If you mention the word "hammer" to most film buffs,
especially horror aficionados, the first thing that will jump into
is not a tool for driving nails but the English film studio. From the mid-50's to the 70's Hammer was the
dominant horror film studio, holding the same place that Universal had
30's and 40's. While the studio had been
around since the 30's, mainly shooting "quota-quickies," the equivalent
American B-pictures, but that all changed in 1955 when they released The Quatermass Xperiment (based on the
BBC TV serial The Quatermass Experiment
that aired two years earlier). The film
was incredibly popular and did exceedingly well at the box office. It generated so much buzz that it attracted
the attention of United Artists who distributed it in the US
name of The Creeping Unknown.) They
quickly filmed a sequel, and moved into
the horror genre that they would dominate for the next decade and a
A manned rocket, the first one launched into space, looses
contact with its base for hours then crashes back to Earth outside a
British village. The ship is immediately
cordoned off by the police, but it's so hot even the fire department
near. That's the situation until Dr.
Quatermass (Brian Donlevy), the driving force behind the rocket,
arrives on the
scene and takes charge. He arranges for
the fire department to cool the exterior with water, and then opens the
by remote control.
A single astronaut, Victor Carroon (Richard Wordsworth),
emerges from the ship and immediately collapses. He's
unable to talk and is rushed off to a
hospital. When the interior of the ship
is examined, the other two space men are no where to be found. Their uniforms are on the ground and there's
a lot of strange liquid on the floor, but no sign of the men.
Quatermass and his assistant Briscoe (David King-Wood) set
their minds to discovering what happened to Carroon and the fate of his
companions. There are few clues and to
make matters worse politicians and the police breathing down the
necks, not to mention Carroon's wife, Judith (Margia Dean), who blames
Quatermass for her husband's condition.
In an ill conceived move, Judith decides to hire a thug to
sneak Victor out of the hospital. While
he does escape it goes badly for all those involved.
Carroon kills the man who gets him out and
scares his wife nearly to the point of insanity. It's
clear that something changed him in
space, but to what purpose? Now he's
free, roaming London
and killing people seemingly at random.
This was a very effective film. Everything
from the direction to the acting
and even the makeup was very impressive, especially for the time. Director Val Guest films the events almost
like a documentary, a sort of fictional cinéma
vérité, by filming with
hand-held cameras and making good use of location shots.
This brings the viewer into the tight script
and serves to ratchet up the tension quite effectively.
He makes some interesting choices in filming
the script that also add to the film's appeal.
On of my favorite scenes has Quatermass and Briscoe discussing
nature of the liquid found on the ship.
The start talking in front of a glass door, behind which Carroon
bed with his wife sleeping in a chair.
The two scientists walk off, still talking, but the camera stays
static scene. Soon however, Carroon gets
up and slowly starts lurching toward his sleeping wife... all the while
Quatermass and Briscoe chat on and on, unaware of what's happening. It was a daring way to shoot the scene and it
The most impressive thing about this movie however was the
main character, Dr. Quatermass. Up until
this point, scientists in SF and horror films had been weak,
creatures who did what they were told and when they came up with the
kill the APE (All Pervading Evil) that was threatening the earth they'd
the solution to the strong male lead and get out of the way. Bernard Quatermass has nothing in common with
those milksops. He's arrogant, pushy,
and aggressive. When the police want to
know what's going on, he considers it an imposition.
When a political flunky warns him to watch
out, Quatermass browbeats the worm into silence. The
thing that makes him such a great
character is that he isn't perfect. He's
smart, but he misses things. His hubris
is his greatest weakness but when all is said and done, he's often
right. The end of the film, with
off into the night planning his next move, followed by a scene that
he did, was the perfect way to cap off the movie, leaving it open for a
and illustrating just how arrogant Quatermass is.
This disc is made on demand and comes in a standard keepcase
with full cover art.
The original mono soundtrack is reproduced well on this
Dolby Digital disc. The dialog is clear
and there isn't any background noise to interfere with the film. It's a nice sounding disc.
One of the things that I really love about the MGM Limited
Edition MOD program is that they go to the trouble to search out the
elements for the films they release. In
this case they reportedly went to a 2008 HD master and it looks
excellent. (My only disappointment is that
released on Blu-ray.) The image is clean
and crisp and the lines are nice and tight.
Contrast is good, especially in the frequent night scenes. The image has a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which
looks correct though it has been reported that it was originally
intended to be
shown at 1.66:1. There aren't any boom
mics in shots or odd compositions. This
ratio looks fine.
There is a trailer.
This is an important film that should have been on DVD in R1
long ago. It started the Hammer horror
films as well as being an entertaining and well crafted film. The MGM MOD disc looks and sounds great
too. Highly Recommended.