Thursday, May 13, 2010

Quatermass And The Pit

As long as I'm on vintage sci-fi, I must put in a word for one of my favorites. I saw this one as a kid and some of the images stuck in my mind all my life. Without knowing the title, I began to search it out a few years ago on the internet using various keywords. I remembered a big white devil face in the night sky and some guy on a crane crashing into it. I remembered a police officer in a trance before a glowing object full of veins and then seeming to melt like wax. I remembered creepy bug-like creatures and someone cutting into a dead one and finding oozing green liquid. I remembered a group of people like zombies burying a frightened man under boulders which they hurled with their minds. But all I could find was a few posts by other people trying to locate the same film.

Then one day I stumbled upon a sci-fi film site. This site had hundreds of vintage films and they would feature trailers from a randomly selected one on their front page each time it loaded. The first time I went to the site, I could not believe my eyes as I saw the trailer for this film playing right on the first click. I then knew it was called 5,000,000 Years To Earth and released in 1968. Actually, it first came out in the UK in a black and white BBC series about the adventures of Dr. Quatermass in 1953 and later as a series of films. This particular story was called Quatermass And The Pit and was re-made in color and released in the U.S. years later under the new title. The remake was an improvement.

I could not find the film online at the time, so I ordered it from Amazon (make sure not to mix it up with the BBC version). What I found was not just an eerie alien movie but a brilliant and complex story that involved the entire evolution of mankind, Mars, Satanic lore, and skillfully revealed pieces of the mystery as it went along. This one just needs to be watched to get the full effect. The ending gives new meaning to the phrase, "All hell broke loose".

There are flaws of course. Some of what passes for scientific explanations are quite ridiculous, but usually peripheral. I think most of the special effects are actually quite good for its time and I still got a shake when I first saw the dead bug aliens. There is one scene people make fun of where an image is shown on a monitor of the alien planet and the puppet-like miniaturization is quite obvious. I've never bothered about it because those images were supposed to have been drawn from deep within a person's subconscious mind so you'd expect it to look more like a dream than real. I actually have more problem with the idea of ever being able to view another person's thoughts on a screen by hooking up some contraption to their brain. That's one of those pseudo-scientific ideas that pops up a lot and you just have suspend disbelief.

As a final note, the film was the third of a set of remakes of the adventures of Dr. Quatermass by the Hammer production company. The first two were entitled The Quatermass Experiment and Quatermass 2, both of which were black and white and featured a different, less well reviewed actor as Dr. Quatermass. The result was that this film stands out miles above the other two. Nowadays, I've been able to find it on the web, like at this link, but it doesn't always hang around due to copyright policing.

1 comment:

  1. This is definitely a film more people should see - especially as the work of Nigel Kneale is in need of a drastic reappraisal: