Quatermass and the Pit (film)  

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Quatermass discovers that not only did the Martians put their name on the site of the subway station where their remains were found (frantic research reveals that its address, “Hobb's Lane,” once meant “Devil’s Haunt”), thus making it, in medieval times, a cursed place, they have, in the shape of the parthuman, part-horned-animal figure of “The Sorcerer,” inscribed their image on the wall of the Cro-Magnon sanctuary of Trois Frères, thus making it, in paleolithic times, a place of worship. ‘The Sorcerer” echoes across fifteen thousand years into an otherwise inexplicable Christian prayer: “The Lord is in this place, how dreadful is this place.” Human history begins to make sense, but it is no longer human. --Lipstick Traces

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Quatermass and the Pit is a 1967 British science-fiction horror film produced by Hammer Film Productions and based on the 1958 BBC Television serial of the same name. It was adapted by the writer Nigel Kneale from his own original television script, and directed by Roy Ward Baker. The film was designed by Bernard Robinson and scored by Tristram Cary. In the United States, it was released under the title Five Million Years to Earth.

The film was a sequel to two prior Hammer adaptations of Kneale's BBC serials: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) and Quatermass 2 (1957). It stars Scottish actor Andrew Keir as Professor Bernard Quatermass, replacing the American Brian Donlevy, who had starred in the previous two films.

Contents

Production and development

It was the first Quatermass production to be made in colour. The film was produced in 1967 by Hammer Film Productions. Quatermass and the Pit was the last Quatermass movie to be produced by Hammer, although after its release Kneale did pitch a storyline to the company for a further film written directly for the cinema. While it was not produced by Hammer, the storyline eventually formed the basis of the character's 1979 swansong television serial Quatermass, screened on the ITV network.

Plot

The plot of the film follows that of the original serial in most details. Workmen extending the London Underground station at Hobbs End uncover the skeletal remains of what appear to be simians. Anthropologist Doctor Roney is called in. He theorizes that they may belong to a race of primates far predating any previously known. He is particularly impressed by the large size of the skulls. Work is halted by the discovery of what appears to be an unexploded bomb buried not far from where the skeletons were found. Military bomb disposal experts are puzzled when their magnetic devices will not attach to the supposed bomb.

Meanwhile, Bernard Quatermass of the British Experimental Rocket Group must contend with a major shift in government policy that has transferred control of the civilian group's research to the military, in particular Colonel Breen, with the goal of placing nuclear weapons on the Moon. Breen is sent to examine the unearthed object and is soon convinced that the object is an experimental German V-weapon left over from World War II. Quatermass is skeptical. When the object is fully excavated, it is revealed to be very large and does not resemble any weapon of the last war. Quatermass, Breen and Roney enter a chamber within the object through an pre-existing opening, but the interior walls prove impenetrable to even a special diamond-tipped drill brought in and operated by Sladden, and they are unable to proceed. Quatermass notices a small inscription on one of the interior walls, a pattern of circles connected in a larger circle which — as a disquieted Quatermass observes — suggests a pentagram. One of the walls then collapses, revealing another chamber containing the preserved bodies of several insect-like creatures — three-legged beings with horns on their heads. Quatermass, observing that "Hob" is an archaic term for the devil, and learning that there have been numerous reports of apparent poltergeist activity going back centuries at Hobbs End, theorizes a link between the object and the human conception of evil. Quatermass believes it to be an ancient alien spacecraft, possibly from Mars. Breen dismisses the idea.

Working alone that night in the excavation, Sladden flees in terror to a nearby church after objects float in air of their own accord. Delirious, Sladden tells Quatermass that he saw the beings found inside the ship, only these were alive and there were hordes of them — leaping into the sky. When the mysterious force manifests itself again in the church, Quatermass realizes that Sladden is the source of the energy, and that his vision is a form of race memory of the ship's occupants.

Quatermass returns to the excavation site with Roney and Roney's assistant Barbara Judd — this time bringing a revolutionary machine that can show what a person sees. He puts on the helmet and triggers the mysterious force. The plan is successful, but not as Quatermass had planned. The visions appear to Barbara, not him. Quickly transferring the helmet to her, Quatermass records what she sees. He shows the video to British officials, interpreting the scene as thousands of the insect tripeds marching against each other in battle in a ritualistic purging of mutations. Quatermass theorizes that Martians, now extinct, had explored Earth millions of years ago. With their planet dying, the Martians experimented on primitive apes, hoping to create a race of beings suited for Earth but otherwise subservient to their will. When pressed, Quatermass admits that he believes mankind is descended from the subjects of the Martian experiment. The officials are unwilling to accept that they owe their existence to a race of insects. Choosing rather to believe that the recorded images reflect Barbara's subconscious imagination, the officials shrug off Quatermass's warnings and, over his vehement protests, open Hobbs End to the media. Colonel Breen announces that the mysterious object is a long lost V-weapon.

The same force is again triggered, more powerfully than before. Imposing its will over the gathered human beings, the ancient spacecraft causes them to kill those few who seem to be immune to its influence. A huge glowing white image of a horned Martian, suggesting the devil, appears over London. Tremors add to the panic. Quatermass has to resist the urge to kill an unaffected Roney. Regaining his senses, he tells Roney that "I had to kill you because you were different".

Having theorized the ancient Martians as the source of man's ideal of evil, Quatermass wonders whether other legends of the devil are also connected — including its weakness to iron and water —and comes up with the idea to ground the apparition using a nearby building crane. When Barbara tries to interfere, Quatermass struggles with her while Roney climbs the crane. A tremor causes the crane to swing into the image, causing it to short out and disappear, but Roney is killed.

Cast

Andrew Keir returned to play Quatermass again, in the 1996 radio serial The Quatermass Memoirs for BBC Radio 3, becoming one of only two actors – Brian Donlevy being the other – to play the role for a second time.

Duncan Lamont had played the major part of astronaut Victor Caroon in the original Quatermass television serial The Quatermass Experiment in 1953.

Reception

In contrast to Donlevy, Keir's performance as Quatermass has been very well-received down the years, and the film is generally felt to be the most faithful of the three cinematic adaptations, although it was not as commercially successful as its predecessors. Nigel Kneale's script is in particular extremely close to his original television version, with whole scenes and chunks of dialogue remaining essentially untouched.

See also




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