THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT. (1955) DIRECTED BY VAL GUEST. BASED ON THE 1953 BBC TELEVISION SERIAL ‘THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT’ WRITTEN BY NIGEL KNEALE. PRODUCED BY HAMMER FILM PRODUCTIONS.
STARRING BRIAN DONLEVY, RICHARD WORDSWORTH, JACK WARNER AND MARGIA DEAN.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This excellent British sci-fi horror film was one of the productions that gave Hammer its reputation for making terrific horror movies. I love their three Quatermass films, and couldn’t really choose a favourite out of the three as they’re all so top-notch. Films one and two are black-and-white and have a deliciously ancient feel to them. The third film is more modern and is even made in colour, and features a different actor playing the eponymous Quatermass.
THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT tells the story of a rocket ship, that’s been on a tour of outer space, crashing one dark night into an English country field. If the ship was unmanned, it might not have been such a catastrophe, but there were three men aboard that ship.
Professor Quatermass, the abrupt-to-the-point-of-rudeness academic responsible for launching the rocket, orders the craft opened. Out staggers, amid much tension, the one member of the crew who’s still alive… the astronaut Victor Carroon. Something horrible has killed his two companions, and all Carroon is able to say on the subject are two little words: ‘Help me…’
Aside from giving a superb performance as the poor tormented Carroon, the distinctly aristocratic-looking actor Richard Curwen Wordsworth who plays him comes from very interesting and exalted stock indeed.
He is the great-great-grandson of one of England’s best-loved poets, William Wordsworth, the chap I remember from my schooldays as being the ‘daffodils poet,’ and he also founded the famous Wordsworth Summer School, a week of poetry, lectures and walking tours in England’s lovely Lake District. It’s a bit like being descended from old Willie Shakespeare or Charlie Dickens, is that.
Anyway, it quickly beomes clear to Quatermass and the medical staff caring for Carroon that he has undergone a trauma in outer space that we down here on earth would be hard pressed to understand. Strange markings and even changes on and to his face and shoulder indicate that the trauma might be more than just emotional and mental. It’s probably physical as well…
The poor guy is undergoing an horrific mutation, through no fault of his own, that could have serious implications, not only for Carroon and his ‘Fifties wife Judith (tight skirt, high heels, short modern hairstyle, smokes cigarettes and even knows how to drive), but for the rest of the human race as well.
And, speaking of races, the film turns into a tense-as-hell race against time when Carroon escapes from his hospital room with the help of Judith, who, if she hadn’t been so unnaturally modern and inclined to think thoughts about things and have opinions of her own in such a distinctly unfeminine fashion, would never have aided and abetted in something so law-unabiding!
Quatermass and his chum in the police force, Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lomax, have to find Carroon before the gross mutation that’s taking him over can finish the job, killing Carroon while, more importantly from Quatermass and Inspector Lomax’s point of view, managing to multiply so quickly that it’s only a matter of time before the alien life force takes over the world and everyone in it…
There are some truly memorable, stunning-looking scenes that occur during the search for Carroon, including a rather frightening interlude in an olde-style apothecary and some distressing scenes in Chessington Zoo, a lovely, old-fashioned zoological gardens like the one in Val Lewton’s CAT PEOPLE.
There’s also some light comedy from British actress Thora Hird as a homeless, gin-soaked old dear (not unlike some roles we’ve seen Joan Hicks from the CARRY Ons play) who turns up at her local cop-shop and unwittingly gives the police a lead to Carroon.
There’s also a beautiful scene, reminiscent of James Whale’s 1931 horror classic FRANKENSTEIN, in which a blonde-haired little girl (played by child actress Jane Asher) asks Carroon to play with her, unafraid of him and completely unrepulsed by his physical appearance. This scene is filmed at the old defunct, history-steeped East India Docks.
The film climaxes in that grand old bastion of Britishness, Westminster Abbey (not the real one, sadly, but a really smashing set!). Gordon Jackson, better known as the Scottish butler Angus Hudson from the original UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS, turns up here as a BBC TV producer.
Marianne Stone from the CARRY ON films and Lionel Jeffries also have small roles in THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT, a film so good it spawned many imitators. Enjoy it. It’s the real deal all right. But if you’ve been wondering what to get me for Christmas (the year’s flying; it’ll be here sooner than you think!), I have just one caveat. No cacti, ta. I’m prickly enough…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.