RJ Bayley Reviews: Quatermass and the Pit

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Hammer Film Productions’ 1967 film adaptation of the 1958 TV serial Quatermass and the Pit  is a controlled and measured thriller in all the right ways.

The opening premise may seem familiar in modern times, but you can no more accuse it of unoriginality than you can a James Bond film for being about a suave, gadget laden, super-spy. Familiarity or not however, it’s all carried off impeccably. Nigel Kneale’s script allows the intrigue to build up by methodically and thoroughly unpacking every element of the science fiction situation. It examines these elements for what they could mean and offers counter arguments that are convincing and fascinating in themselves. This in depth exploration of every facet of the scenario really works in adding gravity to their ramifications.

At the centre of all this is a fantastic performance by Andrew Keir as Professor Bernard Quatermass, in possibly the finest portrayal of the character. Here the combination of Keir and Kneale’s writing show why Quatermass is probably the best thoroughly British science fiction hero this side of The Doctor (and that’s shown by the many references to the character throughout Doctor Who’s history). It’s a pleasure to see such a man of science and radical thinking pit his wits against the army, the actual antagonists for most of the film.

The story structure is beautifully crafted, letting unexpected twists evolve naturally from very entertaining (if not totally realistic) characters.  The compelling players combined with a comprehensive and thorough approach to the scenario  pay off in creating a riveting finale that justifies its scale while never feeling over the top. As the well planned revelations come crashing down things get genuinely scary.

Quatermass and the Pit is a cast iron, machine crafted movie and a weighty, alarming piece of British sci-fi horror.

★★★★

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