WYSW: The Quatermass Xperiment/The Creeping Unknown (1955)

This is my entry for the Monster Mash Blogathon, hosted by Nathanael from FCoY.

Based on a 1953 BBC TV series of the same name, this is a science fiction film, about an obsessive professor and an alien-possessed astronaut, and the resulting conclusion when the two mixes together. I'm not really into horror or sci-fi, but this is anyway a classic and it has certain quality that is mention-worthy here. Some points about the film I love, but some I just plain dislike (like the fact that it's a horror movie). And so, the reasons why you should at least consider to watch The Quatermass Xperiment (in my opinion) are...

1. This is a quintessential early British horror/sci-fi movie.

There's quite a history behind the making of this film. The production house, Hammer Film Productions, was famous for other similar genre-ed horrors (e.g. The Mummy, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Horror of Dracula), but it was The Quatermass Xperiment that had its significant booming success; The Quatermass Xperiment was the first to ignite the horror/sci-fi genre craze in England. Before this, horror/sci-fi wasn't that popular for the Brits. In fact, it's not popular at all. It's like the geeky nerds club in high school stereotypes as there were many other more mainstream genres. So the fact that Quatermass was an unexpected box office hit opens the door for Hammer, who actually had already existed long ago before they even though of producing the film! The slight misspelling from 'experiment' to 'xperiment' was intentional, as Hammer wanted the movie to be rated X (for films regarded as having themes too intense or graphic for anyone under 16) and the production house removed the E from the word to emphasize this.

2. Professor Quatermass

I never actually watched the original TV series, so I didn't know how they portray Prof. Quatermass in the BBC shows. But then with a little bit of research, I  found out that Prof. Quatermass is an introvert and quite philosophical in the TV series. In this film though, he's portrayed as someone cold-hearted, obsessive, insensitive ("There is no room for personal feelings in science, Judith!") and is almost similar to a mad scientist. Quatermass, played by Brian Donlevy, at first is more interested in knowing that his space project is successful than taking concern over the two missing astronauts and one weirdly acting astronaut, Victor Carroon, that hold control over the spaceship. But then he finally becomes aware of the spacemen, and begins another scientific experiment to investigate about Victor Carroon's strange behaviour and symptoms. Then he realizes that Carroon has become a monster, and decides its best to just kill him. In my eyes Bernard Quatermass pretty much has anti-hero characteristics and is unsympathetic, real and almost true to life. He's the no-nonsense kind of man, and I find him necessary to be like that, especially as a main character in the movie. I think that this film is similar to Frankenstein, only more twisted, in the context that Quatermass' space experiment is the trigger of all these events, and he ultimately is the one who released a threatening alien monster, but if it weren't for him, then there would be no one to slay the monster in the ending. The ending is awesome, I should say, with all the killing and the parting shots. Both Quatermass and Carroon are the gems of this film for me.

3. the zoo scene (not to mention the ending)

It's creepy even though there is basically no scary scenes at all. Knowing that the monster has come to attack is just... chilling! And the ending gave me goosebumps. I love how Prof. Quatermass just walk away from the scene and then conclude the film with the line, "We're going to start again." it's as if he's not done yet with this business.

4. great script, nice directing, enticing atmosphere, amazing makeup

I'm not kidding. The script is brilliant and perfectly fits the thrilling film atmosphere (you won't feel much comfortable watching this alone and especially in the dark. If you do feel comfortable, fine), and the makeup of the corpses and especially the alien monster is original, vivid and graphic. It's also amazing how they don't show the true form of the monster until the end of the film. It's like they're saving the best for last!

5. Proof that good acting doesn't need much talking.

I'm talking about Richard Wordsworth as Victor Caroon.

To me he's the star of the film. Wordsworth doesn't only serve an outstanding performance as an astronaut who got infected with an alien parasite, but he also manages to be true to his character without really overdoing it, showing that Victor Carroon strongly objects his pitiful, tragic fate; the entire time Carroon is fighting to maintain himself from being completely possessed by the alien parasite and trying to stay human. And you know what? He never talks in this movie. Wordsworth's portrayal of Carroon is through his expressions and body language; his eyes, his grimaces, the sighs and groans he make and especially his quivering hands. How does he feel, what does he think the entire time? It all shows in his painful, passionate acting. I applaud Wordsworth for bringing me a solid and memorable performance. He very much makes this film work for me.

