Cinema Sunday: Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

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Title: Quatermass and the Pit (Five Million Years to Earth – U.S.)

Distributor: Hammer Studios, ABPC, (20th Century Fox (U.S.))

Writer: Nigel Kneale

Director: Roy Ward Baker

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys

Starring: James Donald, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, Julian Glover

Released: November 1967

MPAA: Approved

 

I feel like its been a while since I did a Sci-fi film, so why not take a peek at a Hammer film from that genre! This is the third installment (big screen) of this franchise, and for reasons I’ll get into later, they switched actors for the main character, Professor Quatermass. The replacement was a fine actor, and with a regular Hammer leading lady, the film carried on the tradition well. The series was initially on British television, and the adaptation is well worth the watch. Alright, let us journey into the past, and see some cool science fiction, Hammer studio style!

 

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The film begins with a Bobby walking down a dark street. He enters a subway outlet called “Hobbs End” and sees a sign telling the viewers that it’s under construction. The scene switches to the construction workers below, as they continue their mind-numbing work. As they dig deeper, they discover a skull, but keep going anyway. Within seconds, one of the other workers finds a complete human skeleton! They realize they must stop at this point, and call in reinforcements.

 

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A  few days later, a team of researchers is seeking answers, and one man, Doctor Roney (James Donald). tells the press that he needs their help in seeking public approval to influence the government to let the work continue. As this conversation is continuing, Barbara Judd (Barbara Shelley – The Gorgon, Rasputin the Mad Monk), and another assistant make another discovery. They find something metallic, but can’t figure out what it might be. Suddenly, a man believes it could be an undetonated bomb from WWII. The police, and then the bomb squad arrive to take action, but they’ll soon find out that this “bomb” will be much more deadly than any other!

 

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As they dig out around the supposed bomb, they come to realize that they are more than likely wrong about the device. Doctor Roney then questions the young officer about his experience, so he calls his superior for a second opinion. The phone calls goes to a man named Colonel Breen (Julian Glover), and he’s actually in a meeting with a certain renegade scientist, Professor Quatermass (Andrew Keir)! They are discussing a government operation that he started, but that they are taking over. The government wants to get into space and have missiles to get the upper-hand. Breen and some pencil-pusher tell Quatermass that he’ll be on board or out on his own. Breen then gets the note about the “bomb,” and the two head over to check it out.

 

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Once they arrive, Breen and Quatermass have differing opinions on what’s going on below. A local policeman tells Quatermass that the area was abandoned years before the war, so those remains can’t be of the British populace. Some kind of superstition was keeping people away. He investigates some of the houses in the area, and they see some claw marks on the walls. The policeman can’t explain them, and he gets very nervous while they look around. So much so that he leaves abruptly. Miss Judd joins them, and gets spooked too, and then tells Quatermass that the name of the area, “Hobbs,” was an old nickname for the devil.

 

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Later, over at the Doctor’s lab, Quatermass questions Roney about the authenticity of these skulls, and seems to be suspicious of the “ape-man” theories. Miss Judd shows up and has some newspaper clippings about some of the supernatural goings-on in Hobbs Lane years before the war. Back at the dig site, the military has just about unearthed the entire “bomb” and now must finally come to the fact that it isn’t of this Earth. The Sargent and Quatermass seem to be on the same page and that page is not the one that Breen is on. Just as they are theorizing about it, a scream comes from inside the shell, and they find one of the soldiers raving. He states that he’s seen something terrible, and that it reached out for him.

 

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Quatermass and Judd then head to the archives to investigate further into the matters from decades before. A historian tells them about the things that were seen, and then Quatermass gets an idea, then heads back to the dig site. The military has procured a special drill to try to get inside the structure, but not even that works. In the process, they seem to have activated a defense mechanism, and it nearly drives them mad. They leave the pod for a minute to gather themselves, and another soldier looks inside. He sees a hole where they were drilling, but one that is bigger than the drill, so it couldn’t have been them. Suddenly, the hole gets bigger, and the entire wall disintegrates.  Behind that very wall is a honeycomb like area that is housing dead (but gigantic) locusts!

 

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Were these giant creatures the aliens or their food? And what do the ape men have to do with all of this? Your questions will be answered by the enigmatic Professor Quatermass!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

Let me start out by saying that I love Andrew Keir as an actor. He does a fine job as Quatermass, he was outstanding in Dracula Prince of Darkness,  and in the Pirates of Blood River. That being said, I prefer Brian Donlevy to him as Quatermass. His demeanor was perfect for the role, and although Keir did act mildly abrasive sometimes, he just wasn’t quite as good. Barbara Shelley (image below) added her usual electricity to the film, and was very lovely as well. James Donald (Roney) was another fine addition to the cast. He commanded the scenes he was in, and really played well opposite of Julian Glover (Breen). Also look for a small role by Hammer films stalwart, Duncan Lamont!

I’ve got to say that with a limited budget, the special effects were pretty good. There was a group of five gentlemen that worked on this film, uncredited. Musically, the film doesn’t offer much, but does hit some good peaks during/leading up to the action. The film was a little dark in some scenes, but nothing too terrible. Overall, I’d rate the film a “B” for the action, acting, and cool story and effects. I’ll definitely be reviewing the first two Quatermass films eventually, and probably in sequence as well. Look for them in the near future!

