Nigel Kneale and Quatermass are British institutions and were incredibly influential on the people who shaped our current pop culture. Doctor Who, The League of Gentlemen and Edgar Wright, to name but a few, owe a great debt to Kneale and are constantly waving his flag. This is my first delve into the world of Quatermass and it didn’t disappoint.
Quatermass and the Pit is an intelligent sci-fi/horror that prides itself on using ideas and cerebral shocks first and foremost. There’s a strange object buried in the London underground, strange alien beings and apocalyptic happenings yet this feels primarily like a film about conversations and speculation on mankind’s beginnings and weaknesses. Despite all the weirdness, the scariest stuff in the film comes from theories and ideas. Did aliens jumpstart our evolution as a way to invade our planet? Are they now bringing about our apocalypse? A lot of these ideas would permeate throughout Arthur C. Clarke and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey a year later albeit in far grander, more abstract terms. Kneale was clearly a man of ideas and great intelligence and I really love his ambition to use movies and serial storytelling (Quatermass began on British TV and even this film originated as a 6-part mini-series) as vehicles for very heady concepts and ideas.
Directed by Roy Ward Baker and produced by Hammer, Quatermass and the Pit looks desaturated and production-designed in the great way most Hammer movies of this period and earlier do. It’s a film of London backstreets and tweed jackets, lots of uppity accents and dreary skies. Mix all that in with grounded sci-fi and the alchemy is quite irresistible. Despite the lengthy dialogue sequences, the film doesn’t feel talky or confined at all and actually moves at a fantastic pace. Something is always happening, story is constantly progressing. It’s entertaining through and through and one of the reasons it is so memorable and gripping. I can definitely see myself revisiting this in the future and can’t wait to delve deeper into Kneale’s back catalogue.