Forgotten Films: Quatermass, (1979)
This is the 91st in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films
I buy a lot of films. Originally in VHS and then later DVD. Sometime in the future I will leap over to Blu-Ray, just not anytime soon. By my last count, I had in excess of 1,500 films/TV shows on DVD. And Lord know how many still on VHS. So this week I was looking for something to watch. It needed to be short and sweet because I have many things I should be doing instead of watching films.
I spied this old two DVD set sitting on the shelf. I had purchased it sometime in the mid 80’s and had watched a little of it but never finished it. Or so I thought. I took it out and put the tape in the VCR (which still works) and began to watch.
I had seen the three Quatermass films years ago. I enjoyed the three original films (The Creeping Unknown, Enemy From Space, and Five Million Years to Earth). I had never seen them in any version other than the film (each was originally a TV miniseries). The title character Professor Bernard Quatermass had been played by Brian Donlevy in the first two films and Andrew Keir in the third. I had a girlfriend in college who thought Five Million Years was about the stupidest thing she had ever seen. Guess that is why the verb is “had”.
Anyway, as I began to watch this I realized that there was no way I had watched the opening episode or any other part of this story. The story is set in some future (for the time) England. Professor Quatermass (John Mills!) has been asked to appear on a late night show to hook up with the American broadcast of a Russian American space station. Quatermass is mugged on his way to the studio and is rescued by Dr. Joe Kapp (Simon McCorkindale) who is to appear on the same program.
Quatermass is not up for fluffy propaganda pieces and denounces the whole things as a charade. England is cold and dank. Civilization has broken down. Dead bodies lie in the street. Gladiatorial combat occurs regularly in Wembley Stadium. Law has broken down everywhere. All Quatermass cares about is finding his lost granddaughter.
The space station blows up on live TV and suddenly Professor Q is a top suspect in a terror plot. He flees to the country where Dr. Kapp has a radio telescope set up. Here Kapp aznd his associates monitor the reaches of deep space.
Along the way they encounter some young neo-hippies called the Planet People who believe Man has hurt the Earth and that they are soon to be picked up by some alien force and taken to another planet where life will be good (sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll perhaps). At his home in the country Quatermass finds some peace with Kapp, his wife Clare (Barbara Kellerman) and their two children. Even here the Planet People show up and Quatermass, Clare and Joe follow them to Ringstone Round, an ancient stone circle older than Stonehenge, where in a flash of light the Planet People are gone. Have they been transported away or disintegrated? A few random body parts lead Quatermass to the latter theory. Soon it is learned that such an event happened all over the world and more than once. Is there some evil force from space kidnapping or killing young people?
The tension builds over the course of four TV episodes (about 3.5 hours) where much happens. I will not give out many spoilers but I will say “do not eat right before you watch Isabel levitate in episode 3”.
All in all, Nigel Kneale, the creator of Quatermass and author of all the teleplays about him, has made another fine film. Well worth your time to track down and watch. It does appear to be available on DVD from the usual sources. Be aware that a shorter theatrical version exists as Quatermass Conclusion. This is only about half the length of the TV miniseries.
Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.