Quatermass and the Pit
Who ya gonna call?
Not the Ghostbusters. This is Britain. Ditto Mulder and Scully.
And not the Doctor. Or John Steed and Emma Peel. Or Danger Mouse. Or even James Bond. James Bond doesn't do aliens. Or maybe he does, but these don't seem to be female aliens, so he's probably not interested.
You call Professor Bernard Quatermass, a fictional creation who predates all of the above, at least in the arena of moving pictures. Quatermass first appeared in a British television mini-series entitled The Quatermass Experiment in 1953, and he continued to fight super-scientific threats until 1979. Quatermass and the Pit was the last of Quatermass' cinematic adventures, and was based on a 1955 TV serial of the same name.
The film opens with the discovery of ancient human remains of a totally unknown type in the newly excavated subway tunnel at Hobb's End in London. Considering that this is 1968 and the spectacular unmasking of the Piltdown hoax was not all that far in the past, you would think someone would bring up the possibility of fraud, but the plot moves on too quickly for this to happen. In any case, Dr. Mathew Roney (James Donald), a paleoanthropologist, is brought in to preserve and analyze the finds, but his team finds something else: a large metal object that shouldn't be there. The police decide that it's probably an unexploded bomb left over from the Blitz.
From there the movie becomes a veritable non-stop series of revelations, as we find out that Hobb's End has a history of haunting apparitions, people begin to develop psychic powers, and we find out that the dead locust-like aliens found in the spaceship may have been responsible for humankind's development.*
For all that, Quatermass and the Pit is a seriously classy film. It looks great, probably due to the influence of British director Roy Ward Baker, who also made A Night To Remember and many other films. The actors all take their parts seriously, which helps a lot.
The whole film is smartly written, and the ideas presented are interesting, even if the good guys often gather information using technology that seems impossibly out of reach today, like the machine that can interpret thoughts as images. The film is also one of the best examples of a story that explains the supernatural in scientific terms. It's such a delight story-wise that we can easily forgive bargain-basement special effects like big rocks that blow away in a stiff wind.
Quatermass and the Pit was recently re-released to video by Anchor Bay in a gorgeous widescreen print, but it's unlikely you'll find it for rent. Still, it's worth the price of a few movie tickets to see, so consider it an investment in your movie education.
Review date: 3/27/99
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