Wednesday, November 12, 2014



   If it's there's one thing Hammer's QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (U.S. title FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH) cannot be criticized for it would be for a lack of plot elements. Packed into its 97 minute running time is martin invasion, devil worship, ESP, Gothic horror and even some Chariots of the Gods like UFO conspiracies. As with Hammer's previous two Quatermass titles (THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT from 1955 and 1957's QUATERMASS 2) it was based on an earlier BBC serial. If QUATERMASS AND THE PIT does have a fault its perhaps that its sometimes lofty plot goals overtake its budget, but this is more then balanced by a solid leading cast, those typically wonderful Hammers faces in the secondary roles and a refreshing lack of romantic nonsense to gum up the works. It's interesting to see how as in most movies of this ilk, its left up to science to come to the rescue (with the thick headed non-believing  military and clueless bureaucrats just getting in way) but here science also has to look back to ancient history, pagan rituals and devil worship to save the day.

   While working on a new subway extension for the London Underground workers find remains of a herewith unknown prehistoric man which necessitates the arrival of Dr. Roney (James Donald from THE GREAT ESCAPE) and his assistant Barbara Judd (the very beautiful Barbara Shelley from DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS). Further exploration uncovers a mysterious space ship/missile which brings in the military in the form of dis-believing Col. Breen (Julian Glover from INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE) and his more open minded colleague Dr. Quatermass (Andrew Kier also from  DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS) who quickly forms a bond and working relationship with Roney. Eventually strange locust like creatures are found in the spacecraft which seem to be to be tied into the prehistoric men with sidetracks into the above mentioned devil worship & possession, ESP, ghostly apparitions, martian invasions and a climatic (partial) destruction of modern day London. To the scripts credit (by Nigel Kneale) it does an admirable job of keeping everything sorted out and throws so many things into the plot (all the while being explained with such earnest conviction by the leads) that you can help but get caught up in the dizzily fast paced plot and totally ignore whatever holes there might be.

   Quatermass as portrayed here by Keir is a much more sympathetic character then Brian Donlevy from the previous two films. In QUATERMASS AND THE PIT Kier forms an almost instant working relationship with more opened minded and inquisitive James Donald and Barbara Shelley characters. In an early introductory scene involving proposed bases on the moon, Quatermass in keeping with the spirit of the times speaks of peace "and leaving our vices behind" while the military represented by his nemesis - Julian Glover's Col. Breen (who foresees the moon bases as missile platforms) refers to his notions as "naive". Though perhaps we're given some hints early in the picture to a developing romance between Barbara and Quatermass this is wisely not perused (not to mention one would wonder when the script would find time for this anyways).
    The cast are all excellent with the above mentioned comradely between Keir and Donald and Barbara Shelly does her best with a somewhat under written role (although she does play a big part in the final act of the plot). Most often lumped in the "Hammer Glamour" category Shelley, although very beautiful always seemed to bring something a bit more substantial to her roles. Her transformation from upright and stiff upper crust English wife to sexually charged seductive female vampire in DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS is amazing as is her work in 1966's RASPUTIN :THE MAD MONK as the tragic Sonia and in THE GORGON from 1964. In addition there's British character actor Duncan Lamont in a great little role ("Are you insured...I'm insured...It's a good thing to be insured...At least it cheers you up...").


    Directed by Roy Ward Baker the film does a nifty job of taking science fiction themes and working in Hammer Gothic horror with references to gargoyles, pentagrams & apparitions appearing in the plot and its fascinating to see how the movie blends in references to ancient legends & witchcraft. The dialogue has some wonderfully creepy asides including an exchange between Keir and Shelley in regards to street where the subway extension is located and its long ago name change from Hob to Hobbs with Shelley remarking "Hob use to be a sort of name for the Devil..." and the repeated phrase in describing an apparition "the figure was a hideous dwarf..". The film's sometimes overly ambitious plot does go above and beyond the special effects budget at certain points in particular the plaster and crepe paper aliens and the destructive climax (although the shot of James Donald riding the huge crane into the gigantic spectre demon head is not soon forgotten). The region 2 blu-ray is absolutely beautiful looking with the luminous purples of the interior of the alien spacecraft and the eye popping green of the alien locusts (and anytime you can get Barbara Shelley in HD, its a good thing).


  1. This movie aired on one of my Creature Feature shows somewhere way back there. It didn't hold my interest at that young age though - and I ended up staging the next battle with my GI Joes or something. Consequently, I missed most of the movie. I think I'd appreciate it much more now - so I'll add it to my ever-growing "To See" list! Thanks, Dick!

    1. It's one that I think really grows in stature as years go by.

  2. Exceptional write-up for what sounds like an exceptional film. Love the bug things, especially the purple and green screen cap. I will as well add it to my "To See" list.