I’ve been having a bit of a spooky sci-fi fest of late.  I’m no geek (no offence) but there’s something I love about the world it creates.  In science fiction anything can happen and even though its idea of the future can seem a little dated, it still manages to be otherworldly and magnificent.  Professor Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) has sent a rocket ship in to space with three men inside.  But something goes wrong and the ship crashes back to Earth early, a little light on crew.

Deep in the English countryside, firemen, police and reporters surround the rocket.  Panicking about how to get the crew free, they enlist its creator, Quatermass to advise.  They drop the pressure inside the ship and the doors open like something out of an early Star Trek.  But to everyone’s surprise, only one crew member, Victor is in there.  Like a soldier returning home from war he seems shell shocked and can barely string a sentence together.  They have to rely on the video tape from the ship’s black box to explain where the other men have gone.  This found footage element is way ahead of its time. The slow motion movements of the men, due to the zero gravity, make it all the more sinister. It’s fascinating to watch them overwhelmed by an unseen entity when an alien presence enters the ship, much like a poltergeist enters a living room.

In the days that follow, Victor suffers some unusual and gruesome physical changes.  His skin becomes swollen and shiny and his skull seems to be mutating.  When his wife sees that he seems to have a cactus attached to his hand (don’t ask) her wailing gets so loud it’s no longer audible.  Much like the wife in The Fly, she looks at her husband adoringly until she sees his new form and can’t get rid soon enough.  Fair enough, I mean it’s one thing your other half letting themselves go a bit but quite another when they develop a cactus for a hand and go around sucking the life out of everyone.

The famous BBC made-for-TV Quatermass Experiment begins as quite a serious political demonstration of how the British public are being appeased and treated like children.  And at the expense of our safety, scientific experiments are being allowed to proceed by an unscrupulous American, cough.  The British don’t get away with anything though, shown to be a nation of jobsworths, but willing to play along. 
It ends with the surprisingly beautiful scene of the monster being burned, viewed through a church window; less like flames and more like sparklers on Guy Fawkes night.  Although I think that was more by accident than design, it provides some much needed light in the black and white film.  The confusion, the panic and the horror is intense and palpable and you really get a feel that they’re terrified because they don’t know what they’re getting themselves in to.  Obviously much experience gained from that time giving it a real wartime atmosphere.  The horror is like a new contagious disease or chemical warfare, when you don’t know how is it transferred, if it will kill you or who you can trust.

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One Response to “Quatermass Xperiment (1955)”

  • Much ahead of its time this film, though I think Nigel Kneale wasn’t too happy with the ending. ‘Quatermass and the Pit’ is the one that had me sleeping with the bedroom lights on as a kid though. Such great black and white films that coloured our nightmares.

    Love the review.


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