Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Produced by Anthony Nelson Keyes
Screenplay by Nigel Kneale
Director Of Photography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Spencer Reeve
Cast: James Donald (Dr. Roney), Andrew Keir (Quatermass), Barbara Shelley (Barbara Judd), Julian Glover (Colonel Breen), Duncan Lamont (Sladden), Bryan Marshall (Captain Potter), Peter Copley (Howell)
When I was a kid, there was a Sony Trinitron in the guest room. It was a great television, able to pick up out-of-town stations our other TVs couldn’t touch.
At 10 years old, armed with that television, the TV Guide and a Radio Shack earphone (with a 15-foot cord), I began the clandestine, full-scale rotting of my brain on old monster movies at all hours of the night. (If they have Internet service in Heaven, I sure hope my mom doesn’t see this!*)
One of the films I discovered late one night using that Sony/Radio Shack rig was Hammer’s Five Million Miles To Earth (1968). It scared me to death, and I’m sure I was totally useless at school the next day.
In the UK, Five Million Years To Earth went by the same title as the BBC TV serial it was based on, Quatermass And The Pit — which is how it’s billed everywhere nowadays. This movie doesn’t waste a second, plunging immediately into its story. A crew is digging in a London Underground station. They find a fossilized skull, followed by an entire skeleton. Dr. Roney (James Donald) is brought in, accompanied by his fellow scientist Barbara Judd (Barbara Shelley). As they dig, they find what is believed to be an unexploded bomb. At this point, the military and the brilliant Dr. Quatermass (the brilliant Andrew Kier) get involved.
More and more stuff is ingeniously added to the plot as things get weirder, darker and a bit supernatural. The bomb isn’t a bomb after all, it’s an ancient spacecraft that seems to have brought grasshopper-looking creatures to earth millions of years ago (there’s the Five Million Years To Earth.) And those interstellar insects, well, they’ve been responsible for all sorts of evil havoc in this part of London for generations.
There are a few things about Quatermass And The Pit that have stuck with me for more than 40 years. To this day, I can’t see a grasshopper without thinking of this film. The scene where the rotting insects are dissected, as green “blood” oozes out and everyone complains about the smell, never ceases to give me the willies. And Barbara Shelley in her 60s plaid skirt has to be one of the loveliest women to ever grace the motion picture screen.
At 97 minutes, Quatermass And The Pit is one of the longer Hammer films, but it moves like a runaway train — thanks to director Roy Ward Baker, editor Spencer Reeve and writer Nigel Kneale — as it piles one plot point on top of another. To prove my point, the first skull is found before the movie’s two minutes in — and that includes the main titles. It maintains that pace throughout until all hell breaks loose in the last reel — as Quatermass and Dr. Roney save the world from heinous evil from another world.
Andrew Kier is just terrific as Quatermass, as is James Donald as Dr. Roney. Julian Glover is perfectly hatable as the military man who refuses to believe what Roney and Quatermass tell him is happening. And Barbara Shelley is great as the young scientist with a strange attachment to those weird grasshoppers from Mars. This is one of those movies were everybody brought their A game. As preposterous as it all sounds, the movie snatches you up and carries you along with its own logic.
Now, back to that Sony Trinitron and the earphone. Arthur Grant’s subtle, very effective use of color was completely lost on the late show (and on a faded 16mm run at a convention in the 90s), but it shines like a jewel on this Blu-Ray from Shout Factory. It’s beautiful. The audio, which includes all kinds of noises, sirens and screams is clear as a bell. Ad there’s all sorts of extras: commentary, interviews, stills, trailers, even an episode of World Of Hammer. It’s another terrific Hammer Blu-Ray from Scream Factory — they’ve been knocking these out of the park since that started this series. Highly, highly recommended.
* If they had Internet access in Heaven, Heaven wouldn’t be Heaven, would it?