It starts as a rather innocent excavation of a subway tunnel in London. Some humanoid skeletons are found, and next to them a metallic object. Perhaps it's an old unexploded bomb? The diggers take no chances and call in the military.
Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) arrives to take charge, and with him a curious professor by the name of Quatermass (Andrew Keir). His speciality is not the trivial human conflicts of Earth, his interests lie beyond this planet, on the moon, in space, and beyond.
When the metallic object is fully uncovered one thing becomes clear: This is not a bomb. It's a spaceship. Suddenly professor Quatermass finds himself far more useful than anyone had anticipated.
The first thing you should know about this film is that there are several other movies and a few TV serials carrying the Quatermass moniker. The second thing you should know is that this is effectively a standalone story, so no prior knowledge of the franchise is required...
Any movie that opens with the uncovering of a mysterious, possibly alien, object has my vote. However, this is not a $250 million CGI Hollywood production, so don't expect trips to the dark side of the moon and a planet wide alien invasion force. This is a relatively cheap British B-movie and most of it takes place in the same location, or rather set - that almost convincing excavation site. I don't mind that. If the story is interesting enough, cardboard sets and stuff hanging in strings are okay. And the core story IS interesting. A mysterious spaceship and weird artifacts! I was glued to the screen during those early discussion, when the scientists were desperately trying to make sense of it all, and then of course there's that bone-chilling moment when the ship opens... Ah! I've said too much already!
I also appreciated the final act of the movie, where all hell breaks loose and the story opens up to include the entire city. There's panic in the streets, and the future of the entire human race is on the line!
Oddly enough, while I was unbothered by some of the B-movie antics, I couldn't help but notice how casually every character treats these events, from a safety and security point of view.
When the humanlike skulls are first brought forward, the lead expert violently hacks away at the (obviously ordinary) clay that covers it, without any fear that he'll damage the precious find (I'm reminded of that less than scientific fossil uncovering at the beginning of Jurassic Park). The men who examine the spaceship wear gloves AFTER they realize it gives them cold burns, when they touch it, and no one wears masks or any other kind of protective gear. Highly irregular. And I haven't even gotten to security yet! Anybody could just walk into the dig site without being checked. At some point a reporter asks when he can get in, he's told he'll have to wait until the morning, but he could literally walk straight into the place, if the solitary guard was momentarily distracted.
In spite of all this, I still enjoyed the hell out of this movie! It was silly, it had some problems, but it was fun! I'm reading 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clark at the moment, and frankly the cheesy B-level story here was a bit of a relief, compared to Clark's fascinating, but cold, scientific storytelling.
Prior to watching this film I checked out a recent release of the first two feature films The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) and Quatermass 2 (1957). They were produced more than 10 years earlier and to the best of my knowledge on an even lower budget. They were in horrible condition, so it was with some reservation that I popped this Bluray into the player.
Luckily Quatermass and the Pit (1967) fared much better than the others. With striking bright colors the quality of the image is already far better than I had hoped. There's quite a bit of grain present, but the image still felt sharp, despite the obvious shortcomings of the source material. One must consider the age of the a film, and taking that into account I don't think we'll ever get a better version than this.
The extras consist mostly of interviews. Everyone from Julian Glover to Joe Dante gets a chance to weigh in on the film, and the combined running time is close to 2 hours! This may seem a little dull - just talking heads interviews - but there are some very interesting stories to tell here. Also included is a 24 minute "World of Hammer" documentary and some trailers. Overall a very nice package.
I'm glad I finally had a chance to check out this classic film. I'm always interested in discovering unseen science fiction movies - new or old - because this is a criminally undersupplied genre. Anyone who feels the same way can safely check out Quatermass and the Pit. You need to get past the shoddy set, the cheesy dialogue and most of the other B-movie elements. If you can do that, this trip into the pit with professor Quatermass is a perfect way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTSThanks to StudioCanal and Edith Chappey for making this review possible.