Quatermass and the Pit

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Our rating: four lava lamps.

Information about this film in the Internet Movie Database.

Quatermass & the Pit
"It's true... the French will eat anything!"
Let's say you've just found a five million year-old spaceship while excavating a new British underground station. The dead aliens inside the ship may have been responsible for human evolution -- and may not be as dead as you would like.

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.

Quatermass & the Pit
Quatermass & Colonel Breen.
The police bring in striaght-laced military officer Colonel Breen (Julian Glover), who in turn has Professor Quatermass (Andrew Kier) in tow. Both Breen and Quatermass work for the British Rocket Group, which in real life never sent a man into space. On Dr. Who and in British sci-fi movies, though, the BRG was sending people into space every week. Every other week the astronauts would come back to earth mutated into horrible monsters. When it turns out that what's buried at Hobb's End is an extraterresital craft, Quatermass involves himself in the investigation.

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.

Quatermass & the Pit
"And if Prince Charles marries Camilla,
the royal family should look just about like this."
Andrew Kier portrays Quatermass like a latter-day Professor Challenger, arrogant and theatrical, and he's great to watch. The interactions between Quatermass, the anal-retentive Col. Breen, and the unassuming Dr. Roney (James Donald) are terrific. The film's token woman, Barbara (Barbara Shelley), is both pretty and smart, keeping her cool and actually making a contribution to the plot, unlike her contemporaries. Barbara seldom falls in to the screaming-fainting girl stereotype.

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.

Quatermass & the Pit
"That Breen -- he's a perfectionist
about the detailing on his car!"

Rent or Buy from Reel.

Review date: 3/27/99

This review is © copyright 1999 Chris Holland & Scott Hamilton. Blah blah blah. Please don't claim that it's yours blah blah, but feel free to e-mail it to friends, or better yet, send them the URL. To reproduce this review in another form, please contact us at guys@stomptokyo.com. Blah blah blah blah.

































*Quatermass writer Nigel Kneale suggests in this movie that the Garden of Eden and the origin of humankind was actually on Mars. It's amazing how many allegedly non-fiction authors have suggested that this is actually the case. Go back!