What’s it About?
An ancient Martian spaceship is unearthed in London, and proves to have powerful psychic effects on the people around.
“Quatermass and the Pit” AKA “Five Million Years to Earth”
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
8 out of 10
Being the first of a few films from Hammer that Roy Ward Baker would direct, “Quatermass and the Pit” is a highly regarded science fiction movie. Baker was chosen because of his ability to juggle the many aspects of the film production process. He managed quite well with the seminal “Titanic” film: “A Night to Remember” based on Walter Lord’s engaging and emotional novel of the same name. Scribe Nigel Kneale returns to pen the script but he had some trouble gaining momentum on the project.
Once things feel into place, Hammer alum, the stalwart Andrew Keir (Dracula: Prince of Darkness) replaced Brian Donlevy (Kiss of Death) as Professor Bernard Quatermass. Barbara Shelly (Dracula:POD) , Julian Glover (The Empire Strikes Back and For Your Eyes Only) and James Donald (The Great Escape) round out the supporting cast in this exceptional science fiction entry from Hammer which has garnered quite a big cult following over the years. Rightfully so.
Directing duties went to Roy Ward Baker after Val Guest became busy with “Casino Royale” and Baker does an exceptional job telling a very creepy but intelligent story from right out of the weird and imaginative mind of Kneale. It was a tough shoot and many things had varied from what was done in the earlier serialized version which aired on the BBC. Keir had a tough go of it as well when he felt that Baker had preferred the company of actor Kenneth More (A Night to Remember) over Keir himself. But they pushed on to make a rather overlooked gem in the Hammer movie canon.
Baker and cast unravel an exciting and compelling story with it’s roots planted firmly in realistic science fiction. The film opens in London, England as as bobby (or is it bobbie?) quietly walks his beat near the Underground (Subway) station of “Hobb’s End” (A name director John Carpenter uses for his fictitious town in his wonderful “In The Mouth Of Madness). As things progress we find out that an excavation crew working in the tunnels deep beneath London have come across the remains of what appears to be a sort of ape/man. Dr Roney (Donald) is called in to work on removing any more skeletal remains found.
As Roney, Barbara (Shelley) and his crew dig even more they happen upon a metallic substance which he believes to be an un-exploded bomb (or a V-Weapon). Meanwhile, Col. Breen (Glover) is asked to investigate what could a dangerous object in the underground. Prof. Quatermass, who is part of a secret project with the military, joins Breen in investigating the strange findings. Kneale pulls no punches as the story unfolds with mystery upon mystery. More remains are found and Quatermass and Barbara, after working feverishly, determine that the remains may be five millions years old and maybe even of alien descent or origin much to Dr. Roney’s disapproval of the theory.
But more mysteries arise as they go further into the chamber and find a spacecraft. Using a drill made of “Borazon” the crew tries to pierce the outer hull. At this time, Quatermass has his suspicions about this area he nick names “Hob” which is another word he translate for the “Devil.” The creepiness doesn’t end there. Quatermass digs in deeper, much to Breen’s distaste for the whole affair, finding out that many strange things have happened in the past surrounding Hobb’s End. Baker and Kneale weave a very smart and dynamic story here during these scenes. It raises as many questions than it answers but everything, patiently, is reveled as characters and Londoners are driven quite mad after 3 strange insect-like beings or “Pilots” are discovered within the craft. After this things get very hairy.
What Baker and Kneale do so well is create an intriguing history within the puzzling mystery involving alien intervention and the long lasting effects it all has on human kind. Quatermass believes these beings to be actual martians. Keir, Shelley and Donald play it straight and sedate. Every line of dialog, no matter how puerile it sounds, is delivered with a sobering overtone. Things are becoming dangerous since these beings were dug up and as the scientists try to preserve them one crew member named Sladdeb (Duncan Lamont) begins to have visions and “psychic memories” of these alien beings.
Even Judd becomes affected and Quatermass uses a device to see what is going on in her mind. Quatermass tries desperately to describe to Breen and the rest of the space council that these martians were endeavoring to colonize earth but could not survive and they went through a purge of some kind and elevated the intelligence of the primitive human beings of the past in order to retain the martian mindset.
This development is completely provocative and very thought provoking. Kneale proves he is a very astute writer of science fiction as he, with the help of this incredible cast, treats this solemn material with clever oversight. This film remains fun, though. Even as serious and intelligent it is, it never panders and insults the audience. Kneale knows there are smart people watching this and he respects our intelligence. QATP is engaging even more for it. Impeccably shot by Hammer DP Arthur Grant (The Devil Rides Out) and sporting an eerie and evocative score by Tristam Cary (The Ladykillers), QATP is a great watch.
It is an impressive production, neatly written and wonderfully acted. The film is a slow sci fi burn that explores interesting and dynamic theories about our place in the universe and the importance of the theory of ancient aliens screwing around with human evolution. It is a genuinely innovative movie that is overlooked by other films of it’s era and by even Hammer films as well.
It is clearly a low budget outing and is dated in some areas but we easily overlook all of that because Keir, Baker, Shelley and Kneale’s writing make this another Hammer winner that concludes with on of the most original and involving “alien vs human” endings in all of sci fi-dom. There are panic scenes, explosions and alien creepiness enough for two films here and it’s all done wonderfully and with an air of camp that doesn’t disappoint. Highly recommended! Enjoy!