Workers excavating at an underground station in London uncover the skeletal remains of ancient apes with large skulls. Further digging reveals what is at first believed to be an unexploded German bomb from World War II. Missile expert Colonel Breen is brought in to investigate, accompanied by Professor Bernard Quartermass. When the interior of the "missile" is exposed, a dead locust-like creature that resembles the devil is found. It is determined by Quartermass that these "locusts" are evil Martians who altered the brains of our simian ancestors to eventually lay claim to the Earth. When Quartermass's suspicion that the missile can reactivate the dormant evil in humans is confirmed, all hell breaks loose.
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
. Starring: James Donald
, Andrew Keir
, Barbara Shelley
, Julian Glover
, Duncan Lamont
, Bryan Marshall
, Peter Copley
, Edwin Richfield
, Grant Taylor
, Maurice Good
, Robert Morris
, Sheila Steafel
, Hugh Futcher
. Music by: Tristram Cary
I remember seeing this movie as a kid in Compton on my small black and white TV. The eerie holographic image of the Martian Devil's Head floating over the wreckage of London stayed in my mind, and led to more than a few nightmares. Still, I can't deny this film's pull after the decades, and it is a Guilty Pleasure that I often pull from the DVD cabinet. And no, I'm not a Quatermass Fan.
Even today, despite the film's fair degree of dating, I am impressed and staggered by the conceptual genius of Nigel Kneale's script, and Roy Ward Baker's ability to mesh sci-fi and "Spiritual Evil" (as a disturbed Parson notes) in a product that is well removed from the standard Hammer fare. There is a real subversive pull to this little film, which piles on concepts such as Race Memory, Evolution, Conformity, Alien Colonization, Belief in "The Devil" and the occult, Ethnic Cleansing, Human Supremacy, and the arrogance, stupidity and mendacity of politicians and the military. On some level, it's hard not to be awed by the film's ambitions..
(SOME PLOT SPOILERS BELOW)
The plot: progress on The Hobb's End Underground Transport comes to a halt when the subway workers unearth what appear to be primitive apelike skeletons and a mysterious "craft" which is initially believed to be an unexploded bomb left over from The War. Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir), at odds with the government over the planned military use of his "rocket group" investigates, with the assistance of two paleontologists, Dr. Mathew Roney (James Donald), and Dr. Barbara Judd (Barbara Shelley). Disturbed and intrigued that the skeletons were found IN the ship and appear to date nearly 5 millions years, and that the largely vacated Hobb's End Lane area has been a site for of "demoniac activity," for centuries.
Given the film's rather meager resources, it is hard not be impressed by the story, acting, and general mood of growing apocalyptic. In the usual Hammer film, the nemesis is clearly the supernatural: in these movies, we fear violent death at the hands of vampires, werewolves, ghouls, etc. The horror on hand in this movie, which doesn't show itself in all its preening glory until the end, is far more insidious and devastating. The Evil that threatens human civilization itself, questions our Evolution, Intellect, and Spiritual Beliefs. Because The Evil in Quatermass is, in essence, Dead from the get-go, it can't be easily faced, conquered, disputed with and laid to rest. The evil is, in fact, rooted firmly in the collective Mind of Man, and given the right "trigger", is able to manifest itself on a staggering, all-encompassing level. It shows itself in small clues: the scratches on the walls in the houses on Hobb's Lane, old local newspaper pieces and local history tomes, skulls, pentagrams on spaceship hulls, etc.: but when it finally does arrive, it upends Mankind's very identity, and the damage that is done, doesn't look like it can be repaired or explained away. Even when the "Pit's" alien ghosts are defeated, the victory seems pretty hollow.
Keir, whom I remember from such films as "Fall of The Roman Empire," and "Dracula Has Risen From The Grave", plays his role with gruff conviction ("I never had a career, I just had work!" He grouses to his unwanted colleague Colonel Breen), and I have always liked the amiable Donald, who was terrific as the most sane character in one of my favorite movies, "Bridge on The River Kwai.". The two are well-matched by the excellent Barbara Shelley, who brings a fair degree of wild sensuality to her role when she's possessed by an alien race memory. Still, I have to give some major plaudits to Glover, whose character is such a smug and supercilious ass, that it's fitting when you do see him kneel in lethal supplication to The Truth he has been dismissing throughout the movie. The occasional moments of dry as well as bumptious British humor are truly appreciated, offering occasional respite from the overall sense of rising darkness.
Many have pointed out that "Quatermass and The Pit", in its theme of alien intervention in human evolution is the dark flip-side to "2001," and that is certainly true. I also saw echoes of this film in Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce (1985), especially in the climactic scenes of London's devastation at the hands of its "space vampires.". You could also throw in Stephen King's novel, "The Tommyknockers". Even so, I was and still am, spellbound by the movie's novelty, its thought-intriguing meld of science-fiction and horror, the juxtaposition of skulls and sleek extraterrestrial metal, the Martian spaceship standing in quite nicely for the proverbial Haunted House. The movie does have its share of gaffes: the "alien locust" carcasses should have been seen as little as possible, and a scene where a soldier goes bonkers after seeing an "apparition of a small, hideous dwarf" inside the ship, lacks the timing to pull it off.
Still, given its execution and drive, the movie's coda of Keir and Shelley leaning wearily against the rubble of London as the city burns in the background, nicely sums up what horror films should be about: Things Are Not Okay, and may never be Okay anytime in the near future.
Review by herzogv from the Internet Movie Database.