Quatermass II

Dozens of meteorite strikes lead Professor Quatermass on an investigation into a mysterious alien presence that has infiltrated the highest levels of the British government.

Quatermass II is my introduction to the character and his various incarnations. The series is somewhat legendary as it predates (barely) the gothic horror series for which mid-century British production house Hammer is known. Quatermass II debuted the same year as Curse of Frankenstein; it’s similar to that film and its ilk in style, substance and the trademark gore. The alien invaders in this instance are little slimeballs that travel in meteorite spaceships. They disintegrate people. It’s fun to look at, and still quite shocking; somehow the lack of reality to the gore compared to contemporary films makes it all the more disturbing. The screenplay is somewhat slow as per its era, and although he’s often hated upon by fans of the character, Brian Donlevy is pretty fun as Quatermass, a space-age Sherlock Holmes of sorts.

This is the first stateside Blu Ray release of the material and as such features a new restoration, as well as new commentaries. Interviews with the director, assistant director and special-effects artists make the film’s historical relevance come alive.

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

The third and final BBC Quatermass film was released a decade after Quatermass II, with Andrew Keir taking on the role of the titular scientist. This time around, a mysterious object is discovered beneath London due to an extension of the subway — along with skulls from ancient humans. Quatermass deduces that ancient Martians crash-landed on Earth during experimentation on our ancestors and that remnants of their tinkering still exist in our modern minds. The aliens make their move.

Quatermass and the Pit (aka Five Million Years to Earth) has it all — ancient aliens, buried malevolent spacecraft, mind control, psychokinesis. Quatermass here is a more weary, more interesting take on the character. It benefits from the advance of 10 years in production value and style; Pit feels more like the latter Hammer horror films it was released alongside and thus gorier, faster paced and beautifully designed.

Of the two new releases this one feels the most essential, but it’s great that they’re both available on Blu-ray easily in the United States. Special features do a great job explaining the position of Quatermass and the Pit in the scheme of British horror and science-fiction history.

Both films include new commentaries, as well as legacy interviews with cast and crew.