6. The plot might be stereotypical nowadays, but this was something new back in the 50s

A spaceship that crash-landed on a small site that contains a man who is being infected with something sinister and out of this world, and the plot that develops from there, with bizarre changes from the pitiable man and resulting killings (complete with the graphic pictures and annoyingly thrilling background music) and the ensuing investigation that leads to a horrific sci-fi ending. You've been there and you've done that. But remember, this is a classic, and you can never go wrong with a classic, not to mention that this film is quintessential for the sci-fi genre; back then this was something new and rather shocking, so the impact it made lasted. Simple as it seems, I think The Quatermass Xperiment is so much better than current alien movies.

7. Of course, you should watch this if you like alien movies. Especially the horror-y, thrilling ones. With deformed corpses and mutating right arm. Thick science-fiction theme. If you don't like that kind of movie, then just read my other posts.


  1. I love the Quatermass films. Brian Donlevy really comes into his own in the second film, Enemy from Space. It's a shame that was his last turn in the role. That said, Andrew Kier is an excellent replacement in Quatermass and the Pit.

    Good post.

  2. Nigel Kneale, who wrote the tv serials the movies were based on hated Donlevy's portrayal of Quatermass, and fought to keep the two flicks with him out of circulation.
    Nice post, BTW. ;-)

  3. I love reviews that really make me want to see a flick *right now*! I saw this on TV as a very young kid, and remembered liking it, especially the sad tale of the mutating astronaut--it was probably one of the first sci-fi/horror movies that I saw that treated the monster sympathetically. BTW, personally, I prefer the Americanized titles the Quatermass flicks have been given--they might not be the greatest titles, although I love the paradoxical "Five Million Years to Earth," but they sound better to my ear than the UK titles.

  4. I will check that soon! I love the Hammer films! Nice contribution to the Blog-A-Thon!

  5. You're right about the creepiness. I love the way these British films depend on the sense that all bets are off, that Doom waits patiently. It reminds me of the Val Lewton pictures in the '40s. Nice stills from the movie, too.

  6. Has anybody noticed that Hammer films seem incapable of having leads that AREN'T sociopaths? Not that I'm complaining, of course...

    I just started watching Hammer films and it looks like this may be the next one that watch! Thanks for a tantalizing review!

  7. "6. The plot might be stereotypical nowadays, but this was something new back in the 50s"
    This. It's so much fun to see an old movie, realize many elements are very familiar, and then realize that this is the film all those other films were ripping off!

  8. It's been a while since I've seen this film, but your vivid review brought it back to me, especially your description of Wordsworth's acting. What I most recall is Brian Donlevy as Quatermass, who really dominated the picture; it was probably his best performance since Beau Geste & The Great McGinty. And the last line is really chilling. I'm going to have to look this one up again - thanks for your post!

  9. Hammer's full color Gothic horror revival is great and all but there are days when I wish they would have stuck with science fiction movies like this for just a little while longer. *sigh*

  10. "I just started watching Hammer films and it looks like this may be the next one that watch! Thanks for a tantalizing review!"

    It's not currently available on Region 1 DVD, but Turner Classic Movies runs the uncut British version every few months.
    (It is available on VHS from MGM under their Midnight Movies imprint.)

  11. Add me to the fraternity that really doesn't care for Brian Donlevy's Quatermass...he's just so badly miscast. It doesn't ruin the movie, IMO, but it just goes to show why so many people prefer Andrew Keir's performance in Quatermass and the Pit (aka Five Million Years to Earth), one of the best science-fiction films of all time.

  12. Xcellent review. I particularly liked the way you dug into Wordsworth's performance and the movie's history. I haven't seen this one yet and I run hot and cold on Donlevy, but I'll definitely put it on my list of films to see.

  13. I think I may check this out just because I know so little about British sci-fi. Thanks for the informative review.


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