Quatermass And The Pit (England 1967)

Rating: ***
Alternate Title: Five Million Years To Earth (US Title)
Review Date: 11/30/01
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Cast: Andrew Keir, James Donald, Barbara Shelley, Julian Glover

Classic Hammer sci-fi. You know, for the last twenty years I've thought this was Quartermass not Quatermass. And I still see "Quartermass" when I look at it - very odd. Anyway, the film opens as a group of prehistoric ape-like skeletons are unearthed during the construction of a subway tunnel in Hobb's End (which is an area reknowned for "bizarre phenomena" over the centuries). Things get even stranger when a spaceship is discovered in the mud as well. The project is immediately handed over to the military, under the strict supervision of Colonel Bleen (Julian Glover). As an expert in military propaganda, he dismisses the entire incident as an unexploded WWII German propaganda missile, as absurd as that sounds. But Professor Quatermass (Andrew Keir) knows better, and deduces that it's of alien origin - specifically Martian. Ignoring the good doctor's pleas to handle the situation differently, the military continues to push forward until the evil of the ship is released and the collective Martian memories turn the locals into vicious killers with telekinetic powers.

The film starts off with a bang and unfortunately ends with a whimper. The film is intelligent and well written, with tight dialog and excellent performances from the entire cast. Andrew Keir's portrayal of Professor Quatermass is superb and right on the money. He truly conveys the sense of fear and dread in the film, and is the voice of reason and humanity that opposes the actions of conventional military thinking. Julian Glover makes a wonderful adversary and is immediately detestable. For the most part, the effects are competent and work well, but the Martian memories are way too silly to take seriously. They're unintentionally funny instead of being creepy and unsettling. (John Carpenter's "Prince Of Darkness" (1986) pulls off this same trick with stunning results) Unfortunately, the last thirty minutes of the film slow to a crawl as mass hysteria takes over and Quatermass has to figure out how to stop the Martian menace. But when all else fails, at least there's pretty Barbara Shelley to look at.