Made by Hammer Quatermass and the Pit was a sequel to two of their earlier films both of which revolved around the amazingly named protagonist Professor Bernard Quatermass and all of which inspired by the BBC TV series written by Nigel Kneale.
Kneale also wrote the threequel which through its combination of science and horror, a great story and brilliant special effects went on to become the most famous of the Quatermass movies inspiring many film and TV writers and directors for generations to follow influencing everyone from Dr Who to John Carpenter.
With a re-release and digitally restoration in 2011 does this British film made more than 40 years ago still hold up alongside Hollywood and the horrors of today?
The answer is a resounding yes as Quatermass And The Pit seems way ahead of its time combining genres, playing with audience expectations while unafraid to delve into a darker side of humanity and take on philosophical and moral quandaries people still puzzle over today.
Oddly it all starts so simply as workmen discover a skull while building an extension to the London Underground. The skull is far from ordinary however and soon a team of scientists have taken over the site desperately digging for more bones which they believe belong to our early human ancestors more than five million years old.
The excavation takes another turn when the team find a mysterious object alongside the remains. At first fearful that it is a unexploded bomb they call in the military who send Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) and a bomb disposal team with an intrigued Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir) drawn to join through curiosity alone.
When the object is investigated further it appears not to be a bomb at all but something else entirely. As Colonel Breen and Professor Quatermass find they have very different theories on the alien artefact a war of words and actions sparks up with both determined to prove the other wrong.
As Breen hides his head further in the sand denying any danger Quatermass searches for answers discovering evidence of Martians, Satanism, genetic engineering and telekinesis all of which propels him towards a catastrophic conclusion which will unwittingly plunge him and the whole of London into peril and madness.
Directed by veteran moviemaker Roy Ward Baker, Quatermass And The Pit is a well-made film in every aspect from the production design and music to the cast which includes not only Glover and Keir but also Barbara Shelley and James Donald all delivering outstanding performances.
As mentioned before the effects are also excellent and although to a modern audience some look slightly basic and unrealistic, especially the insect like aliens, other effects such as the telekinetic sequence and the disaster filled conclusion are impressive especially considering when the film was made.
What really stands out though is the story and script and Kneale’s ability to weave so many strands and ideas into one film. Blending superstition, folklore and religion with science and history not only keeps the audience guessing as to where the film is leading them but also highlights interesting concepts about our perception of the world especially in regards to the supernatural.
The film also takes on the age-old conflict between the pursuit of science and the military machine with the conflict between Breen and Quatermass and their ideals and beliefs representing a bigger battle that has ragged throughout time. With cover-ups and propaganda, the use of the media and the manipulation of the masses discussed as well the story seems as relevant today as it ever was in the late 60’s.
Building brilliantly and moving from a simplistic science fiction adventure through a supernatural horror film concluding with an apocalyptic disaster movie ending which is still powerfully disturbing and unsettling Quatermass And The Pit is a classic British movie which deserves recognition and praise as a film ahead of its time that is still as powerful and thought provoking as it was when it was made.
Hopefully this re-release will bring Quatermass to a new audience so they can see what inspired so much of the modern sci-fi hat populates TV today.