Quatermass and the Pit is a Hammer production, though it does not wear its horror credentials on its sleeve as starkly as other productions of the same period. As is justly testified by Kim Newman in one of the many erudite and informative interviews that make up the bulk of the special features on this remastered re-release, its horrors are intellectual and conceptual rather than physical or visceral. The film is all the more accomplished and affecting for it.
Although Quatermass labours under the burden of some noticeable budgetary constraints, the quality of the acting enables it to rise above these for the most part, with each of the principals playing their roles straight and admirably non-hysterical, resulting in a generally portentous atmosphere, as Professor Quatermass (Andrew Keir) and Dr Roney (James Donald) quickly realise the impact that the alien craft has had on the development of life on Earth and the peril that everyone is now in, while Julian Glover’s ignorant and simplistic Colonel Breen and Edwin Richfield’s government minister brush off their concerns in the interests of enabling the underground digging to proceed.
In some ways, this approach bears comparison with Jaws, with the heroes who see the truth and the danger banging up against those in authority who refuse to see what is in front of them because of conflicted priorities. Although Quatermass lacks the ratcheted tension and relentless narrative propulsion of Spielberg’s thriller, it is nonetheless a relevant parallel to draw. Eventually Quatermass shows what all aspiring film-makers should note when it comes to trying to do a lot with little, namely that if you have a good idea, can generate a cohesive script and can find some decent actors, all manner of other shortcomings can and will be overlooked.
At times Quatermass can feel a little hackneyed and over-done in terms of the supporting acting work, but its key developments are well-handled and its principal scenes carefully constructed and so it just about carries it off. With weaker lead actors, it would perhaps have been a ghastly mess, yet another fine idea ruined by mediocre implementation. As it is, it is at times a lot of fun, at times atmospherically creepy and for the most part carefully and expertly directed. Rather than being patronisingly swatted aside as a valiant effort for the time it was made, it should instead be seen and enjoyed on its own merits as an intelligent science fiction film that shows just how essential strong ideas are to success within this most tricky of genres. Spoiler alert – that scantily clad woman from the poster is nowhere to be found in the film.
Extras: Not much on the DVD, but the remastered Bluray offers us quite a lot:-
- New interviews with Mark Gatiss, Kim Newman, Joe Dante, Judith Kerr, Marcus Hearne and Julian Glover
- Trailers and alternative US credits
- Audio Commentary with director Roy Ward Baker and writer Nigel Kneale
- Episode of the Oliver Reed-narrated World of Hammer – Sci-Fi TV Show
The interviews are excellent, informative and insightful, speaking volumes about the enduring appeal of the film and giving valuable insight into how it came to be made as well. The World of Hammer episode is essentially a narrated reel of clips from Hammer films, which we could do without really. The Bluray transfer is admirably crisp and sharp, managing to avoid drawing too much attention to the corners cut with the SFX.