Friday, April 10, 2020

Quatermass II

Quatermass II
Val Guest

Rocket scientist, Bernard Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) is frustrated at the lack of government interest in funding his moon colony project. While investing some strangely persistent meteorite storms he comes to find an abandoned village and a hi-tech facility that is extremely close to his own moon base designs. After one of his colleges picks up a meteor, it breaks open and something like a black bubble bursts on his face. Strange soldiers arrive and take the man away. Quatermass must unravel the mystery of this base before whatever lurks in its confines completes its plans.

Picking up at some unspecified time after the events of  The Quatermass Xpermiment (1955), Quatermass II is altogether a tighter and more ambitious story than its predecessor. Much like the first film, we follow Dr. Bernard Quatermass as he slowly puts the clues together despite the obstruction from both aliens and the government.

"Check it out, I'm going to touch this space boob."
Quatermass II improves on the first film in a couple of important ways. The first is the slight softening of its main character. Upon our reintroduction to Quatermass, he immediately launches into an angry tirade at one of his employees, but then… he apologies. The Quatermass of the earlier film would have done no such thing. Secondly, the antagonist this time isn’t some singular hounded being, but instead, it is an organized and powerful group. This places Quatermass and his team at a disadvantage and keeps the tension high when they find themselves at the mercy of this invading army.

The film shares some similarities to Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), but both movies were based on previous material that was released in 1955 (The Quatermass II BBC series, and The Body Snatches novel by Jack Finney respectively). Where Invasion of the Body Snatchers dives into the paranoia of identity, Quatermass II takes a turn for cosmic horror when the true masterminds behind the invasion plot reveal themselves. There are some nifty horror elements throughout the film, my personal favorite being a moment where the heroes find a pipe leaking with blood and realized that it has been stuffed with human bodies to prevent toxic gas from filling the aliens’ habitat.

"Can I get you a moist towelette or something?
Brian Donlevy’s less acerbic Quatermass feels like a natural continuation from the first film. He's faced some losses that were directly his responsibility. Here we not only get to see him bring out some pathos as Quatermass loses more close friends in this conflict, but we also get to see him in a few action scenes and take a rifle butt to the face. This time he feels vulnerable and I think it’s the right move because now there is even more at stake in the narrative.

Of the three Quatermass films (four if you count the hybrid television series/film Quatermass Conclusion (1979)), this is probably the least well-known, but for me, it is my favorite. From what is the seeds of a pretty stock alien invasion film comes a wonderful conspiracy story that feels bigger and weightier as goes. The revelation of the beings pulling the strings is handled well and brings things to a head in a satisfying conclusion. Quatermass II moves from strength to strength as it goes along.

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