Directed by Val Guest and following hot on the heels of the popular British television mini-series featuring the same character, 1955's The Quatermass Xperiment begins when a pair of young lovers is out in the field about to indulge in some make out time. All of a sudden something comes hurtling out of the sky at them and they take solace inside the farm house where the young woman lives. As it turns out, a rocket ship has landed right near the house, and the man behind the space mission that sent it into the wild blue yonder in the first place, Professor Bernard Quatermass (Brian Donlevy), soon arrives to instruct the first responders on how to deal with this.
They hose down the ship to bring the temperature down and open the door to find that one man, Victor Carroon (Richard Wordsworth), has survived the crash, the other two astronauts apparently having vanished into thin air leaving only their empty space suits where their bodies once were. Carroon is taken to the hospital, his wife (Margia Dean) at his side, to heal but it soon turns out that he's not only been stricken mute but his right arm is starting to mutate. After some detective work, Quatermass figures that Carroon is hosting an alien, the same alien that likely took care of the two missing astronauts and which will probably do off with the Earth's population just as easily. He and Inspector Lomax (Jack Warner) wind up having to chase Carroon down after his wife helps him escape from the hospital, and as they track him down, he begins to very quickly lose whatever humanity he may have had left.
Better known in these United States under the alternate title of The Creeping Unknown, the film lets Donlevy bring a no-nonsense toughness to the Quatermass character (he'd bring it with him in his second stint as the character in the sequel, Quatermass II: Enemy From Space made in 1957, also directed by Val Guest). While it might seem a bit odd seeing the surly tough guy from Kiss Of Death zipping around England trying to solve a mystery originating from outer space, Donlevy is fun in the role even if he maybe doesn't come across as the most believable professor to ever grace the silver screen. The supporting cast are also good, with Jack Warner working alongside Donlevy well and with Wordsworth giving an excellent (and basically silent) performance as the increasingly off kilter infectee. He uses his body language very well here, really delivering a sense of increasing dread and hopelessness on the part of his character.
Slapped with an X by the BBFC in 1954 (now the title makes sense, right?), the film is quite a bit darker than a lot of other science fiction pictures made around the same time, giving this film plenty of crossover appeal and ensuring that those who dig Hammer for their horror pictures will enjoy this just as much as those who appreciate the studio's dipping its collective toes into other genres. There are some great make up effects on display here, a fun and fairly thrilling finale that takes place at one of England's most recognizable landmarks, and it's easy to see how this picture's almost instantaneous popularity encouraged the studio to head into darker and more macabre territory shortly after the film struck box office gold.
The previous MOD/DVD-R release that came out via MGM's Limited Edition Collection series was 1.33.1 fullframe but Kino have presented the movie in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.66.1 widescreen. This tightens up the framing on the top and the bottom but more or less keeps the compositions intact. Detail and texture get nice upgrades here over the standard definition presentation. You see this not just in close up shots but in medium and long distance shots as well. Contrast looks quite good here and black levels are pretty strong too. There is a bit of minor print damage here and there, some scratches mostly, but the picture is fairly clean. A natural amount of film grain is obvious throughout the movie but never to the point of distraction. The transfer is free of any obvious compression artifacting and there's no evidence at all of any noise reduction or edge enhancement. All in all, this is a pretty solid looking disc.
The only audio option for the feature is an English language mono track presented in DTS-HD lossless format. Again we get a nice upgrade over the MGM DVD-R release, there's better depth and clarity to every aspect of the mix. The dialogue sounds ‘warmer' and a bit cleaner while the score has improved range and presence. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion here and the levels remain properly balanced throughout the film. There are no alternate language options, subtitles or closed captions provided.
Extras on this release start off with a really informative audio commentary with director Val Guest moderated by Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn. Guest is pretty talkative here, noting how he'd really only worked on lighter fare before taking on this project for Hammer. He talks about shooting on some interesting sets and how those sets came to be, what it was like directing Donlevy, his thoughts on some of the effects and performances and his appreciation for the script. He also explains a lot of what went into creating the movie's infamous finale. Hearn knows his stuff and keeps Guest on topic and talking, as such we get a well-paced and thorough history lesson. This is definitely worth listening to.
From there we move onto a few new featurettes starting with a nine-minute long Interview With John Carpenter who speaks here about his appreciation of the feature presentation. He shares a story about how he was introduced to it originally by the trailer under the U.S. title and then how he saw it on a double bill before then discussing some of the themes that the movie explores. We also get an eleven and a half minute long piece called The Quatermass Xperiment: From Reality To Fiction that is basically an interview with Guest in which he talks about the script, dealing with his producers and more. Film critic Glenn Erickson shows up for seven minutes with The Quatermass Xperiment: Comparing The Versions. This is interesting in that it allows Erickson to talk up the differences between the original British cut of the film and its U.S. counterpart. Marcus Hearn returns again in the last featurette, an eight minute Interview With Val Guest. This covers some of the same ground as the commentary and earlier featurette but it's still interesting as Guest elaborates a bit more on the film's TV origins and his attempts to make the film in a fairly realistic style.
Outside of that we also get the Alternate Main Title sequence, a Trailers From Hell version of the theatrical trailer with commentary from Ernest Dickerson, the original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection.
The Quatermass Xperiment remains a really well made mix of horror and sci-fi, a very tense film with some great effects work and a solid lead performance from Donlevy as the film's titular hero. Kino's Blu-ray is a winner, offering the film up in great quality and with a very nice selection of supplements to accompany the strong high definition presentation. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.