Hammer’s sci-fi sequels have landed on Shout Factory Blu-ray
Hammer is mainly known as the House of Horror, but their output includes other genres as well: in the case of these two offerings now available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory, one of the great franchises in “hard” science fiction. The Quatermass films were known for their more cerebral approach to matinee subject matter and sporting X ratings for body horror elements which were gruesome for the time.
Quatermass II (1957) and Quatermass and the Pit (1967) are the sequels to 1955’s The Quatermass Xperiment, adapting the respective television serials for the big screen. You need not have seen the original film nor the source TV shows to appreciate these sequels; each is able to stand on its own (a characteristic attributable to the age before home video in which audiences weren’t expected to be familiar with the preceding material already). In fact, the films were marketed stateside under alternate titles Enemy From Space and Five Million Years to Earth, downplaying their franchise roots and also having the pleasant side effect of rescuing box office employees from having to hear dozens of people purchase tickets for “Quarter Mass”.
(The original Quatermass Xperiment is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.)
QUATERMASS II (1957)
Two years after the original, a direct sequel followed. Like the original, it’s in black and white, stars Brian Donlevy in the title role, and was directed by Val Guest. Quatermass II finds the preeminent scientist investigating what turns out to be a new threat.
Following the lead of some bizarre meteorites falling in a secluded region, he discovers a massive and alarming operation in a secretive restricted area — an enormous plant with gigantic domes. Before he can pursue the lead any further, his partner falls ill upon coming into contact with a fresh meteorite, and the pair are approached by guards who take the man away without explanation.
Shocked by the scale and suspicion that something is dreadfully wrong, Quatermass furthers his investigation; his discoveries point to a huge conspiracy reaching the highest levels of government, and even when he’s granted access to the facilities on an inspection tour, the tone of things is ominously guarded and obstructive.
Suspicions are confirmed, bad things happen, and Quatermass escapes by the skin of his teeth, finding himself in a “Body Snatchers” sort of scenario in which anyone might be compromised and no one can be trusted, and only one answer matters — just what are they hiding in those giant domes?
The film succeeds fabulously in two key areas, the design of the foreboding facility and the sensation of helpless paranoia. Quatermass himself is an interesting character and Donlevy plays him with a matter-of fact intensity, if also a bit rude (particularly toward women).
QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1967)
It took a decade for Quatermass to hit big screens again, and by this time evolved into something of a different experience. A bearded Andrew Keir took over the title role in the franchise’s third film, and first in color, Quatermass and the Pit. He’s joined by a young Julian Glover (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Game of Thrones) as a bureaucratic antagonist.
When workers encounter a foreign object buried in the London Underground, Quatermass is called to the scene to aid in the investigation of a large vessel of alien origin with unique physical properties.
As with Quatermass II, what’s most fascinating about the film is that the extraterrestrial threat is presented, but not in the cliched concept of an invasion — eg, flying saucers with humanoid creatures that shoot lasers. Instead, the Quatermass films posit that aliens would instead “invade” by means of more subtle methods — mind manipulation and mass assimilation; and instead of little green men, their form could be something unexpected.
With Quatermass and the Pit, the exploration even gets a bit philosophical, exploring the origin and nature of evil as an ancient alien phenomenon, and its third act is a surprisingly “big” finish that elevates the film into something quite special.
Both Blu-rays feature reversible covers with their alternate US titles, and a bevy of extras, including an astounding three commentaries each. Both films look terrific and Quatermass II is noted as being a new 2K scan of an archival film print.
Special Features and Extras — Quatermass II
- NEW Audio Commentary With Filmmaker/Film Historian Ted Newsom
- NEW Audio Commentary With Film Historians Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr
- Audio Commentary With Director Val Guest And Writer Nigel Kneale
- NEW Interview With Academy Award-Winning Special Effects Artist Brian Johnson (3:10)
- NEW Interview With Assistant Director Hugh Harlow (1:41)
- Vintage Interview With Director Val Guest (20:56)
- World Of Hammer episode: “Sci-Fi” (25:39)
- U.S. Theatrical “Enemy From Space” Trailer (1:54)
- Still Gallery
Special Features and Extras — Quatermass and the Pit
- NEW Audio Commentary With Film Historian Bruce G. Hallenbeck
- NEW Audio Commentary With Film Historians Constantine Nasr and Steve Haberman
- Audio Commentary With Director Roy Ward Baker And Writer Nigel Kneale
- NEW Interview With Actor Hugh Futcher
- NEW Interview With Academy Award-Winning Special Effects Artist Brian Johnson (Alien)
- NEW Interview With Clapper Loader Trevor Coop
- NEW Interview With Focus Puller Bob Jordan
- Interview With Author Judith Kerr (17:56)
- Interview With Actor Julian Glover (30:43)
- Interview With Actor/Writer Mark Gatiss (20:04)
- Interview With Filmmaker Joe Dante (11:34)
- Interview With Author/Film Historian Kim Newman (30:47)
- Interview With author/Hammer Film Historian Marcus Hearn (12:56)
- World Of Hammer episode: “Sci-Fi” (25:39)
- Theatrical Trailers (5:10)
- TV Spots (1:25)
- Alternate U.S. Credits (0:27)
- Still Gallery (5:49)
Editor’s correction: an earlier version of this article misattributed the title role in Quatermass and the Pit to James Donald, who portrays a different character. The role of Quatermass is played by Andrew Keir.
Get it at Amazon:
If you enjoy reading Cinapse, purchasing items through our affiliate links can tip us with a small commission at no additional cost to you.
Quatermass II — https://amzn.to/2L5fMsk
Quartermass and the Pit —https://amzn.to/2MKqMNM
Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.