Quartermass and the Pit (1967) – A British Sci-Fi Masterpiece
A classic Hammer Sci-Fi film from 1967, Quartermass and the Pit, a suggestion from a reader – and a great suggestion at that. This is a film that I had planned on watching for a long time, and I am glad I finally got around to it.
Crews working at a London Underground station unearth a some primitive ape-man skeletons. Soon, scientists are called in to take over the dig, and then the military when they find what is first believed to be a bomb, but turns out to be an ancient Martian spacecraft, along what appears to be it’s original, insect like crew. While the aliens have long passed away, the ship itself turns out to be alive in some way, and starts projecting ancient Martian memories to the London public, causing mayhem and panic. It is, of course, up to the scientists to save everyone.
Here is the plot description from Wikipedia, as I am not doing the film justice with my description – be forewarned, almost all Wikipedia plot descriptions give away everything:
Workers building an extension to the London Underground at Hobbs End dig up skeletal remains.Palaeontologist Dr Matthew Roney (James Donald) is called in and deduces that they are the remnants of a group of apemen over five million years old, more ancient than any previous finds. One of Roney’s assistants uncovers part of a metallic object. Believing it to be an unexploded bomb, they call in an army bomb disposal team.
Meanwhile, Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir) is dismayed to learn that his plans for the colonisation of the Moon are to be taken over by the military. He gives a cold reception to Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) who has been assigned to join Quatermass’ British Experimental Rocket Group. When the bomb disposal team call for Breen’s assistance, Quatermass accompanies him to the site. Breen concludes it is a V-weapon, but Quatermass disagrees. When another skeleton is found in an inner chamber, Quatermass and Roney realise that the object must also be five million years old. Quatermass suspects it is of alien origin, but Roney is certain the apemen are terrestrial.
Quatermass becomes intrigued by the name of the area, recalling that “hob” is an old name for theDevil. Working with Roney’s assistant, Barbara Judd (Barbara Shelley), Quatermass finds historical accounts of hauntings and other spectral appearances going back over many centuries. They deduce that these events coincided with any disturbances of the ground around Hobbs End.
An attempt to open a sealed chamber using a borazon drill fails to make any progress. However, a few moments after the drill is stopped, a small hole is seen, though the drill operator, Sladden (Duncan Lamont), is certain it was not created by his machine. The hole widens to reveal the contents: the corpses of three-legged, insectoid creatures with horned heads. Roney and Judd work to preserve the bodies before they decay. An examination of the creatures’ physiology suggests they came from the planet Mars. Quatermass and Roney note the similarity between the appearance of the creatures and the Devil.
Sladden is overcome by a powerful telekinetic force emanating from the missile and flees to the sanctuary of a church. Sladden tells Quatermass he saw a vision of hordes of the creatures from the missile. Quatermass believes this is a race memory. Seeking proof, he returns to Hobbs End, bringing a machine Roney has been working on which taps into the primeval psyche. While trying to replicate the circumstances under which Sladden was affected, he notices that Judd has fallen under its influence. Using Roney’s machine, he is able to record her thoughts.
Quatermass presents his theory to a government minister (Edwin Richfield) and other officials. The occupants of the missile came from the dying Mars. Unable to survive on Earth, they chose to preserve some part of their race by creating a colony by proxy by significantly enhancing the intelligence of the natives. The descendants of these apemen evolved into modern humans but retain the vestiges of the Martian influence buried in their subconscious. He plays the recording of Judd’s mind as evidence: it shows hordes of Martians engaged in what he interprets as a racial purge, cleansing the Martian hives of weaker members of the race. A disbelieving Breen offers an alternative theory: the missile is a Nazi propaganda exercise designed to sow fear of an alien invasion among the populace. The minister rejects Quatermass’ theory in favour of Breen’s and decides to unveil the missile to the press.
Disaster strikes at the press event. The missile apparently draws power from the broadcasting equipment, and its influence is magnified. The streets of London erupt into violence as those affected go on a rampage. Breen becomes drawn towards the missile and is killed. Quatermass falls under alien control as well, but is snapped out of it by Roney, who is unaffected. The two men realise that a small portion of the population are immune. The psychic energy becomes stronger, ripping up streets and buildings, and the spectral image of a Martian towers over the city, centred on Hobbs End. Recalling stories about how the Devil could be defeated with iron and water, Quatermass theorises the alien energy could be discharged into the earth. Roney climbs to the top of a building crane and swings it into the spectre. The crane bursts into flames as it discharges the energy, killing Roney. With this, the image disappears. As Quatermass and Judd rest amongst the rubble of Hobbs End, Fire Engine and Police bells can be heard ringing in the distance.
This is a true Science Fiction classic that deserves so much more attention than it gets. I cannot recommend this film enough, if you are a real Sci-Fi fan. Intelligently written and well acted with an original plot – more than most movies (especially ones highlighted on this site), it is actually available in it’s entirety on Youtube – so you have NO reason not to see it.
Check out the trailer here:
And watch the whole movie here: