Release in North America as Five Million Years To Earth, the 101 Sci-Fi Movies brings a chilling, unnerving tale to me with this Hammer adaptation of a classic BBC serial.
Quatermass and the Pit has it all, the devil, ghosts, psychic abilities, aliens and a UFO long-buried, all of these items are in service to a plot concept later visited in Kubrick’s 2001, and Ridley Scott’s, like it or lump it, Prometheus.
Having more in common with Prometheus, than 2001, the film’s revelations show us that perhaps those beings that had their hand in creating us, boosting us up the evolutionary ladder, only did so for their own benefit, to use us.
The film is set in a fictional part of London, Hobbs End (John Carpenter fans should recognize it) where they are digging up the earth to expand the tube line. A professor, Dr. Mathew Roney ( James Donald) is on hand to investigate some recovered elongated ape-men skulls, further digging reveals what everyone believes, initially, to be an unexploded German weapon left over from the Second World War.
The Army is called in led by Colonel Breen (Julian Glover – a name Bond, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars fans should recognize) as the excavation continues. In tow with Breen is Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir), who begins to investigate from his position on the sidelines.
He finds that the entire area is mired in myth and legend, rumors of hauntings, poltergeist activity, visions of horned devil-like figures.
Despite the military denials, Quatermass and Roney soon come to believe that the device isn’t a relic of World War II, but is in fact an intergalactic ship, from which these man-apes had escaped or fallen out of.
The mystery deepens when the ship’s shielded interior is punctured by a powerful drill, revealing a clutch of desiccated alien forms, reminiscent of large locust-like insects. Quatermass begins to suspect that the ship and the desiccated corpses still have some latent but incredibly powerful psychic powers, which were used to augment our ancient ancestors.
With the help of his assistant Barbara (Barbara Shelley) and a device that can read mental images, they channel the psychic energies to a visual medium and we get a look at the aliens, perhaps on Mars.
The film rockets to its climax, as the powers of the ship begin to expand, taking over the people who are now allowed to see the excavated ship, now classified by Ministry of Defense as a propaganda device of the Nazis.
It’s up to Quatermass and Roney to figure out how to stop the organic ship, before it tears the mental faculties of the English public apart. Perhaps the answer lays in our own religious mythology!
This was my first exposure to the Quatermass, and I think I may end up hunting down the original series and stories penned by Nigel Kneale, apparently a lot of his stories deal with the intersection of science fiction and horror, a cross of genres I’ve always found fascinating.
One of the things that struck me as different was the fact that the title character, played by Keir, is almost a sidekick character, he does the investigation and helps out, but a lot of the time he’s a sideline character while the plot and action moves around him. Just kind of odd.
Have you seen the original series or read any of his work? What ones would you recommend?