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Monday, February 23, 2015

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) - Review

When one thinks of Hammer Films, images of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing stalking gothic hallways leaps to mind. Hammer Films first dabble in horror was actually way back in 1955 with The Quatermass Xperiment; a fantastic horror/science fiction hybrid that captured and terrified audiences of the time.

Quatermas bluay

If one thing we can take away from early science fiction movies, it’s that space is a very dangerous place and going out into space will either kill you or that something from space will come down here and kill us. In the case of The Quatermass Xperiment it’s a little bit of both, as man’s first foray into space brings back a horrible entity that could doom all of mankind.

ship returned 
How many alien invasions start in some farmer’s field?

Professor Bernard Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) is the head of the British Rocket Group. The movie begins with him rushing to the scene of a crash. It seems that a rocket they launched and since lost contact with has finally returned, crashing in a local farmer’s field. When the ship is eventually opened only one survivor staggers out alive as the other two occupants are missing, with just their two empty sealed pressures being the only evidence that they were on board. Thus the mystery begins and Quatermass is going to get to the bottom of it, and god help anyone who gets in his way.

Back off man, I’m a scientist!

The sole survivor, Victor Caroon (Richard Wordsworth), is whisked away to Quatermass’s lab instead of a hospital where Judith, Carron’s worried wife (Margia Dean), Doctor Gordon Briscoe (David King-Wood), and Quatermass endeavor to find out what happened on that ill-fated flight. Unfortunately, Caroon is in some kind of catatonic state and is unable to talk or communicate in anyway. It’s clear that something strange had happened aboard the craft, as Carron’s body has undergone some horrifying changes.

Space Madness?

Due to the three men going into space and only one returning, Scotland Yard is put on the case to find out if Victor Caroon possibly murdered his shipmates. Leading the investigation is Inspector Lomax (Jack Warner) who at first butts heads with Quatermass, but who quickly comes to realize that this case may be stranger than even he can imagine. The two become quite the team. The one person who is not a team player is Judith, who hires a private investigator to sneak her husband out of the hospital. This leads to the poor man’s death, as Caroon absorbs his life force leaving his husked out body for a nurse to find.

victim of the creature 
P.I. found D.O.A.

With Caroon on the loose it becomes a manhunt to find him, as whatever happened to him in space has altered his physiology to the point where he absorbs organic matter while further mutating. After crushing a cactus with his hand he absorbs its properties, as his hand becomes all bulbous and thorned like a cactus. A hapless drugstore clerk tries to help Caroon and is killed for his troubles.

looking for food 
“Sir, I don’t think a simple allergenic cream is going to help you.”

There is a nice moment where Caroon encounters a little girl who is playing with her doll by the river. She wants him to join her for tea, but lucky for the girl he is able to resist the urge to absorb her and settles for smashing her doll and running away. Note:  Though Brian Donlevy get’s the showier part as Quatermass, the mute and tragic figure of Caroon is beautifully portrayed by Richard Wordsworth and reminds one of Boris Karloff’s pathos driven monster in the original Frankenstein.

girl and the monster 
Would you like to toss dandelions into the water with me?

After discovering that that the local zoo is now full of dessicated animals a city wide manhunt is begun, and bit by bit our heroes start to realize the true extent of the danger mankind is in. Finally, the authorities track Caroon to Westminster Abbey where it is discovered that Caroon is far from being a man anymore but is now some horrible creature. If allowed to spore, it could spell the end of mankind. Lucky for us, Quatermass is on the job.

The final terror 
Feed me Seymour, feed me all night long!

What makes this a great movie to me is the portrayal of Quatermass by Brian Donlevy. In the BBC serial written by Nigel Kneale, that this movie was adapted from, Bernard Quatermass was originally depicted as your typical effete British professor seen in countless science fiction movies. Brian Donlevy gives us a brash, arrogant, take no prisoners type scientist that I’d never seen before. He bullies his subordinates, steamrolls over authorities to get the job done and to hell with anyone that disagrees with him. Whether he is in the right or wrong is totally beside the point as there is just “his way or the highway.” At one point he berates the distraught wife who is rightfully concerned with the condition of her husband, “There’s no room for personal feelings in science, Judith!” And that kind of sums up Quatermass, it’s all about the science. The movie ends brilliantly with Quatermass leaving the Abbey stating, “I will start again.”

The end or is it 
Lomax, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful franchise.

Shows like Doctor Who and The X-Files owe a lot to director Val Guest as his cinéma vérité shooting style used in this movie made the fantastic more believable. Treating an invading alien being as a police procedural was genius and opened the flood gates for more serious minded films. This is a must see for any fans of good British filmmaking, great science fiction, and terrifying monsters. Basically The Quatermass Xperiment is just damn awesome and led to making Hammer Films one of the premier horror studios of all time.

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