Monday, October 18, 2010

The Red Eye Report's 2010 October Horrorthon #18: "Quatermass and the Pit"

Beneath the bustling streets of London lies the greatest terror to face England since S Club 7. While working on extending a subway tunnel at fictional Hobbs End Station, a construction crew uncovers the well-preserved remains of ape men dating back five million years. But as the scientific community jumps for collective joy at this discovery, an even more fantastic find is just a few shovelfuls of mud away. Workers proceed to dig out a strange vessel, which very much intrigues Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir), a professor asked to help oversee the excavation. But the more evidence he turns up, the more Quatermass believes that not only is the craft not of this earth but is also the source of an ancient evil. Of course, the military shoots down his theories in order to avoid a panic, but pandemonium is just what runs amok when whatever's in that ship decides to unleash its powers on an unsuspecting populace.

Quatermass and the Pit is among England's most well-known science fiction tales -- though it beats the hell outta me as to why. Perhaps it's a response to how gung-ho America is with its own sci-fi, featuring characters who are scientists in the sense that there are beakers around when they blast little green men to kingdom come. Thus, patience is a virtue in Quatermass and the Pit, as the story hinges on the professor learning exactly what's buried down below before the worst occurs. It's a film in which fools pay the price for rushing in, but while that sounds great on paper, the flick doesn't leave itself much to go on. Hypotheses and experimentation do not a rip-roaring thriller make here, and the story's admittedly cool concepts end up muddled as a result. It's hard to discuss without stopping in spoiler country, but Quatermass and the Pit pulls the "we are the monsters" card with little basis for it, which has much to do with the film's inconsistent stock in the fantastic.

I don't think it's a big shock to learn that we're dealing with aliens here, but just try to dissuade Quatermass and company from presuming otherwise. As the professor delves into the bizarre history of Hobbs End, the possibilities of ghosts, demons, and poltergeists are brought up, but just about anyone who mentions aliens may as well be laughed out of Europe. It's another case of Indiana Jones 4 Syndrome, in which you've figured things out two acts before the story has, and the movie's only response is to plug its ears and go, "Lalalalala!" Plus, while it might just be my lack of familiarity, Quatermass just doesn't seem to be that interesting of a character. This is only the second time I've seen a Quatermass adventure (and I caught the last one three years ago), but there's still nothing about the professor to suggest why he's so hailed of a genre hero. He's your typical scientist trying to convince the world that he's not off his rocker, and though Keir's performance isn't bad by any means, he doesn't do much to deviate from the archetype.

Quatermass and the Pit was a Hammer production, not to mention one that wasn't a Gothicized monster mash. The Hammer touch does come through in the eerie atmosphere, and as chuckle-inducing as the big revelations are, director Roy Ward Baker does a good job of getting you at least a little freaked out by the unknown. But overall, Quatermass and the Pit is a really stiff watch, its ideas too ill-conveyed to fully intrigue and its structure too formal to enjoy as a straight-up fright flick.


  1. Total agree with you on Hammer's adaption but I whole heartedly suggest you take a look at the original six-part 1958 BBC television play - I think Andre Morell's Professor completly outdoes Keir. Despite the monochrome, pig headed military men and scientific quest for answers it anything but a bog standard 50's shlock sci-fi.

  2. I'll have to do that. As I mentioned in the review, I saw "The Quatermass Xperiment" years ago (which I remember digging), and I've put in a request for "Quatermass 2" from the library. But yeah, "Pit" had some interesting ideas going on that weren't brought to light the way they should've.

    Funky seeing Julian Glover that young, though. Damn.