Quatermass and the Pit (Five Million Years to Earth)

Movie Information

The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Quatermass and the Pit on Thursday, Oct. 6, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.
Score:

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Starring: James Donald, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, Julian Glover, Duncan Lamont
Rated: NR

While the popular BBC-TV serials The Quatermass Experiment (1953) and Quatermass II (1955) were turned into films fairly quickly, it took Quatermass and the Pit (1958) nine years to reach the screen. Like the earlier films—which had been rechristened The Creeping Unknown and Enemy from Space for U.S. consumption—Quatermass and the Pit was turned into Five Million Years to Earth by the time it reached these shores, since the Quatermass name hadn’t the same cache here. However, unlike the earlier films, no need was felt to turn Prof. Bernard Quatermass into an American this round—played by a “bankable” American star (Brian Donlevy)—and Quatermass (Andrew Keir) was at last allowed to be his Brit self on the big screen. In many respects, Quatermass and the Pit is the most effective and least dated of the films. Perhaps because all of the Quatermass films are the work of a single man—Nigel Kneale—who didn’t like the science fiction genre, they’re the perfect sci-fi movies for people who don’t necessarily care for the genre. That’s especially true here, since the story deals with such things as racial memory and the idea that an alien invasion millions of years ago was the source of our beliefs in devils and demons and other supersitions. (It’s a little bit like an episode of Ancient Aliens, but not one that insults your intelligence.) It all revolves around the discovery of what appears to be a space capsule—and the remains of its occupants—while digging for an expansion in the London subway system in an area called Hobbs Lane (originally Hob’s Lane), long known as a “troubled” area where people saw strange things and no one wanted to live. The film is methodical in its pacing, building a level of dread with a payoff that fully justifies that atmosphere.

SHARE
About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

33 thoughts on “Quatermass and the Pit (Five Million Years to Earth)

  1. Chip Kaufmann

    By 1967 Hammer Films no longer needed “bankable” American stars to sell their movies in the U.S. only bankable titles. Along with A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, Roy Ward Baker considered QATP one of his finest films. His matter of fact approach to impending disaster is what makes both movies work so well.

  2. Ken Hanke

    By 1967 Hammer Films no longer needed “bankable” American stars to sell their movies in the U.S.

    That’s pretty much true of Brit movies in general. James Bond, the Beatles and the attendant British Invasion changed all that.

  3. Dionysis

    This is one of my favorite sci-fi films; I’ve watched it no less than a dozen times. I also have the original BBC television production (as well as Quatermass 2 and what remains of Q Xperiment, which are only two episodes). I far prefer Andrew Keir to the sullen and grouchy Brian Donlevy portrayal.

    As an aside, I don’t think Ancient Aliens insults my intelligence (maybe because there’s not that much to insult); if you notice, the shows simply ask questions, not state anything as fact. It is true much of it stretches credulity to the max, but it’s still thought-provoking stuff.

    Sorry I missed Tuesday’s showing of Brazil, but I had to work late (a rare occurance, but it still happens at times).

  4. Ken Hanke

    I suppose the shows themelves don’t state much as fact (that’s kind of standard for all these shows), but their various and sundry experts seem to think they’ve got it all pretty much doped out.

    I did notice your absence at Brazil. Would you turn out for Munchausen?

  5. Dionysis

    “Would you turn out for Munchausen?”

    Yes, as I have not seen that film.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Well, it’s not down for the immediate future, but it’s a distinct possibility down the road.

  7. DrSerizawa

    Although QATP is top notch, Enemy From Space is an effective little film too. Have you considered screening that one?

  8. Ken Hanke

    I see that it — under its original title Quatermass 2 — is available and I have good memories of the film, but I’m not sure I want to buy it. I certainly would show it if I had it.

  9. Chip Kaufmann

    I happen to have a copy of QUATERMASS 2 if you’re ever interested in showing it.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I rather suspected you did and I might. I kind want to see it again before making a call on it. Also, we’re tentatively set for the next month and I hate to schedule anything any further ahead than that.

  11. DrSerizawa

    I have the Enemy From Space version. But it’s my VHS copy that I backed up on DVD+R so the quality is probably a little poor for your large screen.

  12. Ken Hanke

    But it’s my VHS copy that I backed up on DVD+R so the quality is probably a little poor for your large screen.

    Yes, it would be. Plus, a number of home burns (I haven’t seen it happen with MOD discs) we’ve checked out don’t fit any normal format on the projector.

  13. Dionysis

    I have a copy of Quatermass 2 on an official DVD release (region 1), now out-of-print. I also have an official release of The Quatermass Xperiment, also out-of-print, but it’s a regions 2 PAL format. I’ll lend either (or both) for a screening if desired. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to name a Hammer horror or science fiction film that I DON’T have on DVD.

