Quatermass and the Pit

Quatermass and the Pit is one of a handful of Hammer films (The Devil Rides Out, The Vampire Lovers, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth) so giddily inventive, consummately written and thoroughly enjoyable that it has not only withstood the test of time, it has risen up to become a pinnacle of the genre. Sort of. Certainly, the film is underappreciated. It is also difficult to assign to a single genre, being that it marries bizzaro science fiction to Lovecraftian horror and mixes in a dash of the supernatural.

While building an extension to the London underground, workers unearth the fossilized remains of several strange, hydrocephalic hominids. Palaeontologist Dr. Roney (James Donald, The Great Escape) and his lovely assistant Ms. Judd (Barbara Shelley, Village of the Damned) are brought in and shortly thereafter a large, unidentifiable object is uncovered. The plot thickens when the film’s brainy namesake, Professor Quatermass (Andrew Keir, Cleopatra), and the loathsome Colonel Breen (Julian Glover, Game of Thrones) arrive to determine the object’s purpose…

What follows is a whirlwind – at times literally – of zany pseudoscience, zanier side characters, occult references, paranormal activity, alien bioengineering, orgasmic visions and orgiastic bloodletting, all culminating in a great, insectile death’s head projected into the sky above London. Yes. It is that good.

Director Roy Ward Baker handles the material with aplomb, playing even the looniest aspects of Nigel Kneale’s wonderful script completely straight and drawing fantastic performances from every actor involved. Though he worked with Hammer again on Scars of Dracula and The Vampire Lovers (both of which have a whole lot more tits, but a whole lot less of everything else), this is his finest hour.

The entire cast, from the tiniest bit player to the titular heavyweight, put in the hard yards and most get a chance to show off their O-face (Barbara Shelley’s is particularly memorable). Though Kneale’s intelligent dialogue does well to mask the plot’s absurdities, it remains a testament to the cast’s professionalism that everyone brought their A-game and no one sunk to phoning in a performance. I find it hard to imagine a modern day cast doing likewise, tasked with channeling their inner telekinetic space grasshopper.

What more need I say to make you watch this film?

See it now, in colour!

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