DVD Review: Quatermass II, Part 4

BBC Logo Before this episode begins, the BBC warns us that what we’re about to see may not be “suitable for children or those of you with a nervous disposition.”

So brace yourselves!

Episode 4: The Coming

The story picks up where it left off at the end of Part 3, with Dr. Leo Pugh locating the asteroid in its hidden orbit; it’s coming closer to Earth and will be at its nearest point in about 3 hours. Everybody expects that more of those fake meteorites containing ammonia-breathing entities will be launched then.

Quatermass expounds further on his theories about the “colonial minds” of these creatures and what they’ve been up. The UFO scare/meteorite shower a year ago tells him that this invasion has been going on for at least that long. The first “showers” to hit Earth were more-or-less at random, but the creatures in the little projectiles took over enough of the local population in places like Winnerden Flats to get themselves organized. Their plans are moving into the final phase now.

He tells Fowler that the secrecy surrounding Winnerden Flats must end and the danger it presents be made known to the public. Fowler heads back to the Ministry to do what he can.

Paula has also been speculating about the asteroid that’s on its way toward Earth. It’s too small to hold any kind of atmosphere, so it can’t be natural. Her dad has also figured that much out. The Quatermasses agree that the source of the asteroid and the creatures on it must be one of the outer planets; the professor favors Saturn’s moons.
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DVD Review: Quatermass II, Part 3

Episode 3: The Food

At the end of Part 2, one of the men on the Winnerden Flats synthetic food project committee was revealed to have been marked by exposure to the so-called “meteorites” that have been falling in the vicinity of the top-secret factory. It’s assumed by Quatermass and the viewer that the other committee members are also under the influence of whatever’s inside those objects, even though the marks on them aren’t in such obviously visible places.

Member of Parliament Vincent Broadhead, who’s called this committee meeting, mentions the objects and calls them “missiles.” He’s afraid that these things are an attempt to sabotage the delicate food cultures at the plant by some means of infection.

The marked man Quatermass takes the plastic model of a “meteorite” out of his briefcase and shows it to them. The reaction is dead silence. He shoves it toward the man with a mark on his face and asks him if he’s ever seen anything like it before.

The marked man seems to struggle with himself and tries to answer. “If I could tell you–” he begins, but he’s shouted down by one of the others, who insists there is no infection and the project will go forward. These questions must not continue.

Quatermass is asked to leave the room.

He returns to Fowler’s office, where he declares that he felt real menace from the men around that table in the last few minutes he was there.

Fowler finds this incredible. “Menace? In the Ministry?” About 20 minutes have passed since Quatermass left the meeting, and he and Fowler return to the conference room to see what’s going on.

The room is now empty, except for Broadhead, who sits slumped over in his seat at the end of the table. There is a faint, lingering smell of ammonia in the air.

Broadhead is at first woozy and disoriented, but as he recovers he tells them, “Inquiry’s over. Nothing to find out. Everything’s in order.” He also has the beginning of a double-circle mark on the side of his neck.

A doctor arrives, and doesn’t answer Fowler’s question about who sent for him. The doctor has that same stilted speaking voice that the security guards and committee members displayed, so he’s obviously One of Them.

While the doctor tends to Broadhead, Quatermass and Fowler quietly confer on the other side of the room. Quatermass whispers that he must get inside that top-security facility and see what’s going on.

They meet up a little later in an espresso bar with a cheerfully vacuous young man named Rupert Ward. Rupert’s job is Public Relations, and one of the things he does is escort important people to see the Winnerden Flats factory. Politicians, mostly, and members of the press. He only takes them there; he assumes someone else brings them back.

For the first time, Rupert seems to think this odd. But nothing’s happened to anyone he’s taken to the plant, he assures Quatermass. “They all turned up again. You see their names in the papers.”

At this point, you might be thinking that this story is similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers–but that film didn’t come out until the following year.

Rupert still has his security pass, so he agrees to escort Quatermass and Fowler to Winnerden Flats for an official tour.

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DVD Review: Quatermass II, Part 2

Episode 2: The Mark

At the end of Part 1, Quatermass’s prospective son-in-law Capt. John Dillon got a face full of whatever’s inside those meteorites. Quatermass said there was something on Dillon’s face, but as this episode begins, it’s already disappearing.

