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Quatermass II

Entry updated 9 February 2017. Tagged: Film, TV.

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1. UK tv serial (1955). BBC TV. Produced and directed by Rudolph Cartier. Written Nigel Kneale. Cast includes Monica Grey, Hugh Griffith, John Robinson and John Stone. Six 35-minute episodes. Black and white.

The sudden death of Reginald Tate, who played the lead in The Quatermass Experiment, may account for some of the visible discomfort exuded by John Robinson, who replaced him at the last moment. The story here is very similar to that of the film version (for details of which see below). The mise en scene is rendered with amateurish cackhandedness, as though there were no money (or will) to attempt to get the feel Technology even remotely right, several years after the release of Destination Moon (1950). But the scenes set in the South of England – either in a distressingly "modern" model village created under the sway of the putative Alien conquerors, or in the vast plant itself (a Shell refinery used to represent a facility designed ostensibly to generate industrial food for humans) – were mostly shot on film stock, and are much superior. The sustained sequence in which the human villagers attack the plant conveys an expressionist intensity worthy of a German silent film; the Zombie-like behaviour of the guards points more to political Dystopia than it does to infestation by mind-controlling Aliens. The deep Britishness of all three Quatermass stories, at least in their television versions, is shown by several scenes in which various members of the cast buckle down to shrug off possession (it was not so easy in America). The script was published as Quatermass II (1960) by Kneale. [JC]

2. Film (1957; vt Enemy from Space US). Hammer/United Artists. Directed by Val Guest. Written by Nigel Kneale, Val Guest, based on the BBC TV serial by Kneale. Cast includes Brian Donlevy (Quatermass), Bryan Forbes, Sidney James and John Longden. 85 minutes. Black and white.

This was #2 of the three Quatermass films produced by Hammer, and the first coscripted by Kneale; it is the most difficult to judge since Kneale, who disliked Donlevy's US performance and Guest's tampering with his script, withdrew the film from circulation in 1965 when rights reverted to him. Many critics think it the best of the Quatermass films, and some deem it the greatest of all UK sf movies (though astonishingly similar in theme to the US film Invasion of the Body Snatchers [1956]): disturbing, intense, unrelenting, paranoid and especially nightmarish in its depiction of figures in power conspiring with aliens capable of entering and controlling human bodies. Much of the action takes place in the brooding landscapes of the North of England, where a mysterious technological complex turns out to be the alien power base. The strong political allegory of ordinary people cruelly exploited by a cold-blooded (and in this case literally inhuman) ruling class was very adventurous for the time.

The television ending (Quatermass goes into space to destroy the Asteroid which is the alien base) is dropped in the film. The film's predecessor was The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) and its successor was Quatermass and the Pit (1967). [PN]

see also: Monster Movies; Paranoia; Quatermass.


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