The Quatermass Xperiment Blu-ray Review: The Beginnings of Hammer Horror

Our beloved Hammer Studios didn’t always make beautifully designed gothic horror films. For their first decade-plus of existence, they made super low-budget films, churned out with lightning speed – what are sometimes called quota quickies (British law stated that 20% of the films shown in cinemas had to be British films, to meet that goal these super fast, super cheap films were produced by studios like Hammer). Typically, they’d adapt a BBC Radio play or a television series. It was this film, The Quatermass Xperiment, which itself was adapted from a television serial, that moved them towards the science fiction and horror films that would make them famous just a few short years later.

This film became so popular that it quickly overshadowed the original series (which sadly has mostly been lost to time, with only two of its ten episodes still existing). Its influence reaches far and wide including Doctor Who, Stanley Kubrick, and John Carpenter (as he’ll tell us in his loving introduction included on this Blu-ray).

Knowing that the content would automatically garner them an X-Certificate from the British Film Board the producers decided to go ahead and market it as such changing the “Experiment” to “X-Periment” in the title. Even then the film underwent numerous changes to get that rating.

A manned space rocket, the first ever launched, crash lands on an isolated British farm having lost contact with Earth some time prior. Out of the three astronauts on board, only one survived, the other two are completely missing. Their space suits are found without bodies inside them. The survivor, Victor Carroon (Richard Wordsworth), is badly in shock, unable to speak, with sunken eyes and a strange mark on his skin.

The leader of the space team, Professor Bernard Quatermass (Brian Donlevy), pushed past all the red tape and launched this rocket even though it wasn’t approved officially, and now he’s whisking Carroon to his own labs. He says this is because a regular hospital wouldn’t know what to do with an outer-space illness, but really he just wants to keep everything as far away from the public eye as possible.

You don’t have to have seen many science fiction/horror films from the 1950s to know that from there things start to go really badly, and quite fast. Inside the rocket, they find some slimy goo that they realize is all that’s left of the other two astronauts. The goo is alive and is able to absorb other life forms. Soon enough, Carroon is walking about absorbing things, a cactus, zoo animals, and people. They are multiplying, too. If they aren’t stopped they will take over the Earth! Will Quatermass be able to stop them in time?

Stay tuned! And find out!

Director Val Guest makes the most out of his tiny budget. He uses every inch of the camera’s frame on-location shots to give us a real feel for where they are, letting us know they are outdoors and not on some set. When they are on a set, he sets his camera and blocks his actors in such a way as to give us our money’s worth. The special effects, especially the creature’s design, are clearly done without the use of much money, but they are still effective and charming. I mentioned this film’s influence on Doctor Who and at times this feels like a classic Who episode.

Quatermass is a man only of science, without feeling towards his fellow humans. He has no qualms about putting his men in danger, and then covering up the mess they make if it allows him to continue working. Donlevy barks his lines as if he has no time for nuance. The film doesn’t have time for it either. It isn’t a subtle film, or one with a lot of subtext. But it is a very good one all the same.

Kino Lorber presents The Quatermass Xperiment with a lovely-looking 1080p transfer. Extras include a new audio commentary from film historian/screenwriter Gary Gerani, a very cool introduction from John Carpenter, an interview with director Val Guest by Hammer film historian Marcus Hearn, an additional audio commentary from by director Val Guest, moderated by Marcus Hearn, a couple of making-of featurettes, and Trailers From Hell.

Posted in , ,

Mat Brewster

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Search & Filter