Friday, April 17, 2020

Quatermass and the Pit

Quatermass and the Pit (aka Five Million Years to Earth)
Roy Ward Baker

Workers expanding the London Underground discover a strange-looking skull while digging at Hobbs End. A scientific team investigates and finds not only that these are proto-humans but there is also a seemingly impenetrable metal spacecraft buried with them. Professor Bernard Quatermass is called in and discovers that there has been an alien presence on Earth for millions of years. To make matters worse, it isn’t dead and the recent unearthing has begun to wake up something buried in the psyche of everyone in the area.

The Professor Bernard Quatermass of this film might as well be a completely different character. Gone is the blustery anger and compassion of the previous two films. This time around Quatermass is worried and cautious. This could be a natural progression of a person who has lived through two horrific alien invasions and is running headfirst into a third, but the film never addresses this as fact. As unpleasant as I found Quatermass in The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) and Quatermass II (1957), this time around he’s fallen too far into the role of a stereotypical science-fiction hero to make much of an impression.

"When you said let's go to Subway for lunch, this not what I thought you meant."
If Quatermass himself doesn’t live up to his predecessors, the story certainly does. Whereas the previous stories hid their threats away in abandoned night locations and remote villages, this time around the alien menace lives under the street in London. Not only that but it hinges on the idea that the alien invasion has already happened millions of years ago and what we are dealing with in the film is an aftershock of that event. It is a marvelous addition to what could have been a pretty standard invasion story and it makes the events feel even bigger and more important than they would otherwise.

Quatermass and the Pit opens on a note of unease as the tunnel workers keep finding mishappen skulls from the mud and eventually uncover a metal craft. This mystery hangs in the air and with each revelation that mystery moves towards becoming a catastrophe. The third act of the film takes a turn towards spectacle as the run-down area of Hobbs End becomes a nightmare of psychic attacks and roving mobs. This section of the film has become hugely influential to a number of later directors including John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper, both of who reference this film in their own works (Prince of Darkness (1987) and In the Mouth of Madness (1995) for Carpenter and Lifeforce (1985) for Hooper.)

This is what happens to people who pronounce it 'Quarter-mass."
This is also the first Quatermass movie that is rendered in beautiful bright color and it holds images across the visual palette from the dirty browns and greys of Hobbs End itself to the psychedelic mirrored interior of the alien spacecraft. It is a gorgeous looking movie and well worth seeing in high definition.  This is a brilliant and influential science-fiction film that would go on to inspire many others.

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