Concluding Studio Canal’s delightful Made in Britain season comes the oft-lauded Hammer production: Quatermass and the Pit.
Quatermass and the Pit starts off well enough. Whilst work is being carried out to extend the Central line, the startling discovery of possibly the oldest ape-like fossils known to man is made at the fictional Central line tube station of Hobb’s End (sounds real enough, especially considering the fact it’s closed throughout). The work stops (that’s TfL for you) so that an excavation can be performed. This, however, uncovers a mysterious, bomb-like metallic object so the army, and their resident Experimental Rocket expert Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir), are called in. Then things start getting weird.
There’s an awful lot to like in the setup of this film. The acting, like many entries in the Hammer canon, is wonderfully virtuosic in its ability to chew scenery. Andrew Keir shines as the particularly gruff and disheveled Quatermass and it is through his interactions with both the inexplicably top-billed James Donald (featuring as the archaeologist Doctor Roney) and Julian Glover (the standard issue, stiff-upper-lip, military tight-ass that is Colonel Breen) that most of the fun is to be had.
The unsettling nature of the first half is just as commendable. While Roney and Breen are trying their best to work out the strange bomb contraption, Quatermass and Barbara Judd (Hammer regular Barbara Shelley) play local historians to the local troubled area of Hobb’s End. Several of their discussions are not only genuinely creepy but wonderfully set up some of the later sequences. This is all helped along by the severe and oppressive (in a good way) score by Tristram Cary.
Unfortunately, things go off the hinges from the halfway point onwards. The plot takes a complete left turn and the remainder of the set pieces are confusing and comically low-budget. I hate to pick on an older film for anything special effect related, but given that after one particularly nonsensical segment a character literally has to explain what we just witnessed, it must have been completely incomprehensible to audiences in 1967. Hammer was, and hopefully will continue to be in its rebooted form, a source of some innovative and memorable films. This, unfortunately, is not one of them.
Ben has awarded Quatermass and the Pit two Torches of Truth.