BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955) Kino Lorber

By • Jan 13th, 2015 •

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What a difference an aspect ratio makes. For years I’ve been showing my students a 1:33:1 version in class, and they’ve diplomatically respected the film. But with the 1:66 image, suddenly the film has reclaimed some of its horror. From the very first scene, with the rocket coming down, there’s a sense of terror with your vision stretching from one side of the screen to the other. A little image information is lost on top, but it’s liveable.

Also, contrast has increased. In the car ride to the field where the rocket is wedged in the earth, Quatermass and his associates are more over-and-under exposed than they were in the flat version of the film, and it lends tension to their conversation. Remember, THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT, when it played here in 1956, was later written up in the Guinness Book of Records as the first horror film to scare a patron to death. It was a 9-year-old boy who died of a ruptured artery in the lobby, and the film may or may not have been responsible, but it was a reputation that had to be lived up to, and the earlier MGM limited edition just didn’t deliver the goods. The new Kino Lorber BluRay comes closer to replicating that momentous theatrical event.

Also, the earlier release had no supplementals, whereas the BluRay has several featurettes and on-camera interviews (John Carpenter and Val Guest) plus a commentary by Guest with Marcus Hearn. Also the ‘Trailers from Hell’ YouTube series installment with Ernest Dickerson, and the alternate main title (where it was called THE CREEPING UNKNOWN – if it had to have a US title change, since the QUATERMASS tv series wasn’t known here, they picked a good one for once).

Nigel Kneale publically railed against Brian Donlevy’s pugilistic portrayal of the titular rocket scientist, and he had many logical reasons why. Kneale happens to be my favorite screenwriter and has influenced my work demonstrably, but in this case he was wrong. Donlevy’s crotchety, condescending, hyper-energetic Quatermass is great fun and moves the film along at a breakneck clip. He’s a most curmudgeonly protagonist, making no moves whatsoever for our sympathy, putting him on a par with some of Scorsese’s flawed protags who shouldn’t have won our affection either, but they did. And he’s even more so in ENEMY FROM SPACE, the second in the series. Equally compelling is Richard Wordsworth as Victor Carroon, the space explorer who returns to earth alone despite having gone up with two other astronauts, and once out of the rocket, proceeds to morph into something dangerously alien. It’s a pantomime performance, and keeps us worried throughout. Plus, it’s 82 minutes in length, which is the clincher.

Why don’t you get a hold of THE BLACK SLEEP, which was the other half of the 1956 double bill, and run them as they were originally shown here theatrically? THE BLACK SLEEP is an effective ultra-low-budget horror opus, stylishly directed (given the budgetary limitations) by Reginald LeBorg, with a stellar cast: Basil Rathbone (SON OF FRANKENSTEIN), Bela Lugosi (do I really have to list any titles?), Lon Chaney Jr. (ditto), Tor Johnson (PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE), John Carradine (HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN) and Akim Tamiroff (TOUCH OF EVIL – they wanted Peter Lorre but apparently couldn’t afford him, but Tamiroff’s great, and seems to be having fun). Despite how enjoyable the film is, it’s depressing to see how many horror icons desperately needed money by this time in their careers). Both films are 82 minutes long, my favorite running time for 50s exploiters.

A remake in 2005 was entitled THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT. How sad. True, they no longer had to emphasize that the content was not suitable for TV viewing, but still…

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One Response »

  1. Hammer film’s ‘gothic’ scifi (“Four Sided Triangle”, “Quatermass” “Abominable Snowman” and “X The Unknown”), to me, always held my interest far more than the colour series (DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN others) that eventually went down the trail into predictable camp. One sad thing, I was shocked to find out, was the original conclusion to “Quatermass Xperiment” differed from the versions we have seen on vhs/laserdisc/dvd. From an old 8mm sound source, the film end has no music on the soundtrack-just the sound of footfalls going into the night. Then, after the new rocket takes off, credits read “A HAMMER PRODUCTION Produced at Bray Studios”.
    I found this version more disturbing and seemed to hint the tone of things to come. It is, at this writing, on youtube.

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