Fearing that it might be a German bomb or rocket from WWII , they call in the army bomb disposal squad, and with them comes Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) who has expertise in WWII explosives. Breen was in the middle of a meeting with Quatermass, who is his new and reluctant colleague, since the military are taking over his British Experimental Group. Quatermass tags along to the Hobbs End site, where the object is being uncovered. Breen is convinced it's a German weapon of some kind, but Quatermass starts to suspect it has extraterrestrial origins. Strange things start to happen on the site and Quatermass learns that the area has a history of poltergeists, apparitions and supernatural activity. Could they be linked to the strange object? And is the object not a bomb but some kind of space ship? And what is the connection between the object and the ancient humanoid fossils found with it?
I think I've gone about as far as I can without getting into spoiler-ish territory, because the way the story unfolds and the ideas it develops are among the film's great pleasures. Quatermass and the Pit is an intelligent, engrossing and intriguing sci-fi story with some mind-bending ideas. Professor Quatermass was a British scientist who, over the course of three BBC TV series, was repeatedly involved in alien invasions and sinister conspiracies. The first series The Quatermass Experiment, became a TV phenomenon when first broadcast in the UK in 1953, although it probably helped that there was only one TV channel at the time. Quatermass's creator, Nigel Kneale, followed up with two equally popular TV series, Quatermass II in 1955 and Quatermass and the Pit in 1958. Quatermass is one of the most frequently re-cast parts in British film and television, rarely being played by the same actor more than once. He was played by Reginald Tate in the first TV series, John Robinson in the second and Andre Morell in the third. A fourth series simply titled Quatermass was produced in the 1970s for the ITV network, with John Mills as the professor, and a 2005 BBC TV remake of The Quatermass Experiment starred Jason Flemyng.
Hammer bought the rights to the first two TV series in the mid-1950s and hired American import Brian Donlevy to play the title role in two feature film versions, The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), with the title slightly tweaked to cash in on the new 'X' certificate, and Quatermass 2 (1957). In the US they were released as "The Creeping Unknown" and "Enemy from Space" respectively. But Donlevy wasn't anyone's idea of a British scientist, and Kneale was so unhappy with his casting that he refused Hammer's efforts to secure the rights to the third story until he was safely out of the picture.
Quatermass and the Pit didn't get much love on its initial release in North America where, like previous Quatermass films, it was retitled, this time to "Five Million Years to Earth", which sounds like someone misremembering the name of the Ray Harryhausen film Twenty Million Miles to Earth, and shoved onto a double bill with Hammer's Vengeance of She. The Quatermass name wasn't really a selling point in the US, but the original title is significant, since the pit it refers to is both a physical and a metaphorical one. (The film contains other sly allusions like this, as when the bomb disposal officer says he thinks the object "could be a Satan", ostensibly referring to a type of WWII German bomb.)
The British critics were a little more enthusiastic, and over the years Quatermass and the Pit has grown into a well regarded and influential cult favourite. The influence of the Quatermass stories is apparent in films and TV series like Doctor Who, The X Files (Kneale was asked to write for the latter) and many others. Celebrity fans include John Carpenter, who had his own stab at this genre with Prince of Darkness (1987), which he wrote under the pseudonym “Martin Quatermass”.
Quatermass and the Pit is the consensus pick as the best of the three Quatermass films and I'm happy to go along with the consensus on this one. It's not only the best Quatermass story, it's one of the most intelligent and intriguing sci-fi films of its era, and one of the best films Hammer ever made.
Quatermass and the PitYear: 1967
Genre: Sci-fi, Thriller, Horror
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Cast Andrew Keir (Professor Bernard Quatermass), James Donald (Dr Matthew Roney), Barbara Shelley (Barbara Judd), Julian Glover (Colonel Breen), Duncan Lamont (Sladden), Bryan Marshall (Captain Potter), Peter Copley (Howell), Edwin Richfield (Minister of Defence), Maurice Good (Sergeant Cleghorn), Grant Taylor (Police Sergeant Ellis), Robert Morris (Jerry Watson), Sheila Steafel (journalist), Hugh Futcher (Sapper West), Hugh Morton (elderly journalist), Thomas Heathcote (vicar), Noel Howlett (abbey librarian), Hugh Manning (pub customer), June Ellis (blonde), Keith Marsh (Johnson), James Culliford (Cpl Gibson), Bee Duffell (Miss Dobson), Roger Avon (electrician), Brian Peck (technical officer), John Graham (inspector), Charles Lamb (news vendor)
Screenplay Nigel Kneale, based on his TV series Producer Anthony Nelson Keys Cinematography Arthur Grant Supervising art director Bernard Robinson Art director Ken Ryan Supervising editor James Needs Editor Spencer Reeve Music Tristram Cary Musical supervisor Philip Martell Special effects Bowie Films
Running time 97 mins Colour Deluxe
Production company Hammer Film Productions Distributor Associated British Pathe, Twentieth Century Fox (US)
AKA: Five Million Years to Earth (US/Canada title)
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