Examining his companion’s face, Quatermass observes that’s there still some discoloration near the hairline, but Dillon is behaving weirdly. Like the old farmer, he’s woozy and disoriented, and he’s hostile to Quatermass touching him.

Guards from the super-secret research facility arrive then and take Dillon away. They tell Quatermass that he must leave—now. Dillon will be looked after. They speak in oddly stilted and atonal voices and I don’t think it’s just bad acting. Quatermass wants to come with them to be sure his friend is all right, but they all–Dillon included–refuse this request. Dillon snarls that Quatermass mustn’t follow. The guards put him into their truck and return to the facility.

Quatermass stands alone–no, wait, not alone. A homeless man who’s been hiding himself in the ruins of a cottage emerges now that the guards are gone (Wilfrid Brambell, not to be confused with Wilfrid Brimley; this guy would later star in the British comedy Steptoe & Son and play Paul McCartney’s “clean” grandfather in A Hard Day’s Night.) Wilfrid Brambell

The old man, who isn’t very clean at the moment, tells Quatermass that he used to travel this way regularly on his vagabond rounds and didn’t believe the whole village could be wiped out so completely since his last visit about a year ago. He was informed of the village’s destruction by the inhabitants of the new, pre-fab town a few miles down the coast on the other side of the secret facility; the workmen for the place and their families live there.

As Quatermass looks over the bulldozed rubble of the former village, he notices something more disturbing. Among the ruins are many, many broken fragments of meteorites similar to the one that just landed, only these are crumbled and weathered, having been exposed to the elements for some months.
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DVD Review: Quatermass II, Part 1

This is the second of the three Quatermass stories that aired on the BBC. After the great success of the The Quatermass Experiment in 1953, this sequel followed the further adventures of Professor Bernard Quatermass and his Experimental Rocket Group in 6 episodes in the autumn of 1955.

Episode 1: The Bolts

Before we catch up with the professor’s activities, the first episode opens at a military radar station somewhere out in the English countryside. They are picking up a weak signal–something too small, too low, and too slow-moving to be an airplane.

“Another one of them,” says the sergeant watching the radar screen, and tells the officer in charge, Captain John Dillon, about it.

They continue to track this mysterious object until it comes down about 2500 yards from the radar station.

An elderly farmer is out riding a tractor across his field nearby, when a meteorite lands in front of him. He gets off the tractor to go and have a closer look.

A Farmer out sitting in his fieldPeople in science fiction stories should already know instinctively: Don’t put your face near that thing!

John Hurt could tell him why this is unwise. But put his face near it he does.

Unaware of the farmer’s discovery, Dillon and the sergeant have gone out in a jeep to try and find the object themselves. As they drive along, their conversation informs us that this is the third such object they’ve tracked since they set up their radar base, though they weren’t able to find the other two. There was also some sort of UFO scare about a year ago, perhaps explained by a large meteorite shower in the area. Since then, the army has orders not to discuss any UFO-type sightings with the general public to avoid further panics.

The farmer’s anxious wife is standing at the roadside ahead of them; she flags down the jeep, asks for their help with her husband, and takes them to where he’s still sitting in the field. On the ground beside him are the broken remains of the meteorite. At least, there’s no sign that a crustacean-like, alien face-hugger or similar creature was inside it, but whatever was has caused him to become woozy and disoriented.

When asked, the farmer reports that the meteorite broke apart after it hit the ground, and that there was a funny smell. “Like old stables.”

He seems well enough not to need medical help. Dillon gathers up the broken meteorite fragments. He and the sergeant feel as if they ought to contact some about them. But who?

“There’s a man I know named Quatermass,” Dillon tells the sergeant.

The sergeant knows just who he means. “The Rocket Man?”
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BluRay Review: The Quatermass Xperiment

a.k.a. The Creeping Unknown.

It Creeps. It Crawls. It Kills!

Soon after the BBC version of The Quatermass Experiment had finished airing in the summer of 1953, Hammer film studios obtained rights to make a movie version and started planning. Prior to this point in Hammer’s history, the studio had primarily made comedies and crime dramas; to market their films in the United States, they often used American actors in starring roles.

