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This Blu-ray/DVD 'double play' pack is £13 on amazon at the moment.
Blu-ray hasn't really caught up with Hammer as yet. The famous 60s horror studio produced garishly coloured, bloody films that are crying out for HD. This film, made in 1967, is almost the first that's been produced, although it's not quite representative of the classic 'Hammer style'. It is a better-than-average film from a company which could be very flaky, though, and is a welcome Blu-ray release.
An extension to the London Underground uncovers some unusual skeletons, and then what appears to be an alien spacecraft. Millions of years old, the discovery stirs some disturbing race memories in people nearby. Professor Bernard Quatermass, of the British space programme, theorises about what it all means, while pig-headed Colonel Breen, convinced it's a leftover German weapon from the war, looks set to spark a cataclysm with his arrogant buffoonery.
This was based on a famous BBC TV serial from the 1950s, scripted by Nigel Kneale, one of the greatest TV writers ever to have lived. It was Hammer's third Quatermass film, but was a far cry from the first two, made a decade earlier. Kneale had disliked the performance of American Brian Donlevy as Quatermass, but was reportedly much happier with this film. He wrote the film adaptation too. It was directed by Roy Ward Baker, one of Hammer's prolific directors in the late 1960s (but not really their best).
It feels very different to the studio's earlier Quatermass movies. Those had been tense black and white films, shot in a low-key, realistic fashion. Since then Hammer had become a horror brand - audiences knew what to expect from a Hammer horror, and this film tries to give it to them. It's filmed in the typical, lurid Hammer colours, and has something of the same semi-languid pace (at least until the climax). This, it must be said, is not necessarily the best way to approach material like this. The TV version, and the earlier Hammer films, are quite scary. Hammer by this stage weren't really very good at suspense - a potentially very frightening sequence in an abandoned house is rather fumbled, for instance. Kneale's work is full of deeply unsettling ideas, but by treating them almost as 'this week's monster', Hammer don't inspire you with any of the almost metaphysical dread that the author was aiming for. The TV version is actually much better, even with the limitations imposed by its age.
The sets are good, especially the Tube station where the work is being carried out ('Hobbs End', on the Central Line apparently, although not the Central Line as we know it). The rumble of trains going past in the early part of the film creates a good, claustrophobic atmosphere. There's a lot of good location work, though I'm doubtful it was really filmed in London. There are some quite impressive special effects, although a few flying objects have all-too visible wires. There's also a conceptually amazing 'race memory' sequence that is badly let down by the dire execution. The 'monsters' also look a bit silly.
Andrew Keir plays Quatermass. He's more avuncular than the part really needs, but is a credibly humane foil both to the military oafs and the diabolical alien intelligence. Even better is James Donald as a noble archaeologist. Barbara Shelley, Hammer's best leading lady, is on great form as Donald's assistant. There's able support from Duncan Lamont as a workman who has a nasty encounter with the alien force - his subsequent, weird caper through the streets of London, supernatural wind following him everywhere, is the most effectively creepy thing in the film. Julian Glover is also on fine form as Breen, although he's a bit too young for the part.
This is really a long build-up to the climactic 15 minutes, which are about as epic as anything Hammer ever did. The rampaging mob is a bit small, the collapsing building obviously models, and some of the falling bricks bounce around as if they were made of polystyrene. But it's still a hell of a good sequence, with the Devil's head manifesting itself above London as humanity's own atavistic instincts drag it towards destruction. One wonders if Kneale was making some kind of point.
This is a great story, and one which has been hugely influential on later sci-fi horror. The TV version is better than the film, but there's no reason you can't watch both. British apocalypse movies are always more endearing than their American counterparts (with the obvious exception of 28 Days Later, which profoundly sucks), and this one packs a punch just because its ideas are so resonant.
The Blu-ray looks great. The detail is fine and the colours vibrant (perhaps too much so in the case of a red sweater worn by Barbara Shelley in one scene. Bright reds often float a bit loose of the image in older films, and this does look slightly odd). What this disc does very well is make the usual Hammer style seem fresh for the first time in years. It's not quite the cosy Hammer viewing experience we're used to. That's what HD versions of films should do, of course - I am very impressed with this.
The DVD looks fine, I guess, but I still can't see any point in these dual-format releases.
Extras-wise, this is pretty good. There's the usual trailer and some alternative credits scenes for the US release. There's a commentary from director Roy Ward Baker and writer Nigel Kneale. They've both since died, so this was presumably recorded for an older release. Kneale is good, while Baker seems a bit more distant, but they both fall silent for quite long stretches, having to occasionally be prompted by an American moderator.
More impressive are several lengthy interviews. Kneale's widow and actor Julian Glover (now looking incredibly old) are the only people involved in the film to contribute. There are also interviews with critics and celebrity fans - Kim Newman and Mark Gatiss are both interesting.
There's an episode of a documentary series called 'World of Hammer' dedicated to the studio's sci-fi output. This is weirdly pointless, as it just gives short clips from the films, with minimal narration - no interviews or behind-the-scenes information is disclosed. It might just have been my TV, but the sound mix was odd on this - Oliver Reed's narration was swamped aurally by the noise of the clips he was meant to be describing. The extras are all in HD, which is a bit pointless for talking head interviews, but not to worry. All the extras are on the Blu-ray, the DVD has just the film.
This is a pretty good release of a pretty good film. If it only allowed you to choose whether to buy DVD or Blu-ray, I'd be willing to like it a bit more. That said, screenshots here are from the DVD, as I can't take screenshots from Blu-ray.
Hobbs End, Knightsbridge, London. Whilst working on a new subway tunnel for the London Underground a group of construction workers uncover a strangely shaped skull amongst the rubble. Nearby is another discovery: a large, mysterious and impenetrable metal object. Initially mistaken for an unexploded bomb the origins of the object and its strange power are far more horrific and terrifying than anybody could have possibly imagined. Is it of this earth? Could it be the ancestral link to mankinds evolution? Or could it be an ancient link to unleashing ultimate evil? Theres only one man capable of unravelling the clues, his name is Professor Bernard Quatermass, a man of science who thrives on the dark mysteries of the world, a man with answers. Written by legendary screenwriter Nigel Kneale, Quatermass and The Pit is a seminal British sci-fi classic. Highly influential, its renowned for its creepy plot and eerie, disturbing atmosphere. There is nothing else like it.