Quatermass 2 (1957)

Quatermass 2 (1957)

A horrible enemy from the unknown strikes terror across the earth!

Professor Quatermass follows a trail of meteorites that are crashing down into in a remote part of rural England. His search leads him to a destroyed village and a huge chemical plant in it’s place which “officially” produces synthetic food. But Quatermass uncovers something far more sinister: it is being used as a landing point for aliens who are using the huge domes to acclimatise themselves to Earth’s atmosphere. However no one will believe him as the aliens have infiltrated every form of government and authority. He has to take action himself to see that they are stopped.

 

There’s an age-old debate that sequels aren’t as good as the originals. The likes of Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Aliens and The Godfather Part II all prove that sequels can be as good, if not better than the original but there are people who would argue otherwise. But forget those more recent films – this debate about sequels could easily have started back in 1957 with the release of Quatermass II. The original The Quatermass Experiment was Hammer’s first major foray into the world of science fiction and aliens, which had become hugely popular across the pond in the States with the likes of War of the Worlds, The Thing From Another World, etc. It became Hammer’s first international success and was proof that a sci-fi film could work well with horror elements mixed in.

In my opinion, Quatermass II kicks its ass right from the start. There’s no ‘bigger and louder is better’ theory here that there is with today’s sequels. This one simply has a better story and a lot better pace which makes all of the difference and no doubt would have made more of a difference to the original. Sharing many similarities with the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Quatermass II gives the whole alien invasion plot a very English spin. Just to clear things up though: Invasion of the Body Snatchers was released a year earlier but in fact Quatermass II is a film version of a radio broadcast on the BBC in 1955. Anyway, the similarities between the two films are limited and this one goes in a completely different direction without the whole ‘anti-Communist’ message.

It does it for the better as well because this film is great and for its age, it’s theories about conspiracies and cover-ups are well ahead their time. The film had me hooked all of the way through and was only let down by a below-par finale, which clearly showed off the low budget that this film had. The final uncovering of the aliens is pretty weak and just like its predecessor, the make-up for the aliens are the elements that spoil the film. The giant blobs at the end look silly but this was 1957 after all – this was a truly a case where the vivid imagination of the writer was limited by finance. It is fascinating to watch as the plot uncovers though and the script writers deserve credit for working such a detailed, intelligent plot together. There are some great little touches such as the whizzing of the meteorites as they crash to Earth, especially when you hear one single meteorite fall at the beginning of the film in the background and then contrast it towards the end of the film when hundreds of them are falling and whizzing past in the background. It’s just the little things like that which happen and aren’t the main focus of the current scene but can still have a profound effect on the atmosphere.

Attention to detail is fantastic. The plant itself (it was actually filmed at a Shell Oil refinery) is great for notching up the tension too with its sparsely populated, almost labyrinth-like maze of pipes, tunnels and structures. It’s also surprisingly violent too with Quatermass callously running down a soldier with scant regard for the human left in him. There’s also a scene in which a group of workers holed up inside one of the buildings watch their plans to gas the huge domes end abruptly when the pipes become blocked with “pulped” human bodies. It’s pretty disturbing stuff for the time.

Brian Donlevy reprises his role as Professor Quatermass and again brings the same brash, abrasive qualities as he did before. But I like those qualities, especially when he is supposed to be a rather arrogant scientist. His ‘me-first’ attitude serves him well because he wants the human race to achieve greatness and he’s prepared to go to any lengths to see that it does. He even saves himself at one point instead of helping a poor woman whose fate we never know (but can assume is taken over by the aliens). Such an attitude would never find itself in a modern day film with the hero required to save everyone and sacrifice himself. Quatermass never read those rules!

Carry On regular Sid James pops up in a small role here but its unusual seeing him without his cackling laugh and leering demeanour. Loads of famous faces round off the stock characters cast including Hammer regular Michael Ripper and Percy Herbert. And one last note before I round off the review is the score. It may be loud and ear-piercing during the title credits but the James Bernard’s score is just as good at setting the mood for the film as anything else.

 

If you think about a lot of the other science fiction films released around this time, they were mainly trashy giant insect/UFO films. This is an inspired, intelligent, and sometimes scary film which is leaps and bounds ahead of its genre. You’ll never forget the scene where the government inspector stumbles down the steps of the white dome, covered in black substance. It has lost little of its impact in over 40 years. Quatermass II is highly regarded by many but unfortunately never seems to garner the mainstream credit it rightfully deserves. A classic in every sense of the word.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

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