Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Five From A Favorite - Quatermass and the Pit (1967)


Quatermass and the Pit is one of the best movies to come from the legendary British production company Hammer Studios, and one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made. I love everything about this movie. I love the brilliant Nigel Kneale script that is constantly spilling over with big ideas, and I love the high intensity of Andrew Keir's performance as the perpetually perturbed and sweaty Prof. Quatermass. I love the splash of the surreal that criminally underrated director Roy Ward Baker typically brought to his films, particularly in the scene where the Martian race memories are being recorded through a machine that gives them the appearance of a Bruce Conner work.

But most of all I love the ending where, after the giant alien/devil spectre and its mind control powers have been defeated, Quatermass and Barbara (Barbara Shelley) sit in the street, overwhelmed with exhaust, and not exactly happy or relieved at what they've just seen - as you would find to be the case in many other movies of this ilk after the Big Bad has been taken down - but rather dazed, disheartened, and still in the process of soaking in the revelations they've learned, communicating sheerly through their slouched body language knowledge that the city has now pretty much gone to shit, and that things will probably never be the same again, and that in all likelihood the death of their friend they've just witnessed - a death in service of defeat of the ultimate evil - is perhaps when all is said and done a rather minor victory. The whole "the day is saved but the damage is done" sentiment is far from original of course, but here, distilled to a single, silent shot as the credits play out, it attains a certain level of poignancy.


Sam Juliano said...

Yes indeed Drew, Baker is absolutely 'criminally underrated' as I've argued with my unmoved British coplleague Allan Fish! Ha! As we know he passed on a few weeks ago at a ripe old age into his 90's. I saw his OCTOBER MAN at a noir festival at the Film Forum, but like you have always been far more interested in his genre work. Count me as a fan of QUATERMASS and these indellible images. As I've stated elsewhere I love some of Baker's work for Amicus, including VAULT OF HORROR (paticularly the opening vampire segment). I also liked ASYLUM, which included a fine remake of Bloch's THE WEIRD TAILOR from the BORIS KARLOFF'S THRILLER series of the 60's.

For many of course he will always be remembered as the director of the Titanic feature, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER.

Drew said...

Great to see more love for Baker, Sam. His work, particularly with Amicus, was by and large so strong, and I absolutely share in your love of both Asylum and Vault of Horror, both among my favorites of his. And totally agreed on that opening vampire segment from Vault, which has always for some reason reminded me slightly of Bunuel (talk about a high compliment!), both visually and with it's surrealist/absurdist undertones.

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Excellent appreaciation of 'Quatermass and the Pit' Drew. I too am an admirer of Roy Ward Baker. One of his best films is the little seen racial drama 'Flames in the Streets' which I watched as an undergraduate. The other films of his I really liked are 'The Anniversary', and 'Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde'. I sometimes wonder what Baker would have done with a genuinely great screenplay. Too often he was supplied with the less than average writing of forgettable films like 'Scars of Dracula' and I'm afraid to say 'Vault of Horror' which is one of Amicus' weakest anthologies. Even terrible films like 'Moon Zero Two' and 'The Monster Club' have an odd charm. The Bunuel comparison is a bit of a stretch though, Bunuel is an amateur in comparison! :-)

Drew said...

Thanks for commenting Shaun, glad to hear even more admiration for Baker. Out of the stuff that you've mentioned, I've heard really good things about Flame in the Streets but have yet to see it, and the same goes for The Anniversary. Dr, Jekyll and Sister Hyde I've always loved, and found to be a pretty underrated entry in the Hammer canon.

I of course have to disagree with you on The Vault of Horror, which I think is a ton of fun, and though you are right that the writing is far from special, I do think Baker does some interesting stuff visually to kind of give the whole thing some weirdly appealing sense of dream logic. This is one I also watched an enjoyed as a kid, so naturally I have some affinity for it there as well.

And I agree with you on The Monster Club being basically terrible, but not without its charm. The music pretty quickly goes from rip-your-hair-out awful to oddly infectious, I remember having some of that music stuck in my head for days after seeing it. But yeah, it's a pretty ludicrous movie.

Woodside Skulk said...

Great article Drew. Any other Baker films you could recommend? Great to see Bruce Conner mentioned any where, super important filmmaker and, dare I say, also "criminally underrated" (we're all going to use that phrase up!)?

Cheers, your blog's so good, I'm following it.

Drew said...

Thank you very much for the kind comments, Woodside! It's appreciated.

As far as recommending Baker goes, I'm sad to say I'm not as familiar with his earlier work as I am with his later work for Hammer/Amicus, but from that period, his Titanic movie A Night to Remember is really excellent. And as noted above, I've heard many good things about Shaun's favorite Flame in the Streets.

From his later work with Hammer/Amicus, I am quite partial to Asylum, The Vampire Lovers, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, The Vault of Horror, and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires.