Written by: John White on March 5th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: UK, 1967
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Cast: Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, Julian Glover
DVD released: October 21st 1998
Approximate running time: 97 mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Non-anamorphic
Sound: Dolby Digital stereo/ DD 5.1
DVD Release: Anchor Bay
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $29.98 (Now OOP)
Whilst performing improvement works on Hobb’s End tube station workmen find remains which bring archaeologists, Barbara Judd and Matthew Roney, to the site. They become convinced that the remains are evidence of a missing link in human development from Apes and as the dig continues a strange metal like structure is discovered. This brings in the bomb disposal squad led by Colonel Breen who is accompanied by a curious professor Quatermass. More discoveries are mad which undermine Breen’s belief that the structure is a Nazi bomb and eventually insect like corpses are recovered. Quatermass and the good doctors become convinced that the structure is a space ship and that the remains were brought from Mars. When Quatermass goes public with his thoughts, Breen opens the site up to the public to convince people that it is a propaganda weapon. The result is chaos as the psychic spirit of the Martians takes over it’s descendants – the human race. Will Quatermass stop the spirit or will the Earth be ethnically cleansed.
Quatermass and the Pit was Hammer’s third attempt at bringing Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass character to the screen. In the first two films Brian Donlevy played Quatermass, but here the role is filled by the bustling Andrew Keir who brings a bluffness and energy to the role that Donlevy never did. The other cast members are equally as good with the gorgeous Barbara Shelley in her best Hammer role and Julian Glover splendidly stupid as the uptight Colonel Breen.
Quatermass and the Pit has a plot which on paper may sound like preposterous notion placed on preposterous notion and at one point when Colonel Breen says to Quatermass “you’re mad” it is hard not to feel some sympathy. However Nigel Kneale’s script is so good and Roy Ward Baker’s direction so crisp and well paced that the flights of fancy seem plausible. Another element which works brilliantly here is the special effects which are undeniably rudimentary in this age of CGI but they serve the plot well. My favourite element of Quatermass and the Pit is the sound. It is truly excellent and adds to the sense of chaos that the final act of the film brings.
The story of the film is one with a wonderful impact. The idea that we are really Martians and are moved occasionally to purge our race is one that has a wonderful moral and political dimension. The fact that this psychic spirit also offers an explanation for ghosts, hauntings and psychokinesis is seriously imaginative and shows a flair that modern Scifi can’t match. It also manages to frighten even though 39 years have passed.
2001 is too cold, Alien is a man in a bugsuit and Star Wars is popcorn brought to life. Quatermass and the Pit is the best film Hammer made, and possibly the greatest sci-fi film ever made. Own it.
Anchor Bay released Quatermass and the Pit in 1998 and the disc is now long out of print. Other releases of the film are available in Japan, Spain and Germany which are anamorphic. This release has an excellent transfer and phenomenal sound in 5.1 and stereo.
The extras are on the flip side of the double sided disc include a World of Hammer documentary on Sci-fi narrated by Oliver Reed, but best of all a commentary from the Director on the movie.
This is OOP now but only the Japanese disc of the available releases offers the wonderful 5.1 track and the documentary as well as an anamorphic transfer. This release is pretty difficult to top.