcorn (or whatever it is you happen to be eating) and they are truly a sickening site. Another strong horror element is the deaths in this, namely Colonel Breen’s but first I want to talk about the electricians. In a lot of TV or films when someone gets electrocuted you often don’t see much, just a relatively unchanged body and occasionally a bit of smoke coming off them. He it’s much more really with the electricians body being completely charred and almost unrecognisable with smoke running off his body. Then there’s Breen’s death which in the TV serial is quite different with it appearing that he’s just been petrified or something along those lines but here it’s much more obvious with a quick shot of his burnt body still steaming before it falls. It’s probably the most horror-filled moment of the film and while it doesn’t last for long it still leaves quite an impact on you. The idea of the plot itself is quite well done and unique with the Martians influencing human evolution to try and cause a race purge like they have on Mars (the Martian one was done much better in the TV serial by the way), while this is caused it happens a bit too late for their purposes. There’s also the idea of the image of the Devil being given to us by the Martians and while these are idea which have been homaged (or ripped off, whichever you prefer) by Doctor Who many times since, it was done here first and arguably done here best. Now onto what is quite possibly the biggest spoiler of the whole thing which is Roney’s sacrifice at the end to stop the race purge. It’s quite an emotional moment which leads into a rather downbeat ending with Quatermass and Barbara standing in the ruins of London mourning their lost friend. Another interesting note about Roney’s character is that he’s one of the few not to be affected by the implanted memory of the race purge while Quatermass is, while it would usually be the main character who is unaffected by such things. However, you could argue that Quatermass isn’t the main character (despite being the title one) as James Donald gets his name listed first in the credits and on a lot of the promotional material. I’m not sure what particular reason there is behind that (perhaps he was a bigger name at the time) but that’s the way it is. That aside, I think it was a suitably sad ending to the film and fit the gritty feel of Quatermass perfectly. The race purge was very well done with chaos everywhere and in the centre of it you have possibly the only two sane people, Quatermass and Roney, trying to stop it. It’s funny to think that this is all caused by human ignorance with Colonel Breen and the government failing to believe that it was an alien spaceship which is what led to all this chaos. It makes you raise the question who is the true villain of the piece,? The aliens? The spaceship? Or perhaps just human ignorance itself? I think I’ll leave it on that thoughtful note and wind it all up by saying if you haven’t seen this film yet then I suggest you do as soon as possible as it’s one of the best pieces of science fiction to ever be produced and it’s such an amazing film that I can assure you that you won’t be left disappointed by it one bit.