Horror Bites - Hopping Mad

QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1967)


While the classic Hammer archive is full of what you might consider remakes and new versions of old material, particularly the Universal monsters, they also had their a hand in adapting TV serials which the BBC had produced. Their best science fiction release is one of these, taking an older story and giving it the full colour big screen treatment. Despite the leap from traditional fantasy style horror they retain a few recognisable elements, including cast members from the likes of Dracula Prince of Darkness. The director Roy Ward Baker would go on to make a few of his own vampire features for the studio. It's hardly a big budget adaptation and some of the sequences are laughable, but there's plenty to like and it's story with a lot of atmosphere no matter how ropey things look at times.

In a staple science versus military plot, egos on both sides clash after a suspicious object is found in a subway train station development. Maybe it's just an unexploded missile from the Second World War? Of course we know better. The discovery of prehistoric bones in the tunnel site raises a few questions, and so the bomb squad and a team of palaeontologists arrive on the scene together. Dr. Quatermass (Andrew Keir) meanwhile finds his moon rocket plans in military hands, and so accompanies bomb expert Colonel Breen (a young Julian Glover) to take a look. This so called V-Weapon has no obvious means of propulsion and isn't made of any metal they can identify... but Breen will hear none of it as you'd expect.

The character drama is plenty of fun, and soon the skeletal remains raise more questions after they seem to be from an undiscovered primate species. What do they have to do with space craft? Sorry I mean mystery Axis weapon. Maybe these fossils survived perfectly intact after the impact from pure luck. The plot about ancient civilisations on Earth and on other worlds is the part that takes the biggest leaps in logic to explain things. The science team reconstruction of the skin for these creatures is about as silly as it seems in real life recreations of long dead people, and the ideas about their origins get thrown around far too easily with little evidence. But the heroes are of course on the right path.

The most eerie moments come from the exploration of nearby buildings in a street called Hobbes End, which they find was once called Hobb's End - relating it to medieval times. The locals once believed there was a devilish power in the land itself, and records show many strange events and weird visions. A police officer's recollection of more recent stories is melodramatic but really sets the tone. Soon enough more strange goings on linked to the disturbance of this ground through the new tunnel excavation. The use of lighting effects and flying objects to show unearthly power throwing them around is great, and so are the scenes where experiments link the buried craft to dormant ESP powers in people around it.


This eventually comes together linking the ancient remains, the craft and its power, and the effect it has on the minds of the science team. Conveniently they have a crude brain reading device to hand which records what they are seeing. It has to be said that the silliest moments are through the use of this device through psychic energy. The guy hired to drill on the ship's hull has a break down and his rant about the purple skies of an alien world is really amusing every time. Recordings made through team member Barbara (Barbara Shelley) as she tries to recreate his experience are just as funny when they watch these visions on a recording. Let's just say this is where the budget runs out and they bite off more than they can chew.

Overall though it's kind of spooky and the climactic energy wave release creates a lot of sinister set pieces in the streets of London. Any time we see the alien life forms it's very creaky, but the vision sent out during the climax is just weird and unsettling enough to work. The whole thing pretty absurd but at the same time you can tell this was written as a straight sci-fi plot to be taken in at least some parts seriously. Breen's endless meddling and the other top brass is always entertaining, as are the results of them dismissing the outlandish claims being made. It's often cheap looking but full of charm, and still retains a certain amount of uneasy underground atmosphere. It's well worth seeing for anyone needing a change from the typical Hammer horror output.

4/5