film review

Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

By Leo White

Last in the Made in Britain season, the third Quatermass film, from Hammer Studios.

Hobbs End tube station is closed, an annoying situation for many of those commuting on the Central Line, although really not that bad a problem as there are plenty of other transport opportunities available. Hobbs End is a region of London that is relatively devoid of residents and has been for some while. The reason for the shut-down is the discovery of a mysterious device which appears to be incapable of being searched, scratched or dented, but could well be an unexploded bomb so there is a need to ensure public safety until any problem is identified and removed. The military are running the investigation operation with Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) in charge. The discovery of unusual skulls, thousands of years old, mean that scientists Dr. Mathew Roney (James Donald) and Barbara Judd (Barbara Shelley) are also involved. Unconvinced by the need for military involvement is Prof. Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir), who is certain that a more scientific and historic approach is needed to solve the mystery, with logical evaluation needed to ascertain what the discovery represents. Hobbs End used to be called Hob's End (from Old Hob, a name for the Devil) and perhaps this name is relevant; it could be the catalyst for catastrophic consequences for humankind. Could these discoveries unearth ancient attempts at intergalactic dominance by powerful creatures beyond our understanding?

This is Nigel Kneale's third Quatermass story which, like the previous two, made the transition from a successful TV incarnation to a feature film re-interpretation. Like The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) and Quatermass II (1957), Quatermass and the Pit began as a BBC TV series (in this case starting in 1958) before becoming a feature film made by Hammer Studios. Kneale had written screenplays for Hammer before; apart from his own reworking of Quatermass II he also adapted his own play The Creature which became the enjoyable The Abominable Snowman (1957) as well as a screenplay adaptation of The Witches (1966). Quatermass and the Pit (1967) is a good example of a film that uses the screenplay to develop what was a limited black and white TV production, for that time in the UK, onto a broader, more immersive cinema experience.

Quatermass and the Pit remains a watchable addition to Hammer's huge selection of films. In many ways it combines an intellectual plot with popularist action but also contains elements of supernatural spooky possibilities, science fiction and horror. By the close it is almost like a scientists' version of an H.P. Lovecraft story. Quatermass is stubborn and determined that logical considerations outweigh military suppositions and, even if he is not totally supportive of Roney's theories, he at least appreciates his thought process. To turn this into an intellectual debate would potentially lack interest for the audience so further revelations about the discovery become increasingly exciting and eventually emerge as incredibly dangerous.

Enjoyable drama with horror and scientific fiction, Quatermass and the Pit remains an intelligent alien thrill flick. With excellent, and occasionally lurid, colour photography and some engagingly disturbing special effects, the film builds its revelations to reach an exciting denouement.

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