The Quatermass Xperiment
Dir: Val Guest
Star: Brian Donlevy, Jack Warner, Richard Wordsworth, Margia Dean
Cert / Year: PG / 1955
Format: DVD R2

A rocket crash lands onto a rural country farm in England, it belongs to the British Rocket Group who are a secret organisation set up by the government and military to put the first men into space. It appears they have succeeded, but why have the astronauts been out of contact from 57 hours. Head of the rocket group is brash American scientist Bernard Quatermass, and he rushes to the scene to find out if the crew are ok. On arrival he finds that only one astronaut has survived, and it soon becomes apparent that something terrifyingly unexplained has happened to this survivor. Something that will threaten all life on Earth.

Yes I know, Quatermass again. Well on Quatermass's fiftieth anniversary lets just see if my obsession is justified. Way back in the early fifties the BBC had a gap in their schedule so they contacted staff writer Nigel Kneale to write a drama serial. The result was The Quatermass Experiment which turned out to be a massive success. This original has been lost as it was performed live and not taped. However two year later a struggling movie studio, Hammer films, commissioned this film. With a swift name change to The Quatermass Xperiment (Hammer wanted to emphasise the fact that the film was granted one of the first X certificates), The film swiftly became a even bigger success setting Hammer off into the realms of Horror.

Ok so what of the film? Well nowadays the story may sound a bit lame. In fact it has been reused any number of times, although rarely to better effect (see The Astronauts wife). What makes it tick is the ability the film has to invoke the fear that the planet is under threat. This is most effectively used until near the end when the hideously dated effects take over.

Time has not been kind to the film its true. The effects that once garnered an X certificate now look decidedly Dr Who in quality. From the 1950's Buck Rodgers style space rocket (which has to have the most unconvincing crash scene ever. I mean the whole thing survives in one piece sticking upside down out of the ground), to the Jelly puppet monster it is either charmingly quaint or totally dated. It is a good job the middle part of the film relies on acting rather than effects.

Brian Donlevy is a controversial choice to play Quatermass. for a start he is American and this just doesn't sit well with the character. The choice was understandable given the potential overseas sales, but this fact along with the way Quatermass was so aggressive proved justifiably unpopular with writer Nigel Kneale. The best performance of the film comes from Richard Wordsworth as the tortured astronaut. You can genuinely feel for his plight even though he is the monster in the piece. The cast also includes Jack Warner playing a police officer, a role he would have to get used to as he went onto play Dixon of Doc Green. Margia Dean plays a screaming fainting woman (well it is the fifties), and other familiar television names turn up including Thora Hird and Gordon Jackson.

The film is directed in pseudo documentary style by the excellent Val Guest. It is a style that does work in this context, and it ensures that the feeling of threat is maintained until the end of the film.

The Quatermass Xperiment has at its heart one of the classic sci-fi stories. The fear of what is out there and what we may bring back is still being exploited to this day with films like Event Horizon. The big problem is that it is now extremely dated. Slick direction and a great story just can't hide this. Added to this fact that the central character is miscast and poorly interpreted and you may think that its not worth watching. Well you would be wrong as even after all of this time the film is rather effective, and it marks a important film in the history of sci-fi.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Picture 4:3 Beautifully restored black and white picture.
Audio Mono Original mono soundtrack, but clear and good
Audio Commentary by Director Val Guest and Writer Nigel Kneale
Excellent 24 page booklet detailing the Quatermass history.
Verdict Nice restored transfer with a couple of top notch extras.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Glitz Back Top Home