Hence Brian Donlevy’s being cast to play a very un-British Bernard Quatermass in this particular film. Quatermass’s creator Nigel Kneale did not like this at all.

In compressing the 3-hour BBC series into an 80-minute film, director Val Guest, who co-authored the revised script, also took other liberties with the story. Kneale didn’t like these either, especially the altered ending.

But we’ll get to that part when we come to it.

This film version begins with what would become a horror-movie trope: a couple necking. Not being American teens, they aren’t parked in a car in some Lover’s Lane, but have made themselves comfortable in a haystack on the farm belonging to the girl’s father. A deafening roar like a jet engine interrupts their kissing and they run like hell for the inadequate shelter of the farmhouse.

The next thing you know, there’s a rocket sticking nose-down into the pasture like a giant lawn-dart.

The QI RocketWe meet Quatermass and the key members of his Experimental Rocket Group–Judith Carroon, Dr. Gordon Briscoe*, and Marsh–along with a querulous guy from the government office funding them, as they drive up to the crash site together in a VW minibus.

Their conversation covers the basic info from the first episode of the series: the rocket was missing and out of contact for 56 hours. They don’t go into why an American is heading Britain’s space program, but it’s obvious right away that the character of Quatermass has changed in more ways than his nationality can account for. This is a man who goes ahead and does whatever he decides is right and doesn’t listen to anyone else once he makes that decision. He launched his rocket, the QI, before he received final approval because he got tired of waiting for the bureaucrats to make up their minds.

After the exterior of the rocket has cooled down, the hatch is opened and Judith’s husband Victor emerges to collapse once he’s outside. His only, whispered, words are “Help me” before an ambulance takes him away. He reflexively clenches and unclenches one fist.
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DVD Review: The Quatermass Experiment

This is the very first of the Quatermass stories. It aired on the BBC in July and August of 1953 and introduces us to Professor Quatermass and the adventures of his Experimental Rocket Group.

Unfortunately, only the first two episodes of the original series survive. The DVD features a copy of the script so you can see how this version of Nigel Kneale’s story turned out, but I’ve also watched the Hammer film version that was made a couple of years later.

First, the two television episodes.

Episode 1: Contact Has Been Established

The episode begins with a voice-over announcer informing the viewers that the first manned rocket into space was launched from Australia one morning. The crew consisted of three men, whom we’ll hear more about later on. Contact with the rocket was suddenly lost and there’s been nothing but silence for more than 50 hours.

We then go to the control room for the British Experimental Rocket Group in the UK, as they discuss the problem with their Australian base. Everyone looks anxious, but one woman on the team seems more upset than the others. The group’s leader–Bernard Quatermass (played by Reginald Tate), although we won’t get his name for awhile yet–speaks comfortingly to her; their conversation establishes that she is Judith Carroon (Isabel Dean), married to one of the crewmen aboard the rocket, and a valued mathematician on the team. Judith is worried that one her calculations could have caused this malfunction. Judith Carroon and Prof. Quatermass

Then, to everyone’s relief, they pick up a signal. They aren’t able to contact the crew, but the rocket is heading back towards Earth. Judith does some calculations to project where it’s going… and track where it’s been. The rocket should have gone into orbit, but broke away and apparently took up some long, elliptical path. It’s been much farther from Earth than it should’ve been–halfway to the Moon if Judith’s math is correct. Quatermass regains remote control of the rocket to start its descent. It comes down in the London suburbs, about 10 miles from their headquarters.

There follows a long interval with a black screen and suspenseful music, and the next scene opens within the ruins of what was an old lady’s home near Wimbledom Common with a great big rocket sticking up through it. The couple next door have come to investigate; the wife seems to think that they’re faced with a nuclear warhead and wants to get away as fast as they can, although if she were right I don’t think they could get far enough quickly enough for safety.

