Jules picks up where he left off in October by running through some of the choice horror offerings from the fantastic Hammer back catalogue.
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Starring: Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, James Donald
Director: Roy Ward Baker
“We are the Martians now.”
For its third and final Quatermass adaptation, Hammer really went to town. Adapted for the screen by original author Nigel Kneale, this last entry is practically flawless, both a gripping horror film and a high concept sci-film, perfectly paced, building up from a creeping dread to what may as well be the end of the world before its end.
When an underground dig in London uncovers an object made of a mysterious, unidentified metal, Professor Quatermass (Andrew Keir) makes a discovery that not only has huge implications for the origins of humanity, but might even spell disaster for its future.
Simple, eh? That’s part of why Quatermass And The Pit works so well. That innocuous archeological dig at the start, slowly opening up with one revelation after another, spooling through thoughts of Satan and witchcraft before eventually getting to the point that the entire human race owes its existence to insects from Mars.
As simple as the main plot is, there’s some big ideas in here, like race memory, eugenics and hive minds, concepts that lift Quatermass And The Pit away from being even close to a simple sci-fi horror.
Replacing Bryan Donlevy in the tithe role, Andrew Keir really makes Professor Quatermass his own. Coming over as less abrasive and morally ambiguous than Donlevy, he plays it if not quite a hero, then certainly in a man trying to do the right thing for the right reasons. He’s initially sceptical, but doesn’t let his science hold him back when evidence starts to present itself.
Making her final appearance in a Hammer film, Barbara Shelley is her usual wonderfully charismatic self as Barbara Judd, one of the archeological team. What could have been a fairly thankless role comes to life in Shelley’s safe hands, with her pain at experiencing the Martian race memory a particular highlight of the film.
Brilliantly, it’s not Quatermass who ends up being the hero of the piece. That honour belongs to Dr Roney (James Donald), the head of the archeological dig. It’s him that first realises what might be going on, it’s him that comes up with a possible solution to the nightmare about to engulf the world and it’s him that deals with it with the firmest of stiff upper lips. It’s a marvellous touch of writing by Kneale, showing great restraint in not giving his hero the heavy lifting and Donald does a great job of selling it.
The sets are brilliantly realised too, from the main Hobb’s Lane tube station dig and the bustling streets to the devastation in the streets for its massive climax, this is a London that lives and breathes, thanks in no small part to director Roy Ward Baker’s first rate work.
As urban horror goes, Quatermass And The Pit is the gold standard in what you can do with it. As far as sci-fi horror goes, the same applies. As far as Hammer goes? Well, you’d be hard pushed to find any film in that glorious back catalogue that hits every mark as perfectly as this does. Flawless.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy