Reviews of The Quatermass Experiment (1953) and related work

The Quatermass Experiment (1953Moving picture, 3.0 hours)

Review applies only to the first two episodes, hence no rating. The remaining four were not preserved and I was born 30 years after their live performance.

A manned rocket, the product of a secret British experiment, crashes in London after a brief sojourn in empty space. Of the brave test pilots, two are dead and the third seems badly injured somehow, acting very strangely.

Quatermass (“KWEI-ter-mass”) was the first science fiction TV franchise for adults, with occasional warnings not to let children see it. It was made with the BBC’s contemporary post-WW2 documentary characteristics, a legacy from Grierson’s “Drifters” (1929): Great seriousness and social realism.

The investigation only gets started in the first two episodes, and of course the image quality is crap, the settings are all studio interiors and so on. Still, quite promising. The franchise’s basic premise of a middle-aged British professor who heads failing pioneer spacefaring projects and investigates horrifying hidden threats to the Earth is quite Lovecraftian.

References here: They Came from Beyond Space (1967).

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The Quatermass Xperiment (1955Moving picture, 78 minutes)

The ship crashes in a field, not in London, and the surviving test pilot gets tentacles.

Feels somewhat like a generic American creature feature, but the bag lady is charming and the “mad” scientist is Quatermass himself, who resolves to make another ship, with tragic implications. This makes his personality radically different from that of every other Quatermass I’ve seen in the franchise.

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Quatermass II (1955Moving picture, 3.0 hours)

After realizing that a new nuclear-hybrid powered spaceship design has killed several scientists and would kill more, because of fundamental flaws in the engine, Bernard Quatermass is distracted from his grim project and drawn into a mystery, where it seems that a massive chemical plant has been constructed on the site of a destroyed village in a year’s time. The plant is controlled by very unpleasant people and surrounded by fragments of broken, hollow meteorites.

Delicious hardcore subversion to the well selected cataclysmic tune of Holst’s Mars, the Bringer of War: Quatermass seeks to terraform other worlds but it is actually the Earth that risks antiterraformation; governments all over the world have been corrupted with ease; industrialization has produced construction workers who cannot understand the horrible machine they themselves build, thus endangering their species.

References here: The Stainless Steel Rat (1961), “Mars Uncovered: Ancient God of War” (2019).

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‣‣ Quatermass 2 (1957Moving picture, 85 minutes)

Much the same, minus the global conspiracy and space journey.

Nurgloid creature feature with some improvement in the pipe stoppage.

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Quatermass and the Pit (1958Moving picture, 3.0 hours)

Vainly protesting a Cold War militarization of another one of his spacefaring projects, Quatermass is called to an archaeological dig in London. Skeletal remains have been found in circumstances that suggest an age of 5 million years. The remains are of oddly human-like apes, indicating they had something to do with the evolution of intelligence, but there was no such evolution.

A small budget forbids actually showing the apocalyptic crowd scenes. Instead we see Quatermass himself fall victim to the franchise’s perennial threat of mind control.

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‣‣ Quatermass and the Pit (1967Moving picture, 97 minutes)

This time it’s a new Underground track that causes the dig.

Oddly unimproved effects, and again no mad crowd, but colour works well.

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Quatermass (1979Moving picture, 3.4 hours)

The Cold War has dragged on towards the end of the century. A prolonged oil crisis and massive corruption have led to a virtual collapse of authority. The young are dominated by violent gangs and a growing Luddite dadaist hippie cult, apparently responsible for such startling graffiti as “KILL HM THE KING”—Johnny Rotten could hardly have said it with any less respect—and “GIVE ME FOOD”. Such imagination.

Quatermass is still alive and revered, but he has spent many years voluntarily isolated in the countryside and hates the current state of the world. His televised rant about how the superpowers have perverted what he used to do accidentally includes an omen.

No longer Lovecraftian, and the SF elements are mainly crap: A hypothetical invisible sphere around the Earth is theoretically agitated by the presence—how it’s measured we never find out—of mind-controlled young people at certain sites, so those people are sloppily teleported. What’s the use of such a silly horror portrait of hippies when their age was already over? It was supposedly written in the 1960s, but that’s hardly an excuse. Savagely violent and deeply concerned about “kids today” from the start, the series goes on to celebrate the elderly, with such memorable lines as “I remember, you see, the first gal I ever lay with: Her body odour, the precise constituents, after 74 years.”

References here: The Silence (2019).

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The Quatermass Experiment (2005Moving picture, 97 minutes)

Modernized, with an abstract showdown instead of the first film’s tentacles.

A drama performed live, like the original series, but at feature-film length. The writing could easily have been improved further, but it’s a decent reverential modernization nonetheless.

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