DVD Review: Quatermass & the Pit, Pt. 5

Episode 5: The Wild Hunt

The story picks up shortly after the end of Part 4. Captain Potter and his men find Barbara Judd halfway down the ramp, with an injury on her head from some flying object. She tells them that what she saw hopping past her was one of those giant grasshopper creatures, when in fact the soldiers and the viewer know it was the drillman. Potter goes out to find the drillman, and Barbara goes back to the Nicklin Institute, where she tells Dr. Roney and Professor Quatermass everything that happened.

A gargoyle at the church--does not look like a grasshopper to me. The phone in Roney’s office rings. It’s Captain Potter; he’s located the drillman at the church where he collapsed after his mad, possessed, bunny-hop dash from the construction pit. When Quatermass goes to speak to him, Miss Judd goes along. She wants to see what the drillman looks like now.

Inside the church, the drillman (whose name, by the way is Sladden) is in the care of the vicar who found him in the churchyard. The vicar gives him a huge mug containing just a little cocoa and heaping spoonfuls of sugar.
Sladden drinks his hot cocoa.
The man is no longer possessed by the time Quatermass comes to see him, but asking questions about what happened to him only agitates him again. “They was coming!” he cries out, and some more telekinetic events occur in the vestry.

The vicar is inclined to think that these are signs of a great evil; he’s surprised when Quatermass, a Man of Science, agrees with him.

Sladden says that he couldn’t see anything but those grasshopper-creatures, hundreds and hundreds of them alive and leaping around an alien landscape with a purple sky. He was one of them.

From this, Quatermass concludes that Sladden has seen a vision of life on Mars as it was 5 million years ago. More than that, he has a new idea about the kind of genetic tinkering the Martians did to their ape-men at that time.

To test his hypothesis, he wants the drillman to recreate what he was doing when things started going weird at the pit site. The vicar protectively objects, but Sladden consents. The reporter Fullalove has once again followed Quatermass and is lurking behind the vestry door, eavesdropping on the whole scene.
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DVD Review: Quatermass & the Pit, Pt. 4

Episode 4: The Enchanted

Barbara Judd and Dr. Roney in the spaceship. Dr. Roney and Barbara Judd gather up the specimens and rush to get them preserved and sent to the institute for study. Now that the sealed forward section of the spaceship has been breached and filthy modern Earth-air has reached them, they are decaying rapidly. The fishy stink causes more nausea.

Quatermass, examining the forward compartment after the previous occupants have been removed, says that the membranes that make up a network inside resemble magnified nerve endings. These too are rapidly decaying. Apart from the membranes and some remnants of colored liquids, there’s no sign of instrumentation or equipment. Quatermass conjectures that the ship was in some way alive–“The hull itself did the thinking.”

Colonel Breen, incredibly, still believes that the Nazis have something to do with this.

When the colonel finds Fullalove looking around inside the spaceship, he has a hissy fit and has the reporter thrown out. But he doesn’t take away Fullalove’s tiny spy camera. The next morning, the front page of the Gazette has a story about the crashed spaceship with some really cool photos.

Roney has the exoskeleton of one of the creatures in his office. He calls it an arthropod rather than a big grasshopper, and observes that it has 3 hind legs like a tripod. Unlike the ape-men found in and around the vessel, they are definitely not of this Earth.

Professor Quatermass and an old friend from Mars.Quatermass says that it has the face of a gargoyle on a cathedral (not the gargoyles I’ve seen, which tend to be reptilian, but we’ll go along with him for the sake of the story). Both men look at the anthropological mural on the walls of the office, a reproduction of cave paintings that are 30,000 years old; there’s one little figure wearing a horned mask that resembles a gargoyle. Could these images of imps and demons be dim racial memories handed down from humanity’s remote past?

Dr. Roney calls the arthropod creature an “old friend we haven’t seen in awhile.” Considering the creature’s delicate structure and the thinner atmosphere in the sealed-off section of the ship, he and Quatermass eventually come to the conclusion that it must have come from Mars.
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DVD Review: Quatermass & the Pit, Pt. 3

Episode 3: Imps and Demons

The young soldier who was hysterical at the end of Part 2 is conveyed into the shack that Dr. Roney uses as an office. He’s still in shock over the thing he saw inside the aft compartment of the mysterious object they’re digging up. Dr. Roney gives him some brandy from a flask he keeps “for emergencies” and Quatermass questions him about what it was he saw.

“Little,” the soldier reports. “Like a dwarf. Crooked.”

Roney’s assistant Barbara Judd reads aloud a very similar description of the Hobbs Lane ghost from a 1927 newspaper article. Has the soldier ever heard of it? No. That was more than 30 years ago and he’s not that old. Capt. Potter sends him home.

The other men in the Bomb Squad carry on with cleaning the object up. The ejected hatch cover is discovered not far from the opening. Quatermass examines this and concludes that it would have to be unscrewed from the inside to open.

But he’s got another intriguing clue to follow up on: the 1927 newspaper articles mention that Hobbs Lane has always had a bad reputation. There were earlier stories of hauntings here, especially in the 1700s.
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DVD Review: Quatermass & the Pit, Pt. 2

Episode 2: The Ghosts

The story picks up just where it left off at the end of Part 1.

Is the object discovered in the pit of the Hobbs End construction site by Dr. Roney’s archaeological team more than 5 million years old? Preposterous, says Col. Breen. It can’t be very old–the non-metallic surface isn’t even corroded.

