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QUATERMASS AND THE PIT

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Kelly Parks
Quatermass and the Pit
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QUATERMASS AND THE PIT aka FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH - 1967
Hammer Films / 20th Century Fox / Anchor Bay Entertainment
Rating: Germany - 16 / USA - Unrated

FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH

But what's a title among friends? Some time between when I saw this movie on late night TV in the dark days before cable and today's enlightened era, they changed the title. "They" being Hammer Films, the company that took several made-for-TV British movies and remade them for the Big Screen. First came THE QUATERMASS X PERIMENT (1955) and QUATERMASS 2 (1957), both titles referring to Professor Quatermass, the central character. In these first two offerings the Professor was played by Brian Donlevy (THE BEGINNING OF THE END, THE CURSE OF THE FLY).

QUARTERMASS AND THE PITT was made ten years later, in 1967, and stars Andrew Kier (DRAGONWORLD, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB) as the good Professor. The story takes place in London, where an extension to the subway uncovers first some unusual fossils and then what turns out to be a five million year old crashed spaceship. Local archaeologist Dr. Roney (James Donald: [TV] ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENT'S) is called out and subway construction is stopped. The fossil hominids are very odd, looking like apes with large brains. When the spaceship is uncovered the military is called in because at first they believe the odd craft to be an unexploded bomb left over from WWII (not unusual in London). The British military arrives in the person of Colonel Breen (Julian Glover: INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE).

During the brief scene where they discuss Mars, Breen makes the statement that "In ten years men will be on Mars."

Ten years!

A future that could have been. This movie was made before the space program was taken over by gutless cowards.

Breen is accompanied by Quatermass, because the two have just been assigned to work together on a planned manned Mars mission when Breen is sidetracked by the "bomb" crisis. Quatermass immediately recognizes that this is no bomb and joins the investigation.

Decent science fiction up to this point now takes on a supernatural element. While talking to people who live in the Hobb's End neighborhood where the subway was being built, he discovers that odd occurrences are common here. A local constable relates how, when he was a boy, people were driven from their homes by bumps in the night and strange apparitions: some like ugly dwarves (much like the odd apemen fossils) and some like horned devils. Dr. Roney's assistant, Barbara (Barbara Shelley: DRACULA: Prince of Darkness, THE GORGON) does some historical research and discovers that incidents like that go back for centuries, usually associated with some kind of disturbance of the ground, like digging a well. She also points out that the original name of the neighborhood was Hob's End (Hobb was a British historical figure - Hob is a nickname for the devil).

Colonel Breen is having none of this supernatural nonsense. Even when alien corpses are discovered inside a sealed compartment and odd, ghostly events begin occurring, he sticks to his theory that it's a Nazi propaganda plot meant to demoralize the British people. Unfortunately (but predictably in movie world) Breen's superiors agree with him and he's put in charge of the situation.

Strange (and very well done) events continue and Quatermass and Roney warn of impending disaster. They believe the ship, the alien bodies and the apemen fossils add up to evidence of alien involvement in human evolution, and not for the good. The alien crew may be dead but the ship itself is somehow coming alive.

The final events are both dire and memorable, as Quatermass' worst fears are realized. This movie is smart, frightening, and qualifies as a must see. I give it 5 (yes, 5!) Shriek Girls.

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This review copyright 1999 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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