Night #13: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)


There’s no room for personal feelings in science, Judith!”

Directed By: Val Guest

The 50’s saw a rise in the age of Sci-fi. Partially this was because of technology and the space race, setting off international interest in exploration that went beyond the four corners of the globe. But hand in hand with that came the creeping paranoia of communism and the Red Scare of the post-WWII years. This stopped being subtext and more or less became literal text with 1956’s Invasion Of The Body Snatchers but it had been bubbling under the surface of a lot of other movies from that decade.

The Quatermass Xperiment is in the mold of someone has gone to an unknown place…and brought something back. It was also another Hammer production, which I didn’t realise, but this was in the years before technicolour and Christopher Lee (Though those are not far off). Adapting a BBC series that ran for six episodes – and was done live! – the story tells the tale of a rocket that returns to earth unexpectedly (The titular experiment) and while it carried three astronauts on the way out, it only came back with one.

To say the man looks ill is an understatement. One look at him tells you there’s going to be trouble, but old Quatermass has it under control. Hilariously at one point you see a newspaper headline that says Quatermass tells the police that no, they cannot investigate, seemingly because he wields untold sway in the corridors of power. Make no mistake, Quatermass is probably the most famous scientist who ever lived.

Anyway, for about three thirds of it it’s quite a slow burn, with Quatermass trying to solve what happened while they were up in space as the man lays in a hospital bed looking more suspect than blue cheese. Luckily there was a camera inside the ship, so we get what has to be one of the first instances of characters watching something on playback (A trope that was used as recently as this year’s Star Trek Beyond). Lo and behold something did happen of course, though by this time the astronaut’s wife has hired someone to break him out of the hospital and though it’s about 30 or so years between the two, I could tell the actor was that english guy who used to tell David Hasselhoff what to do in Knight Rider.

Suffice to say he’s definitely brought back something with him. Something that absorbs what it touches (leading to the pretty neat visual of him having a cactus like arm after touching a…well a cactus).

This period is kind of lacking in my general overview of horror. I watched and loved all the Universal monster movies and though I had seen the occasional movie here and there it wasn’t a decade I delved into much. Things would literally change five years later when Psycho was released, and the 60’s were a decade I was much more familiar with so it’s been good to delve into this. Quatermass was something I thought I should always kind of know about because it’s so often referenced, and I can see that if you were of a certain age a lot of this would’ve been mindblowing.

I’ve seen clips of the original BBC broadcast and it’s obvious seeing the difference between the two Quartermass’. An American was cast in the role to better appeal to an American audience, and this version of him is a fucking dick. He would never have made it this far as a scientist because someone surely would’ve killed him. He seemingly has no time for anyone and honestly in any other movie he would be the bad guy. In stark contrast his British counterpart is a much friendlier and thoughtful character. The actor Brian Donlevy (Who I had actually never heard of before this) does come back for Quatermass II but he’s replaced for Quatermass And The Pit, to the joy of movie goers everywhere. Still, I kind of admire the adherence to being the dick that he is. It’s just not all that enjoyable to watch.


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