Nigel Kneale was an interesting writer, born in Barrow of Manx origins, who earned lasting fame by creating Bernard Quatermass (the surname is Manx) for a six part BBC serial, The Quatermass Experiment. Its success led to various sequels, as well as this film version from the Hammer Studios.
I saw a modern re-make of this story on BBC 4 a few years ago and wasn’t impressed, but at last I’ve caught up with the original, and I did like it, even though the characters behave in a barmy way after a rocket designed by Quatermass crash lands on a farm. Only one of the three astronauts, Caroon, is found on board. And he is sick – very sick.
Almost inevitably, it turns out that Caroon has been taken over by an alien life form – a sort of slimy gel with hunger pangs – that threatens mankind as we know it. The police hunt is led by amiable Jack Warner, better known to us as P.C. Dixon, of Dock Green fame. Quatermass is wildly miscast, played by the American Brian Donlevy, whose relentless rudeness and intransigence make it a wonder he was ever allowed near a rocket. The support cast includes the ever-reliable Thora Hird and Sam Kyd, while Caroon is played by William Wordsworth’s great great great grandson Richard.
I was tempted to say the film was terribly dated, until I realised it was made in the year of my birth – not that long ago, then! But despite the creakiness of the story, I enjoyed it, because the tension is built up really well by director Val Guest. It’s not too much to say that it verges on being a masterclass in the art of creating suspense. It may be sci-fi, but it has the virtues of a good thriller. And that is why it deserves its classic status.