Review: Quatermass and the Pit (12) / Directed by: Roy Ward Baker / Screenplay by: Nigel Kneale / Starring: James Donald, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, Julian Glover
Whisper the name Quatermass and the Pit, and you’ll have even the most hardened sci-fi fan hiding beneath his bed in fits of drooling paranoia.
Despite being fifty years since the original show, Quatermass has become linked with the mysterious, the strange, and the outright weird. It’s fair to say Quatermass and the Pit secreted itself into the public consciousness and reaches out its ethereal claws in more ways than one.
Ideas which have become standard tropes of the genre, reflected time and time again in classics such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Star Trek began here: the primordial soup of Sci-Fi.
Digitally remastered for Blu-ray, this new version has been scrubbed clean, given a new lick of paint and kicked blinking into the sterile light of the twenty-first century. Each scene has an authentic ‘60’s’ feel but is presented with such crystal clarity that it could have been filmed only yesterday.
Hobb’s End is at once an ordinary street in London and a place where the architects of the world’s destruction lay dormant, mere ghosts - or should that be locusts - of their former selves.
For those not familiar with Quatermass and the Pit, the story is essentially a five-million year old invasion of Earth. Happens all the time. Beneath the London subway station of Hobbs End, a mysterious thing is discovered. While top boffins scramble for an answer to what it might mean, the military step in with their own theories: anything from an unexploded bomb to propaganda device of the Nazis. During all of this, Professor Quatermass makes a series of startling and grim discoveries that revolutionise how mankind perceives itself and even questions our place in the world.
A high-brow, thinking man’s science fiction that one can slip into while enjoying a slice of true British cinematic history. Quatermass and the Pit is a tense, dramatic film with a twisting, revolving plot that ends in a place as surprising as it is poignant.
The social commentary that runs throughout touches upon the very nature of evil, society’s unrest – as important today as it was back then – and the monster that lurks within us all. Just beneath the skin, ripping at the slender veil of what’s laughingly referred to as civilisation.
Scripted by Nigel Kneale, filmed by Hammer Studios, starring the late Andrew Keir as Quatermass and the esteemed Julian Glover as Colonel Breen, this film delivers a solid and powerful performance through to the final apocalyptic reel.
That’s not to say it’s without faults. For all the pathos presented, Quatermass and the Pit remains a beast of its time: a Hammer production from the company renowned for wobbly sets and low-budget pieces. The special effects are dire. The original series of ten years earlier managed better. But that doesn’t matter. It’s not important. You have to suspend your disbelief further than normal to understand the vision this film struggles to represent.
The Blu-ray version of Quatermass and the Pit is packed with extra goodies, including a range of interviews with actors, film buffs, and Mark Gatiss – doesn’t he get everywhere these days!
In summery, if Quatermass and the Pit feels like tired, well-trodden ground that’s because it continues to be emulated in genre film making of the last half-century: a fitting testament to this film’s raw power to impress.
Quatermass and the Pit is out now on (R2) Blu-ray/DVD
To read our interview with Quatermass and the Pit actor Julian Glover, click here.