Moving away from the established ideals of the first two Hammer Quatermass films, 1967’s Quatermass and the Pit has much to praise. Part of this is most definitely down to the change in director to Hammer regular Roy Wood Baker who creates an interestingly claustrophobic London. While excavating renovation for Hobb’s End Tube station, workman come across what appears to be an unexploded bomb. Upon further examination by Professor Quatermass and his team, they find it to be some form of space ship that starts causing strange happenings and mayhem.
What makes this so different from the other Quatermass films is its mixing up of genres. Instead of the usual Cold War paranoia taking over like the previous two, instead we’re given elements of folklore influence and folk horror as well as a human origin narrative. With talk of ghostly sightings around the area over the years as well as links to the Devil, perhaps even being its very origin, the story surrounds itself with folklore.
Upon opening the capsule, alien insects are discovered with horns, maybe explaining man’s obsession with their representation of evil. Quatermass is far more relaxed and friendly in this film than previously. The discoveries and implications here have the potential to have a far greater effect on his world than the rocket based adventures of the former films, yet casting Andrew Keir as Quatermass allows a more gentle scientist to empathise with and it’s hard to imagine some of the more bureaucratic characters getting away with their actions if Brian Donlevy was in the role. His Quatermass wouldn’t be having any of Julian Glover’s Colonel Breen and his bullish scepticism.
However good all the performances are though, none of them quite match the oft-underrated Barbara Shelly whose velvet like tones make her a joy to watch. Whether it’s simply dropping in an occasional line or being fully possessed by the creatures, she brings an air of seriousness to everything she does. Her subtle delivery of the line “We are the Martians now” is one of the best summations of a narrative theme in the whole Hammer catalogue and owes much to her performance’s perfect rhythmic delivery.
Accounting for everything from psychokinetic powers, ghosts and pretty much anything supernatural, it appears that the insect aliens open up powers from our own race memories to cause devastation. Footage is obtained suggesting that they are rather fascist insects with culls on their home planet explaining man’s own fascist methods and obsession with eugenics. The will power of the insects morphs itself into one devil like incarnate, and wills man to have a culling of their own. Only through an ancient defence of age-old iron in the form of a near by crane, is the foe defeated. However the ending is as bleak as Hammer films come with London decimated and suggestions that man’s dark side is not only the product of aliens but also something that will forever lay dormant waiting for the right moment to manifest.