  14. Chip Kaufmann

    In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to name a Hammer horror or science fiction film that I DON’T have on DVD…

    …I have quite a few myself (57 at last count).

  15. Dionysis

    “…I have quite a few myself (57 at last count).”

    I counted mine a few months ago; I think the total was 67 Hammer titles, although several were not horror or sci-fi, but other genres (i.e. Icons of Adventure and Icons of Suspense collections).

  16. Chip Kaufmann

    If I count SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST and the 8 films in the Universal Franchise Collection which I forgot that brings the total to 66.

  17. Dionysis

    “That still leaves you one behind…”

    Yeah, but I don’t have that title. Rats. And I believe there was a second Hammer Robin Hood film too (neither have I seen).

  18. Ken Hanke

    Is that a Human Centipede joke?

    Have you developed some unwholesome obsession with that almost-a-movie?

  19. Dionysis

    You are aware, I trust, that The Human Centipede 2 has been made. Not sure if it’s been released yet or not.

  20. Dionysis

    “Yes, and I may know tomorrow when it will playing here.”

    Gawd; I read up on this ‘movie’, and it makes the first one seem like a veritable work of genius. I’ll impose my personal quarantine of its venue, and keep a wide berth.

  21. Ken Hanke

    Like the first one my guess is that it’ll only play over the weekend and only at 10 p.m. or later.

  22. Chip Kaufmann

    The other Robin Hood film is MEN OF SHERWOOD FOREST (1954) which I don’t have.

    However by adding the Warner Archive MOD of CRESCENDO, Terence Fisher’s SPACEWAYS, SONG OF FREEDOM w/ Paul Robeson and PHANTOM SHIP w/ Bela Lugosi, that makes 70.

    Then there’s the HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR TV series, the two VCI box sets of 1950s film noirs…

  23. Dionysis

    “However by adding the Warner Archive MOD of CRESCENDO, Terence Fisher’s SPACEWAYS, SONG OF FREEDOM w/ Paul Robeson and PHANTOM SHIP w/ Bela Lugosi, that makes 70.

    Then there’s the HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR TV series, the two VCI box sets of 1950s film noirs…”

    Then clearly when counting all Hammer titles, you’re the champ. Of those you listed, I only have SPACEWAYS. I wasn’t aware that PHANTOM SHIP or SONG OF FREEDOM were Hammer films. I guess they date to well before their rise to fame. I also don’t have the HOUSE OF HORROR box sets, but having watched a few episodes, I wasn’t too impressed.

    One title that I’ve not been able to find anywhere, but would like to add to my collection, is JACK THE RIPPER, which I recall from my childhood. It was in black and white, but had the famous ‘squashed in the elevator’ scene in color (much like THE TINGLER did with the sink scene). Would you know where it can be found?

  24. Ken Hanke

    And it looks like Human Centipede 2 is down for a handful of late night only screenings at the end of the month. Just remember, you lot get to choose whether or not to see this. I have no such luxury.

  25. Dionysis

    Thanks for checking on Jack the Ripper, Ken. I’m not sure I want it that badly.

    As for Human Centipede 2, I am sooooo thankful I don’t HAVE to subject my eyes to it. You have my sympathy. But maybe it could be worse…it could be in 3D! And according to what I’ve read, this film will actually show the yuckey stuff. Imagine flying feces coming straight at you.

  26. Chip Kaufmann

    You can get a DVD-R copy of JACK THE RIPPER from Sinister Cinema (sinistercinema.com) for a much more reasonable price and it’s made in the USA!

  27. Dionysis

    “You can get a DVD-R copy of JACK THE RIPPER from Sinister Cinema (sinistercinema.com) for a much more reasonable price and it’s made in the USA”

    Thank you; I used to buy from them once in a while long ago, but admit I had forgotten about them. That sounds like just the ticket.

  28. Professor Quatermass is one of my top favorite characters of all time – I was only 12 when I saw this film on American Movie Classics back in 1997, and from then on I was hooked.

    I got all three films on VHS and DVD (although I hope the Criterion Collection puts all three out in beautifully restored, remastered 3-pack), have the last serial of QUATERMASS that starred Sir John Mills in 1979, and watched what was left of the original serials on YouTube. Because the BBC had not perfected preservation of their shows back in the 1950’s, parts of the first two BBC serials are considered to be lost, but the original serial that inspired this, with Andre Morell, is actually out on DVD now – look it up on Amazon and get it while you still can! Also of note: Penguin Classics actually published the original teleplays in 1959-’60, and there may still be some used copies available for sale on Amazon as well – they’ll go over the $100 mark, but should make nice collectibles if anyone is interested enough.

    And if that is not enough, I felt inspired by this cool dude and his adventures to take an astronomy course as part of my undergraduate science requirement at UNC-Asheville, and write a paper about the serials and films for a Mass Communications course during my senior year. My hope is that future generations continue to value the importance and impact of these serials and films.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.