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The Quatermass Experiment (1955) - The Creeping Unknown
The Quatermass Experiment (1955) was the first of three classic Hammer movies based on the seminal 1950’s BBC TV serials written by Nigel Kneale. The success of this movie gave Hammer the impetus to go on to develop the many horror movies for which they are best remembered. It was directed by Val Guest and was retitled The Creeping Unknown for it’s U.S. release.
The film begins with a space rocket crashing to Earth, there is one survivor Victor Carroon (Richard Wordsworth). He is found to have brought back strange alien spores which have attached themselves to his body and begin to grow. Professor Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) arrives to investigate.
Becoming increasingly disturbed Carroon escapes from hospital, eventually he mutates into a blob-like creature and goes on the rampage around London killing helpless citizens. The creature is finally cornered in Westminister Abbey, Quatermass gives the order to electrocute the creature. (The original TV serial ended with Quatermass talking to all three astronaut psyches lingering within the monster, convincing them to turn against it, he succeeds and the alien blob dies.)
Richard Wordsworth is genuinely touching as the scared and confused astronaut who is slowly being eaten alive by an alien horror. Brian Donlevy, who was usually cast as the heavy in Hollywood westerns, is effective in the role of Quatermass, a proud proponent of space science who isn’t afraid to tackle whatever terrors outer space may throw at him.
The film was titled The Quatermass ‘X’periment in the UK, referring to the expected X certificate the film would be given by the jittery British censors for what would be regarded as alarming and horrific content in those innocent days of British cinema. Hammer studios would soon be famous for their X certificate movies and the adult rating was to become one of their major draw cards.
The Quatermass series is optimistic about the future and the inherent ability of the human race to overcome adversity, and perhaps this gives some indication as to why it was such an unexpected success. Quatermass along with Doctor Who, remain a British SF institution.
Quatermass II (U.S. title - Enemy from Space) followed in 1957, again starring Brian Donlevy as Professor Quatermass, this time the professor investigating strange meteor showers discovers a secret experimental plant in the English countryside which is harbouring alien organisms intent on taking over the Earth,
Quatermass and the Pit (U.S. - Five Million Years to Earth) was released in 1967 and is generally considered the best of the Quatermass films. Andrew Keir played Quatermass on this occasion and the plot revolves around the discovery of an alien spaceship at a London underground station. The dead rotting occupants of the ship look like large locusts, they are taken away to be examined and studied but somewhere in the alien ship a long dormant evil begins to stir…
In 1979 a TV series titled Quatermass appeared, the Professor was this time played by Sir John Mills and the story was about young hippies drawn to mysterious stone circles, who are than abducted by an alien race for a grisly purpose.
The Critics Wrote (on The Quatermass Experiment) -
“Fairly suspenseful science fiction monster entry for them what gets their kicks this way” (Variety)
“Intelligent science fiction based on a highly successful BBC TV serial, the film version is generally workmanlike despite it’s obvious low budget” (Halliwell)
“Tense, imaginative, adult and well-acted by all concerned” (Maltin)
“Val Guest, the director, certainly knows his business when it comes to providing the more horrid brand of thrills...” (The Times)
“That TV pseudo-science shocker The Quatermass Experiment has been filmed and quitermess they've made of it too” (Reynolds News)