 

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Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: The Pirates of Blood River (1962)

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Title: The Pirates of Blood River

Distributor: Columbia Pictures/Hammer Studios

Writer: Jimmy Sangster

Director: John Gilling

Producer: Michael Carreras

Starring: Christopher Lee, Kerwin Mathews, Glenn Corbett, Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper, Andrew Keir, Marla Landi

Released: August 1962

MPAA: PG

 

Everyone knows about the horror films that Hammer Studios produced over the decades, but if you look even deeper into their catalog, you’ll find some other gems, such as this one. The range of the Hammer Studio was quite wide, but of course, they’re known for their Gothic horror films. But personally, I think they’re action/adventure films are a very close second.

This film in particular, gives you a (very small) bit of horror, but mostly just some great action with pirates fighting against a Huguenot colony. Action, intrigue, love, and war. Don’t take your eyes off of the screen for a minute, because you will miss something. An all-star cast, featuring some Hammer stalwarts, but also actors like Kerwin Mathews (7th Voyage of Sinbad)! Let’s get down to the plot!

 

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The film begins with a pirate ship sailing towards an island. On this island, there is a settlement of Huguenots. They live their lives, governed by the laws of the Bible, and are quite strict. Next, we see a young man, Jonathan Standing (Kerwin Mathews), and his lover, Maggie Mason (Marie Devereux), as they playfully run through the forest, to find a spot for some “courting.” They do, but before they can get busy, a whip strikes the back of Jonathan, and they both realize they’re in trouble. You see, Maggie is married to one of the town elders, and as stated earlier, they follow the teachings of God very strictly. Maggie runs away, but gets cornered near the river. She dives in, but as everyone else closes in on her, they back off, because the river is full of man-eating piranha. Maggie is toast.

 

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Back in the settlement, Jonathan is tried and convicted in record time. He’s convicted by his own father, Jason (Andrew Keir), and the rest of the council to spend fifteen years at the penal colony on the other side of the island. The chances of getting out of there alive are slim, because of the brutality of the guards, so when Jonathan gets his chance, he and another man work in tandem, and make a break for it. He ends up evading the guards long enough to be discovered by a pirate, Mack (Michael Ripper), that tells him his captain can help him get back to his settlement.

 

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As Jonathan is introduced to Captain LaRoche (Christopher Lee), he gets the feeling he’s hiding something, but also knows he needs his help in evading the guards, and getting back to his settlement, so he agrees to lead him to the other side of the island. The journey itself introduces other characters that are under LaRoche’s command. We meet Hench (Peter Arne), a man who clearly has his own intentions. We also see another, Brocaire (Oliver Reed), who despises Hench.

 

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Once the trip is nearing its end, a couple of Jonathan’s friends, and his sister, have moved outside of the settlement, in protest of Jonathan’s sentence. It is here, when LaRoche makes his true intentions clear, and states that the pirates will plunder the village of any and all supplies. He does state that as long as Jonathan helps him, no one will have to die. A small boy sees the pirates and that they have taken hostages, so he runs off to the settlement to warn them. As the pirates approach, a huge fight scene occurs, and it looks as if it will be a stalemate. Some of the pirates manage to get inside the settlement walls, and grab the women, and use them to make the men surrender.

 

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LaRoche then gathers everyone inside the great hall, and makes a proclamation. He states that if they don’t lead him to a treasure that supposedly resides here, that he will begin to execute a hostage regularly until his demands are met. Meanwhile, Jonathan, his sister, Bess (Maria Landi), and her husband, Henry (Glenn Corbett), concoct a plan to stop LaRoche. Inside the hall, Hench and Brocaire have had enough of each other, so they settle their difference by having a blindfolded sword duel. Hench ends up winning, and of course, in true pirate fashion, the other man dies. As people begin to be executed, Jonathan begs his father to tell LaRoche where the hidden treasure is, but he refuses. He seems to have a convoluted idea that he cannot give up some gold for the lives of his fellow-man.

I wont spoil the end, but rest assured, you will see another huge battle scene where many lives will be lost, the gold will be found, a mutiny will happen, and the piranha will get to feast once more!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

Hammer does an outstanding job with this movie in a way that some of their others films just can’t measure. You get an epic pirate movie, with so many characters, you can barely keep up. It does straddle that line slightly, but most movie aficionados will be fine. When you sit back at think that Christopher Lee, Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper, Andrew Keir, and Kerwin Mathews are all in this film, it makes your head spin! All of those actors can really bring it in their perspective roles,  and believe me when I say, that they truly do in this film.

The music score (Gary Hughes) offers some timely interludes, and the sets (Bernard Robinson) were magnificent. Not to be outdone, is Hammer makeup man, Roy Ashton. These actors and actresses looked like pirates and Huguenots. His work in this film should be applauded. The two “horror” scenes in the film seem slightly out of place, but don’t hinder the overall experience of the film. Heck, I would’ve loved more piranha action personally. And as always, you get some very lovely ladies (especially Marie Devereux! – image above) that give the film that Hammer feel! Check out the movie either at the usual spots (Amazon, etc.) or search for it online. You won’t be disappointed with this one!

 

Click here for the trailer!