An experimental man rocketship crashes back to Earth, and the surviving astronaut transforms into a giant creature which threatens all life on Earth. Professor Quatermass, head of the rocket program, takes command of efforts to save the world.
Bernard Quatermass, author Nigel Kneale’s British rocketry boffin and all-purpose defender of humankind against alien threat and government red tape, first appeared on BBC-TV in the 1953 serial which Hammer Films adapted into this tough, gritty science fiction thriller.
The original TV version (of which only two episodes survive) was more intellectual, but director Val Guest’s film version has the advantage of effectively-used London locations (backstreets, London Zoo, Westminster Abbey) and solid performances (even the thuggish Donlevy provides a reading of the Quatermass role and Wordsworth is outstanding as the man turning into a monster) while quite a lot of Kneale’s well-thought-out story and script survives the streamlining into a more action-oriented medium. American science fiction monster movies were taking an increasingly juvenile approach at the time, but this plays to adults with its interesting vision of the political and emotional in-fighting that goes on around the space program and then the Scotland Yard manhunt (led by reliable Jack Warner) for the monster. It’s full of neat little character bits: the monster’s encounter with a little girl (Jane Asher) playing in bombed-out rubble, the female drunk (Thora Hird) shocked to learn that the monster she’s described to the police wasn’t her imagination.
More BBC-TV serials, Quatermass II and Quatermass and the Pit, followed, and were filmed by Hammer; a 1979 ITV effort was made simultaneously as a TV serial called Quatermass and a feature called The Quatermass Conclusion. In 2005, the BBC mounted an ambitious, live feature-length restaging of Kneale’s original script for The Quatermass Experiment.
A number of decent performances and a gritty realistic view of London makes this little sci-fi spin-off still worth a look.