THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955, Exclusive/Hammer Film Productions, UK, 82 mins, B&W, 1.66:1, Mono, Cert: PG, Sci-Fi Horror Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
Starring: Brian Donlevy (Prof. Bernard Quatermass), Jack Warner (Insp. Lomax), Margia Dean (Mrs. Judith Carroon), Thora Hird (Rosemary ‘Rosie’ Elizabeth Wrigley), Gordon Jackson (BBC TV producer), David King-Wood (Dr. Gordon Briscoe), Harold Lang (Christie), Lionel Jeffries (Blake), Sam Kydd (Police Sergeant), Richard Wordsworth (Victor Carroon).
Producer: Anthony Hinds; Director: Val Guest; Writer: Richard H. Landau, Val Guest (Based on the television play by Nigel Kneale); Director of Photography: Walter J. Harvey; Music: James Bernard; Film Editor: James Needs; Art Director: J. Elder Wills; Special Effects: Les Bowie.
The film that launched Hammer Films’ foray into the horror genre. At the dawn of the space age the British Rocket Group launches three astronauts on an experimental mission. Their ship loses contact with Earth and subsequently crash-lands in the English countryside. Professor Bernard Quatermass (Donlevy) is intrigued to discover that two of the crew are no longer aboard. It soon becomes clear that the mission’s sole survivor, Victor Carroon (Wordsworth), is desperately ill and is rapidly being consumed by the alien organism that killed his fellow astronauts.
The body horror theme of a parasite infecting humans was to become a staple device in much of the later sci-fi genre surfacing with films such as ALIEN, THE THING and numerous stories from TV’s Doctor Who utilising the theme very effectively. Here it is realised through a brilliant portrayal of a man possessed by Richard Wordsworth. His internal turmoil is effectively conveyed by the actor in a manner that recalls Karloff’s monster in FRANKENSTEIN. Val Guest keeps the tension high and the story lean, whilst James Bernard delivers a haunting score.
There has been much written about Brian Donlevy’s suitability for the role of Quatermass and there are times when his histrionics are a little over-bearing as he attempts to capture the professor’s driven personality. Margia Dean is equally unconvincing as Wordsworth’s wife. But Warner adds some fun to his portrayal of the everyman detective inspector, which brings a welcome lighter element to the story. There are also small roles for such favourites as Thora Hird, in a memorable cameo as a homeless lady who encounters the creature, and Gordon Jackson as a BBC producer keen to ensure the show goes on in the Westminster Abbey conclusion.
Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass stories would prove very popular on both small and big screen and a sequel, QUATERMASS 2 (again with Donlevy), followed in 1957. However, it was 1967’s QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (this time with Andrew Keir as Quatermass) that would become the most successful adaptation and impressive production.