Quatermass’ (Andrew Keir) third Hammer film, Quatermass and the Pit, finds the surly scientist in a pretty insurmountable predicament after a space shuttle is unearthed in the subway station at Hobbs End that seems to contain Martian locust-like aliens that presumably came to Earth millions of years ago. The sci-fi tale, again written by Nigel Kneale adapting his own BBC television series, proposes a meaning to the existence of humanity – it actually came from space (or Five Million Years to Earth as the film’s alternate title suggests) as a Martian experiment on monkeys, leaving embedded memories and psychic abilities in a select number of the population. Part supernatural film and part epic science fiction yarn, Quatermass and the Pit is perhaps the most effective and influential film in the Quatermass canon thanks to its nearly sinful description of humanity’s evolution.
Keir takes over playing Quatermass, here developing a much kindlier form of the doctor who acts as more of consultant to James Donald’s paleontologist Dr. Matthew Roney during his Hobbs End excavation. He happens to stumble upon this massive extraterrestrial discovery while being shepherded by Colonel Breen (Julian Glover), and despite the fact that most in the excavation believe the unearthed vessel to be a bomb, Quatermass and Breen stick around to discover that the area around Hobbs End has been haunted by paranormal activity for quite some time.
Quatermass and the Pit is a considerably limited production. It routinely takes place in and around the pit area of its title, a small scope that would seem to make it difficult to progress the plot. But director Roy Ward Baker has a great handle on what makes the film’s storyline so tense – ultimately, he pairs ghostly, creaky atmospheres like abandoned buildings next to Hobbs End with the enduring myth that Martian locust-like creatures are truly the makers of humanity. While some of the special effects have grown antiquated, a suspension of disbelief is all that is required to see past the obvious props to the terror bubbling up from the surface of the plot. There are some legitimately spooky scenes, and the film’s final act ratchets up the stakes with a truly catastrophic predicament that begins to level London.
Like Quatermass II, the film’s biggest flaw is the explanation during the conclusion – Kneale again isn’t quite sure how best to externalize all of the convoluted science fiction elements, leaving the finale to play out with definitive description of why everything works out the way it does. Take, for example, the iron and water element that vanquishes the massive Martian form: it’s simply mentioned as a possible weapon on the basis of a myth about the Devil, but ultimately there’s just not enough done to expand on those thoughts.
Still, Quatermass and the Pit is a thrilling film with great characters and a thought-provoking plot, and it’s the most enthralling film in Quatermass’ adventures. Even if The Quatermass Xperiment or Quatermass II left you lukewarm, you should certainly give Quatermass and the Pit a shot. Its chills and claustrophobic atmosphere still delight.
Scream Factory has released Quatermass and the Pit on Blu-ray using what seems like an existing transfer, most likely sourced from StudioCanal’s previous Blu-ray release. This 1.66:1 scan was already quite good with a healthy color tone, excellent detail, and a fairly light grain field. There’s relatively little softness throughout, although there are one or two occasions where color inconsistencies crop up. Blacks are well-defined without crush and debris is almost non-existent. There was really no reason to go back to the drawing board for this release and as such, this is a very good transfer.
Audio is presented with both a DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo and 5.1 track. I watched the film with the 2.0 track since that is included as the main audio stream, and it sounded fine with consistent volume and dialogue exchanges; however, it tended to be a bit flat. The 5.1 doesn’t really rectify that too much, it just expands the sonic palette a bit to the satellite speakers. For most, I would recommend sticking with the 2.0 track. English subtitles are also included.
The film gets two new commentaries thanks to Scream’s requisite crew of film historians, including one with Bruce G. Hallenbeck and another with Constantine Nasr and Steve Haberman. Another, older commentary track from Roy Ward Baker and Nigel Kneale is also included.
For extra interviews, the release is surprisingly able to conjure up some of the crew from the film including an interview with special effects artist Brian Johnson, clapper Trevor Coop, and Focus Puller Bob Jordan. These are abbreviated discussions about behind-the-scenes info, but due to the age of the film it’s nice Scream Factory was able to pull some extras together. Another new extra, with actor Hugh Futcher, adds another first-hand look behind the set.
Additionally, this Blu-ray collects the features from the previous StudioCanal release including interviews with Judith Kerr, Julian Glover, Mark Gatiss, Joe Dante, Kim Newman, and Marcus Hearn. The same World of Hammer: “Sci-Fi” episode from Quatermass II is on this one, as well as trailer, TV spots, alternate title sequence, and still gallery. Also included is reversible cover artwork with the alternate title.
Our extensive gallery of screenshots from the Blu-ray.
NEW Audio commentary with Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr
NEW Audio commentary with Bruce G. Hallenbeck
NEW Interview with Hugh Futcher (HD; 6:40)
NEW Interview with Brian Johnson (HD; 5:10)
NEW Interview with Trevor Coop (HD; 8:26)
NEW Interview with Bob Jordan (HD; 2:23)
NEW Reversible cover artwork
Interview with Judith Kerr (HD: 17:56)
Interview with Julian Glover (HD; 30:43)
Interview with Mark Gatiss (HD; 20:04_
Interview with Joe Dante (HD; 11:34)
Interview with Kim Newman (HD; 30:47)
Interview with Marcus Hearn (HD; 12:55)
Trailers (HD, unrestored; 5:10)
TV spots (HD, unrestored; 1:25)
World of Hammer: Sci-Fi (HD, unrestored; 25:39)
Alternate credits (HD; 0:27)
Still gallery (no chapter breaks; 5:49)
Anolis German Blu-ray
Trailers from Hell
Quatermass and the Pit is quite possibly the best Quatermass film, and this release collects a ton of features. No new transfer, but the amount of extras still make this worth a purchase.
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