Director: Val Guest
Writers: Richard Landau and Val Guest
Cast: Brian Donlevy, Jack Warner, Margia Dean, Thora Hird, Gordon Jackson, David King-Wood, Harold Lang, Lionel Jeffries, Sam Kydd, and Richard Wordsworth
Composer: James Bernard
Release Date: 8/26/1955
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
The sole survivor of a space flight engineered by Professor Bernard Quatermass (Brian Donlevy), Victor Carroon (Richard Wordsworth) exhibits a terrible illness upon returning to Earth. Before long, Carroon begins transforming into a hideous, alien organism that absorbs plant and animal tissue during its metamorphic process.
An early classic from Hammer Productions, this offering deserves praise for combining body horror tropes with aspects of the science fiction genre—reminiscent of The Fly, The Blob, The Thing, and The Incredible Melting Man (the latter sharing many parallels with The Quatermass Xperiment). Modern audiences may nevertheless direct criticism at this film, which suffers from severe budgetary constraints.
The Quatermass Xperiment (released as The Creeping Unknown in the United States) benefits from the chilling make-up effects of Phil Leakey—known for his contributions to Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, and The Abominable Snowman. Especially creepy is the physical transformation of Victor Carroon, whose high cheekbones, sunken eye sockets, and skeletal features assume a cadaverous quality during the initial stages of his mutation (Universal Monster buffs will, in fact, note that Carroon bears a striking resemblance to the original Frankenstein creature—also transformed into a “monster” by the experiments of a mad scientist).
Viewers may struggle to sympathize with Prof. Quatermass, who, though featured in a protagonist role, shows no remorse for dooming three astronauts to a failed expedition—similar to Peter Cushing’s interpretation of Victor Frankenstein, depicted as a cold, murderous fiend in Hammer’s longest running film series.
Also problematic are the dubious, if not ridiculous, science fiction themes explored in The Quatermass Xperiment. When attempting to explain the fates of each astronaut, for example, Prof. Quatermass submits that a creature consisting of pure energy had originated from outer space, entered the rocketship through unknown means, and hijacked the body of Carroon after killing his fellow explorers—an exceedingly farfetched premise, even by the standards of a sci-fi/horror B movie.
Despite lacking the ability to speak, Carroon conveys tremendous torment, conflict, and residual humanity through mere facial expressions and movements of his body. Those of a sensitive nature will thus feel extraordinary pity for Carroon, whose vile actions stem from forces beyond his will to control—the defining attribute of a compelling movie monster.
The Quatermass Xperiment offers a gruesome and effective twist on the concept of space exploration—a common vehicle for science fiction narratives of the 1950s. Therefore, this film should be required viewing for sci-fi enthusiasts and British horror fans alike.
Overall Quality: 8/10
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