The old lady and her cat The old lady (Katie Johnson from the Ealing comedy, The Ladykillers) is all right, although she’s trapped on what remains of the upper floor with a yowling cat in a wicker carrier. She’s understandably bewildered and believes the Blitz is recurring (“Have they started again?”) A Bobby arrives to rescue both old lady and cat with a tall ladder. Other emergency services people soon gather, as well as the neighbors and reporters eager to interview anybody they can get to talk to them. Among the latter is James Fullalove from the Gazette, who takes this exciting event as a welcome relief from his usual work on things like the Chelsea Flower Show.

By the time the members of the Rocket Group arrive on the scene, the place has taken on an atmosphere of carnival. One of the team, a man named Marsh, sets up radio equipment as close to the rocket as the heat from the exterior will allow and tries once again to contact the men inside. Judith shushes the crowd; she hears someone tapping. “They’re alive!”
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DVD Review: Five Million Years to Earth

Since I’ve already covered the plot of this story in detail in the 6 episodes of the BBC television version from the 1950s, I won’t go over it again except where there are significant or interesting differences.

This Hammer film version of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit was filmed in 1968. It was revised by Kneale himself to cut it down to less than half its original length, but I don’t think he has anything to do with the new, alternative title that was used in the U.S. However, as nonsensical as Five Million Years to Earth is as a title, the first difference I make note of is that, in this version, there really isn’t a Pit either. The deep hole of the Knightsbridge construction site is gone; this time, our story begins in the Hobbs End Underground station, which isn’t very far underground. But the phrase “the Pit” also has certain connotations beyond a simple hole in the ground, suggestive of Hell and demons in keeping with the nature of the creatures discovered buried there. “Quatermass and the Renovated Tube Station” doesn’t evoke that same note of horror.

Ape-man skull At the Hobbs End station, workers are extending the train line when they dig up the fossilized skeletal remains of some hominids. The strange object that Dr. Roney’s team first takes for an unexploded bomb is discovered less than 7 minutes into the film, opening credits included.

Both the fossils and the object are found in the clay in the back wall behind the subway tracks, so there is no sense of remarkable archaeological chronology here–more a sense of surprise that things so close to the surface weren’t dug up ages ago.

Captain Potter of the Bomb Squad (Bryan Marshall) is still too young to have WWII experience. In this version, he’s the one who seeks out Colonel Breen (Julian Glover, who was born in 1935 and is way too young himself to be playing a crusty old WWII vet at this point in his career). After the meeting at the War Office where Professor Quatermass (Andrew Keir) is told that his Rocket Group is about to be handed over to Breen, Breen receives Potter’s phone message and Quatermass comes along with him since the two were intending to thrash the matter out over dinner. This little bomb problem is just a stop on their way… until they get a look at the thing that obviously is no bomb. And when the undamaged skull turns up inside the sleek and shining black hull, Quatermass is drawn into the mystery whether Breen wants him there or not.

Tiny 'pentacle' on the ship's hull

Dr. Roney and Quatermass aren’t previously acquainted, but they bond quickly over their mutual dislike of Col. Breen.
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DVD Review: Quatermass & the Pit, Pt. 6

Episode 6: “Hob”

After the power was shut off during the press conference at the end of Part 5, Barbara Judd is the only one who sees the glow inside the spaceship in the darkness before the lights come on again.

The spaceship glows! Professor Quatermass tries to get the crowd of reporters and technical staff to leave, but Colonel Breen and the War Office guy want them to stay… and stay they do until the outer hull of the ship begins to pulse and glow so brightly that everybody can’t help but notice. By then, it’s too late.

Sounds of vibration are heard. Debris starts flying around and all hell breaks loose. People scream and push to get out of the pit. But not everyone is eager to escape. Breen remains, staring at the glowing ship hypnotically. He and a couple of other men just sit down on the ground in front of it, watching it. The reporter Fullalove also remains, snapping photos.

The crowd rushes out into the street, but something more than panic drives them. They seem to be influenced by the ship in the same way that Barbara Judd and the drillman were earlier and they run, guided by some reawakened instinct. They see the world around them as Martian grasshoppers, like themselves. The telekinetic debris accompanies them. Walls of the nearby buildings begin to shake and tumble down. Not just the people who were at the construction site and near the glowing spaceship are affected; it’s spreading around London.
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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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