Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

Andrew Keir stars in a grim and effective sci-fi/horror film from Hammer. Optimum UK DVD, from the Ultimate Hammer boxset.

The Film

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:

During 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...

While the previous Hammer adaptations of Quatermass had been rewritten by director Val Guest, from Nigel Kneale's teleplays, the ex-BBC writer himself 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 ending
. 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. T
he very ending shot is particularly effective, much more so than in the television version, and ranks as one of the best closing shots in cinema.

While 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.

In brief:

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? Roy 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.
Any violence? Some deaths, no blood.
Any sex? No
Who is it for?
For all Hammer fans, and recommended to any horror/sci-fi fans.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 1.66:1. Anamorphically Enhanced. Colour
The print quality is strong with only mild grain and print damage.
Audio Original English mono - sounds fine.
Subtitles None.
ExtrasThe disc includes:
  • Original British theatrical trailer.
AvailabilityAvailable in the Ultimate Hammer Collection and on a single disc release.
Region Region 2 - PAL
Other regions? A 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.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. Print used is English language.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 10th October 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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