Movie Review: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955, Dir. Val Guest)

The Quatermass Xperiment - You Won Cannes

Science Fiction movies were my first love when I was a kid. My mother and grandmother started watching Chiller Theater in the ‘70s, so by proxy, I too began watching it. Chiller Theater featured a lot of horror movies as well as science fiction flicks, and if that week’s title seemed especially horrific, my brother and I would be put to bed immediately. This is how I was first exposed to Hammer Studios. Back then all Chiller Theater used to run were the many Dracula and Frankenstein movies they produced. For the longest time I used to think that’s all they ever did make. It wasn’t until I grew up that I learned of their many sci-fi films as well.

I think it was through the various movie monster books I used to read where I heard about Bernard Quatermass and his terrifying encounters with various extraterrestrial menaces in the three movies Hammer made based on his initial appearance on British TV. The first Quatermass film I saw was the 1967, Quatermass And The Pit, which was then titled Five Million Years To Earth. I have very vivid, fond memories of that movie, which features the best portrayal of Quatermass by British actor, Andrew Keir.

In the late nineties I finally saw the second movie, Quatermass II (1957), dubbed Enemy From Space for U.S. moviegoers. The film was released by Anchor Bay, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I don’t remember precisely when I finally saw Quatermass’s movie debut, The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) aka The Creeping Unknown, but I know it was after the acquisition of the Anchor Bay sequel DVD.  The titles were changed on all three movies because it was assumed American audiences wouldn’t know who the hell this Quatermass guy was, which makes sense. American Brian Donlevy plays the title character in the first two films, and even though, I like both films immensely, Donlevy doesn’t come off as the scientist type, but more of a cold, pragmatic, and authoritative dick. I have to say he’s bit more likable in the second flick.

The plot starts off with the crash landing return of a manned experimental rocket Quatermass and his team have sent into space. Three men were sent into the heavens, yet only one has come back alive. The other two are nowhere to be found, except for their environmental suits which are still laid out in the ship, vacant of the bodies they should be containing.

The “survivor” of the mission hasn’t really faired  much better.  Once they get him back to headquarters to examine him, the team discovers his body seems to be going through some kind of metamorphosis. Against Quatermass’s better judgments, he’s talked into moving the man into a civilian hospital. Here everything starts to go wrong, thanks to the infected astronaut’s wife, who sneaks him out of the hospital. During the escape, he commits a murder, and once he’s introduced to the outside world, goes about killing even more people. He even decimates a zoo of its animals, basically sucking the life out of every living thing he can get his hands on. Eventually his metamorphosis progresses into the monstrous tentacles and blobby stage, and it becomes the highest priority that he/it must be stopped before he/it manages to multiply.

Britain has had this movie on DVD for some time, and it was just last year that an American version had finally been created. It came out through MGM’s MOD Program, with only a trailer as an extra. The trailer was anamorphic, but the movie itself was not. It’s full frame, but looks pretty damn good.

I actually enjoyed The Quatermass Xperiment, but each sequel manages to get better than the last. Not a perfect Quatermass movie, but for die hard fans of this character and 50s British science fiction, it’s a must see, and a must own.

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