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.
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