The Quatermass Double Bill DVD
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Directed by Val Guest
Produced in 1955-57
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film, American film
Fans of classic British sci-fi will need little excuse to spend a thrilling evening with Nigel Kneale's The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass II. Graeme Hobbs starts the projector.
Despite the surname having been picked out of a phone book (the first name was more carefully considered, having been inspired by that of the creator of Jodrell Bank, Bernard Lovell), British science-fiction has few more resonant names than Nigel Kneale's creation of Professor Bernard Quatermass, head of the secret British Experimental Rocket Group.
After his first outings in live BBC transmissions, Hammer bought the rights and turned The Quatermass Experiment and Quatermass II into X-rated films, capitalising (literally) on the controversy by renaming the first film The Quatermass Xperiment.
The first saw an astronaut returning from 'the other side of the air', infected with an alien life form that grows uncontainably and which must be destroyed before it/he spores, while the second sees the science fact of the Shell Haven Refinery in Essex become the science-fiction of a mysterious, heavily-guarded artificial food processing plant - but to what purpose and for whom?
Nigel Kneale didn't think much of American tough guy Brian Donlevy playing his character, saying he portrayed him as 'a creature with a completely closed mind', and in truth he is pretty far away from Kneale's original conception, his mannerisms more suited to a New York Police Chief than a researcher, but his corset-stiffened presence helped with US distribution and his brusque, bluff manner actually suits the films' own brisk clips quite well. (A 'Quatermass' figure from this era who gives a portrayal more sympathetic to Neale's conception is Dean Jagger, whose 'Dr Adam Royston' in X the Unknown (1956) is Quatermass in all but name - Neale, upset over their use of Donlevy in The Quatermass Xperiment having refused Hammer permission for its use.)
Familiar faces and fine character actors are on hand around him to ground the films in more familiar territory: Richard Wordsworth - the poet's great-great grandson - casts a tragic menace as the pathetic, stumbling, invaded figure of astonaut Victor Caroon, whie Jack Warner (shortly to take up his BBC TV role of Police Constable George Dixon) plays the avuncular, slightly bemused Inspector Lomax in the first film (a role taken by the veteran of five Hitchcock films, John Longden, in the second). Quatermass 2 also sees the unlikely figure of Sid James playing a heroic journalist, telephoning through his copy in the face of death.
Both films benefit from scores by Hammer composer-to-be James Bernard. His score for The Quatermass Experiment, which trembles, quivers and looms, turning the screw of the film's tension, was in fact his very first for Hammer; his music for Quatermass 2 is notable for the repeated nerve-jangling squeals that resemble those soon to be familiar in Hitchcock's Psycho.
All in all, this is a double-bill of British classic science-fiction and horror from Hammer that, playing on fears of contamination and invasion, and secret installations of undivined purpose, tells us a lot about the fears of the era.
Graeme Hobbs on 26th August 2011
Author of 275 reviews
A fine double-bill of early Hammer science-fiction featuring The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) and Quatermass 2 (1957). Brian Donleny takes the role of Professor Quatermass in each.
The Quatermass Xperiment: A missile is launched by Professor Quatermass and his team but when it lands back in England two crew members have disappeared and the third, who is barely alive turns into a 'thing' that starts killing humans and animals to feed its transformation. The first of the 'Hammer horrors', it's spelling was changed to take advantage of its X-rated status.
Quatermass 2: Intrigued by strange images on his radar, Quatermass follows them to Winnerden Flats. He discovers a 'synthetic food' factory that looks remarkably like his own pet space project. The locals aren't too friendly either. A pre-George Dixon Jack Warner takes the role of the affable Inspector Lomax, while none other than the walnut-faced Sid James takes the role of a heroic journalist. A fascinating expose of the fears of the era.
Length: 160 mins
Cat No: ICON10057
Format: DVD Colour