Hammer’s version of Nigel Kneale’s television series Quatermass II is a potent, low-budget rollercoaster ride through government conspiracies and alien invasions, set against the chilling backdrop of postwar new town paranoia.
When scientist Professor Bernard Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) hears about a shower of strange meteor-like objects that has landed in a local community, his investigations lead him to a sinister top-secret installation. He soon realises this is, in fact, an acclimatisation centre for invaders from another world.
The plant is run by local labour, under the supervision of officials who have been dehumanised and ‘taken over’ by the unknown forces released from the fallen meteorites.
Eventually Quatermass attacks the plant with the aid of the Wynerton Flats locals, enraged after one of their number has been killed by a meteorite. They manage to gain control of the plant and, by increasing the supply of oxygen, exterminate all the invaders.
Quatermass’s drive through a weird, alienating countryside to a sinister refinery is arguably the first major representation of landscape-based anxiety in a British feature film.
The film as a whole speaks eloquently of a postwar encroachment of state institutions out into the rural world, and it suggests that for all the narrative’s extraterrestrial shenanigans, it is ultimately human-based forces that are doing this to us.
Superb direction by Val Guest and stark black-and-white photography by Gerald Gibbs make this British classic one of the best science-fiction allegories of the 1950s.
Charles Lloyd Pack
John Van Eyssen