In 1953, the BBC discovered that science-fiction horror made good television when their Quatermass
serial proved incredibly popular. Hammer Films, who at the time were
little more than a B-movie production outfit adapted the serial onto
the big screen, and it proved equally sucessful. The BBC soon
comissioned a sequel, and Hammer quickly brought the rights to this
too, creating Quatermass 2 (1957). The BBC went on to shoot a third serial - Quatermass and the Pit - and Hammer again secured the film rights, however by 1958 they had found even greater sucess with the pure gothic horror of Curse of Frankenstein
(1957), and as they quickly moved to capitalise on the sucess of this
film, the Quatermass project was forgotten. It was not until almost a
decade later that Hammer would begin the big screen adaptation:
excavations on the London Underground a collection of pre-historic
skulls are found. As scientists continue to dig, they discover a large,
seemingly metallic object. Thinking it an unexploded bomb, the army is
called in, but excavations discover it to be more like a missile.
Rocket scientist Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir) is brought in and
starts to develop concerns about the object when it appears to be the
focus of supernatural activities. The crew soon discover what seem to
be alien creatures inside, and as Quatermass and Colonel Breen argue
over what they have found, all hell literally starts to break loose...
the previous Hammer adaptations of Quatermass had been rewritten by
director Val Guest, from Nigel Kneale's teleplays, the ex-BBC writer
was brought in to create the screenplay here. As before, most of the
ideas in the scipt come straight from the teleplay, and again it is
very strong - from the beginning of the film, it is very hard to
determine just what
is going to happen next, and there are frequent
unexpected new twists. The characters are particularly well written,
with the understandable conflicts between the scientists and the
military while the climax is tense and exciting with an interesting
Fortunately, Kneale had learnt his mistakes from his script for
Hammer's The Abominable Snowman
(1957), where he had not fully come to terms with the difference
between the almost radio-like television scipts of the time, and the
more visual focused requirements of a screenplay, leaving the
film waylaid with dialogue. Unfortunately though, Kneale does seem rather too
attached to his original 3-hour teleplay and tries to cram it all into
the film's 90 minute run-time - this means that many elements
(especially the climax and conclusion) seem very rushed and there are a
lot of smaller scenes that could easily have been cut out of the script
without affecting the flow (the hunts through church archives and the
mind visualising computer serve little purpose). Val Guest was much
more sucessful in trimming unnecessary details from the teleplays of
the first two serials.
Production wise, Quatermass and the Pit
is very effective. A co-production with Seven-Arts, it was blessed with
a large budget, and this can be seen in the extensive, and realistic
looking underground sets and streetscapes. The special effects
look very impressive and can survive the scrutiny of a cinema screen.
Director Roy Ward Baker is not known for his elaborate direction, and
directs this film in a relatively straight forward manner, but he works
well with the special effects available and the end result is solid. The
very ending shot is particularly effective, much more so than in the
television version, and ranks as one of the best closing shots in
the Quatermass role for Hammer had previously been played by the rather
brash American actor, Brain Donlevy, this was a real bone of contention
with Nigel Kneale who had always seen the scientist as being mild
mannered, and British - as soon as he got a chance to write the screenplay himself, Kneale made sure that the character was back the way he liked it. Ocassional Hammer star André
Morell played the role of the professor in the television serial,
but was replaced here by Scottish actor Andrew Keir who had an equally
ocassional Hammer record. Keir plays the role well, with sufficient
gravitas to convince as an experienced scientist, and with sufficient snarl to avoid become 'cuddly'. Barbara Shelley
plays Barbara Judd, a member of the museum team involved in digging up
the skulls, and looks far more convincing in the role than the
20-something bimbo who would surely have been cast were the movie made
in the 1990s. There are a number of familiar faces in the rest of the
cast, and all of them perform well in the roles.
Quatermass and the Pit
easily ranks among the best of the Hammer films. It has a good cast and
some acomplished direction - with an extra half hour on the runtime, or
a slightly trimmed plot, it could well have ranked as the best Hammer
film. Highly recommended to all.
Anyone famous in it?
Andrew Keir - an occasional Hammer star who played the heroic monk in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) Barbara Shelley - female lead of Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966) and Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966).
Directed by anyone interesting?
Ward Baker - director of a variety of Hammer and Amicus films in the
late 1960s/early 1970s, and best known for directing British Titanic
film A Night to Remember (1958).
Is it scary?
Some tense scenes might prove scary.
Some deaths, no blood.
Who is it for?
For all Hammer fans, and recommended to any horror/sci-fi fans.
Original Aspect Ratio - 1.66:1. Anamorphically Enhanced. Colour The
print quality is strong with only mild grain and print damage.
now OOP ABUS disc includes an audio commentary with Roy Ward Baker and
Nigel Kneale, as well as extra trailers, but is a non-anamorphic print.
E-M-S German disc (titled Das grüne Blut der Dämonen) includes trailers but no commentary.
Believed to be fully uncut. Print used is English language.
One of Hammer's best - it is
well acted and directed with a decent script that only suffers from a
short run-time. Highly recommended.
A good print of the film, although sadly lacking the good audio commentary from the US disc.