Sunday, 8 July 2012

Review - Quatermass and the Pit (1967 - Dir. Roy Ward Baker)

Quatermass and the Pit has been a film that has been on my radar for a long time. I just never seemed to get round to actually watching it. So when it appeared in the brochure for my local cinema as a one off showing, I couldn't resist.

It is obvious how influential the Quatermass series has been on science-fiction films and television. It doesn't take the greatest leap of the imagination to swap the role of Professor Bernard Quatermass for The Doctor. Prof Bernie even has companions who help him in his adventure (please note that at no point in the film does anyone call him by this overly friendly moniker). It isn't too hard to imagine the Army types as UNIT either. So okay, it's very influential, but is this Hammer production any good?

During the digging of a new underground tunnel in London (most tunnels do tend to be underground) the cheeky cockney construction workers come across some buried skulls and skeletons. But there's more: they also uncover what they initially think is an unexploded bomb. The army gets in there to sort it all out, led by the doubting Colonel Breen (Julian Glover - who in an uncanny Dr Who link appeared in The Crusade in 1965 and City of Death in 1979 - easily the scariest Dr Who villain ever, the reveal of his true face made a young evlkeithlet poop his little pants). Bernie also comes along for the ride and becomes intrigued by the mysterious buried object...

Quatermass and the Pit, written by Nigel Kneale and directed by Roy Ward Baker (A Night to Remember) has a really slow build up, laden with mystery and suspense. I was expecting the whole thing to carry on at this pace, maybe to some thought-provoking revelation at the end. But no, everything goes a bit giddy (in a good way) and it become a bit of a blockbuster, well for 1967 anyway.

There is a great lead in Andrew Kier as Quatermass who has the gravitas to pull off the role of a distinguished scientist with the willingness to fight the system where necessary. The rest of the cast are equally accomplished and it all has a lovely British feeling that makes you believe that the events really did happen in the late sixties.

There are some dubious special effects but what do you expect. At least they used real props, so the suspension of disbelief is made easier. (As a side note - or is that a side rant - it really irritates me when people laugh at bad effects from old films. If they're meant to be useless: fine. If it's a B-movie comedy production: fine. But if it's aiming higher and is trying for a more serious tone: give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt and go with it. I once went to an outdoor theatre production of The Hound of the Baskervilles at Brimham Rocks in North Yorkshire. It was really atmospheric watching the story unfold on the ancient stone structures. At the climax of the play, the hound was revealed atop a rock... and most of the audience laughed, completely wrecking any tension or atmosphere. Bunch of @$%*s! Insert your own cursy sweariness there as you see fit.) Ahem, sorry for that rather large tangent. The cinematography certainly makes up for some dodgy props and the end sequence is absolutely gorgeous to look at.

This was well worth the wait and my next job is to watch the original TV series with the excellent André Morell. I wonder how long it will take me...

If you like this you could also try:
Plague of the Zombies, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, A Night to Remember.


  1. Nice review of one of my favorite Hammer films. I especially liked your comments about people who ridicule old-fashioned special effects. It's important to keep things in context when watching something that's a product of a different era.

    1. Thanks for the comment. It's very true that the effects aren't going to be up to the standards of what can be created practically now but if we embrace our childlike sense of imagination we can still enjoy older films. I actually find it harder to suspend my disbelief at many CGI creations because I know that they have never existed and they feel very sterile and clean. Maybe I need to take my own advice and use my imagination more...

  2. A piece of useless trivia, the guy in the army outfit from image 4 (Julian Glover) was a Bond villain in 1981

    1. Another useless bit of trivia: he was also in The Empire Strikes Back. He's a top bloke.