Professor Quatermass tries to scratch the surface with the diamond in his ring and finds it’s harder than diamond. While he’s kneeling down, he observes that there are odd projections on the sides of the hull that he guesses were used to hold external launching components similar to those his own rockets use, and that were ejected in flight.

While his Bomb Squad men have been busy digging out the object, Captain Potter has located the records for WWII bombing raids in the neighborhood and finds that nothing bigger than a few incendiaries landed here.

Most of the people living in Hobbs Lane had moved out before the construction project began, but one elderly couple a few doors down from the open construction pit remain. The local police are evacuating them now in the face of the bomb threat. Before they go, Captain Potter and Roney’s assistant Barbara Judd catch them to ask what they remember about the local bombings.

The abandoned houseThe Chilcots have been in their home since the first World War; Mrs. Chilcot can remember little “sparklers” incendiaries falling, but no large bombs.

What about the house next door? asks Potter, indicating the half-collapsed building between the Chilcots’s home and the construction pit. That looks like it was bomb-damaged.

No, says Mrs. Chilcot, that place was abandoned long before the war. The last occupants left it in 1927 and no one has wanted to live in it since–it has a reputation of being haunted. The story was in all the papers at the time.

The skull inside the shipThe Bomb Squad, in the meantime, has found an opening in the hull. The hatch is missing and the inside of the object is filled with dirt. They begin to clear this out, and almost immediately pull out another hominid skull, this one intact.

Dr. Roney takes charge of this find and carries it into the little shack he’s using as his office to clean it up. As he exalts over the very good condition of this new skull, he starts to say that it must have been protected by being inside the hull… then stops when he realizes the implications. How could such a fragile fossil not have been crushed when that huge thing landed?
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DVD Review: Quatermass & the Pit, Pt. 1

I’ve been meaning to review the 1967 Hammer film version of this story, aka Five Million Miles to Earth, since last October; that was the one I grew up with on late-night television and affectionately refer to as Giant Fascist Grasshoppers from Mars. But I’ve just ordered and received the original versions of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass teleplays, which aired on the BBC in the 1950s. I’d never seen more than fragments of them before the package arrived from the UK last week.

Quatermass & the Pit is actually the third in the set; it aired in six episodes from December 1958 through January 1959. But it’s my favorite so I’m doing it first. I’ll compare it to the later film version when I get to the end.

Episode 1: The Halfmen

Our story begins on a construction site in Knightsbridge, London, on a street which two different signs (one new and the other very old) alternately tell us is Hobbs or Hobs Lane. A big, deep pit is being excavated under the former foundations of some old row houses, when a truck driver notices something that’s been dug up in the latest scoop of spoils: a damaged human skull. When the workmen examine it more closely, they realize that it’s actually a fossil and has been “down there a long time.” One of the men adds that he’s never liked working in this place.

A newspaper placard informs us that “3 More Bodies!” have been discovered.

We now go to the Nicklin Institute of Research in Natural History, where well-known Canadian paleontologist Dr. Matthew Roney is about to hold a press conference. Dr. Roney wants the press and the general public on his side so he can keep his archaeological dig open long enough to finish his work there properly; the owners of the construction site want him and his team out as soon as possible.

Barbara Judd, Dr. Roney, and Ape-manDr. Roney believes that the skeletal remains found on the site are of great scientific importance. They are dated at 3 to 5 million years old, much, much earlier than hominids have previously been believed to exist.

His assistant Barbara Judd brings out a clay model she’s reconstructed from the bones they’ve recovered so far: the figure is small and ape-faced, but it stands upright and has a remarkably large brain.
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DVD Review: The Stone Tape

The Stone Tape, written by Nigel Kneale, aired on the BBC on Christmas day 1972 and again the following Halloween, then disappeared into the BBC archives for decades. But it wasn’t forgotten. For many British people around my own age, it’s the equivalent of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark or the little Zuni fetish doll chasing Karen Black around in Trilogy of Terror–the spooky made-for-TV movie you saw once as a child that scared the hell out of you.

Jill and some blobby thingsNigel Kneale is rare among television writers in that he’s famous enough to have his name at the top of the credits. The only other writer of similar standing I can think of would be Richard Matheson.

Kneale is probably best known for his Quatermass series (I really must settle down and write something about Quatermass and the Pit one of these days; I’ve been meaning to since last fall.) What made me buy this DVD from Britain, aside from curiosity regarding a hi-tech ghost story I’d heard so much about but never seen, was the additional attraction that Kneale does commentary on the disk.

This story begins as Jill Greeley (Jane Asher) arrives to begin her first day’s work at an enormous neo-Gothic Victorian house that’s in the process of being converted into offices and lab facilities for a team of researchers.

The most interesting thing I learned from the DVD commentary is that, while the interiors are all studio sets, the house used for the exterior shots once belonged to Ada, Lady Lovelace. She was Lord Byron’s daughter but also famous in her own right for her work on Charles Babbage’s theoretical Analytic Engine; she’s credited as the first person to write a computer program and the programming language Ada is named after her. Kneale says he only learned about the house’s history during filming and it’s a coincidence that Jill is a brilliant computer programmer–a remarkable job for a woman in the early 1970s.

As Jill’s tiny car enters the house’s courtyard, it’s nearly crushed between two large lorries backing up in opposite directions. What’s striking about this scene is that even though Jill is leaning on her car’s horn, neither of the lorry drivers nor any of the dozen or so workmen unpacking crates of equipment from other trucks nearby pay the slightest attention. This will become a theme.

Jill moves her car out the way just in time, but she’s badly shaken up by the incident while the other members of the research team arrive.
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