Directed by Roy Ward Baker
While building an extension to the London Underground, an alien spacecraft buried deep in the Earth is discovered. As strange occurrences keep piling up, the alien origins of modern man come to the surface and threaten to unleash havoc upon the world. Now Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir) must solve the mystery and save the world.
This movie is a childhood favorite of mine. It seemed to have played regularly right after I got home from church. Not to go off on a tangent but Sunday afternoons were a magical time for movies when I was growing up. It was a grab bag of anything and everything. There was such variety on. One Sunday it is a cinema classic. The next it is a classic Hammer film. It was on one Sunday that I discovered this amazing movie.
Much of the tension and drama between the characters comes from the usual military versus scientist dynamic. Scientists are always in the right and the military are just always in the wrong. Usually it is a heavy-handed way to create story problems that instead makes the narrative clunky, but here it works because the military, while wrong are not doing it because they are pigheaded or stupid. They are proceeding logically. At least from their perspective anyway.
The action mostly takes place in a fictional area of London called Hobbs End which in the movie has been the center of mysterious occurrences for ages. Barbara (Barbara Shelley-they really tried there with the name), the assistant to a paleontologist named Dr. Roney (James Donald), recalls “Hob” is another name for the devil. The appearance of the Martians is even hinted at as being the source of how we picture of the devil.
James Donald plays the character of Dr. Roney. The actor was not the star of the film, but he was a better-known commodity than Andrew Keir who plays Quatermass and this apparently secured him top billing in the film over Keir. It is also interesting that Dr. Roney is the one that actually saves the day at the end of the film when London has been overtaken by madness. The title character had all the answers, but he did not actually end the threat.
Julian Glover is in this as Col. Breen. Glover was in so many things back in the day. He was in everything from Doctor Who to a small part in Empire Strikes Back and even the main villain in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade and tons between. It makes seeing him in this film such a treat for me.
The special effects in the movie are a little dated but hold up well enough. The only real flaw is the mental footage of Mars. Yes, they get images from the human brain of Mars. It’s still cool to look at though and I don’t find dated special-effects too much of a drawback so long as the story is good. And this is a very good story.
As a rule, I feel that practical effects are much more of an artform than anything that is produced today. There was effort and careful choices that needed to be made to get concept from storyboard to screen. Today some kid with a burrito in their hand can put a three headed dragon on the screen and add a fourth if the producer wants with no effort. It wasn’t so easy back then.
The decomposition scene is one of my favorites. They really do excel here. The Martian just breaks down in one of my favorite examples of practical effects in this movie. On another note I still find the aliens weird and disgusting and creepy and just wonderful to look at. Their design is insectoid and I hate big bugs.
The core cast is kept relatively small. In fact, I listed every major player in this movie in my review here. There are a few minor supporting characters that come and go quickly but they are quite few.
It is a good story that only Hammer could deliver. Nobody was doing anything in quite the same way as Hammer was doing at the time. And given what they did I don’t think anybody else could. It was just so unique and so different from anything else out there.
The story builds slowly but steadily to the conclusion. It is a feeling of ever-growing tension. The movie is evenly paced and pulls you in from the start. The acting in this film is just top-notch and I will tell you why. Some of the lines and some of the things they have to do border on the silly. I brought up the images from the brain on the television. That’s a great example but the actors play it seriously and make everything that should come off as ludicrous come off as serious. You buy what they’re selling.
This is a fantastic film. It is one of my all-time favorites and I know if you watch this you will love it too.