In The Quatermass Xperiment, three astronauts are sent into space but when the rocket crash lands in England, only one returns. The man who launched the rocket, Professor Quatermass (Brian Donlevy), must get to the bottom of this mystery with nothing to go on but the remaining astronaut’s (Richard Wordsworth) mutated skin and his single plea of “help me.”
Based on the BBC television series The Quatermass Experiment, this 1955 sci-fi film changed the title to Xperiment in order to publicise the movie’s X-certificate. This was the very first “Hammer Horror” and the London-based Hammer Films would go on to make countless horror movies. With the special effects of The Quatermass Xperiment it’s easy to see how the studio would make The Curse of Frankenstein shortly after.
As a film it’s quite dated, apparently concerned with fears of space exploration but probably really about the spread of Communism. But these are ideas that survive beyond the Cold War, and the film’s influence can be seen in such modern classics as The Thing and Alien – at one point there’s a boat called Ripley, which might just be a weird coincidence.
While the characters all behave consistently stupidly and Quatermass himself is completely unsympathetic, there’s still a charm to this movie. London is nicely shot and the story remains interesting right up until the climax in Westminster Abbey. It feels like a Sherlock Holmes story, albeit one in which the killer comes from space. The Quatermass Xperiment may only be worth watching if you’ve an interest in classic or genre cinema, but if that sounds like you then catch it BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE! (Saturday.)
The Quatermass Xperiment is available on iPlayer until Saturday September 7.