THE ENEMY FROM SPACE
Hammers trilogy of Quatermass films has a legendary reputation. For reasons I am not quite sure, Quatermass 2 is the least available of these, not having enjoyed much of a life in video/dvd release or being available in tv re-runs. This has perhaps amplified its stature as a classic. Critics like David Pirie in A Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema 1946 1972 (1973) and the authors of The Aurum/Overlook Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction (1984) extol Quatermass 2 as the best of the series, citing its paranoid aspect and its critique of the British government of the day. Finally seeing the film, it seems somewhat the lesser of what its reputation holds.
Where The Quatermass Xperiment was the first in a series of films about infected astronauts returning from space see other works like First Man Into Space (1959), The Hideous Sun Demon (1959) and The Incredible Melting Man (1977) Quatermass 2 falls into the spate of paranoid alien body snatchers films that were all the rage in the US around this time with efforts such as Invaders from Mars (1953), It Came from Outer Space (1953) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). (Of course, the real flowering of ideas in the Quatermass series of course came with Quatermass and the Pit and its conceptually wild speculations about Martians, human origins, psychic powers, race memory, hauntings and The Devil).
Certainly, the scenes here with Quatermass coming up against the sinister security forces at the plant and discovering a conspiracy among Whitehall politicos holds a paranoid sense of a powerful, far-reaching conspiracy. It is something that almost looks forward to what the superb tv mini-series Edge of Darkness (1985) plumbed in its digging into the sinister relationship between the British government and government contracts/private enterprise. 1950s British science-fiction often held a paranoid view of the government, seeing that its power had become totalitarian see also works like The Gamma People (1956), Hammers subsequent The Damned (1961) and the classic work of this era, George Orwells Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), which Nigel Kneale notedly adapted to tv with Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954). Here, the background of the village is surrounded by ominous slogans Talk About the Job Lose It, Remember Secrets Mean Sealed Lips something almost directly taken from Nineteen Eighty-Four. I am not fully sure what Nigel Kneales underlying fear is here the sinister power of government bureaucracy or of new industries like nuclear power gaining an ominous foothold into the British public but the film certainly looms with an apprehension about its power and implacability. The industrial landscapes look wonderfully imposing particularly the shots of the vast metal dome of the plant rising up dwarfing human characters as they walk towards it. Val Guest shoots much of the action with characters constricted and surrounded by masses of piping and industrial machinery.
On the other hand, Quatermass 2 is much more of a prosaic film than The Quatermass Xperiment. The scenes with the alien conspiracy are muted and by no means played for the paranoid atmosphere they are in American body snatchers films like It Came from Outer Space, Invaders from Mars and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or even a subsequent British entry in the genre like Village of the Damned (1960). A couple of scenes showing politicians and Quatermasss abducted associate (of which far too little is made) taken over do not make up for it. There is not the sense of dehumanisation, of the familiar being abruptly alienated that we get in these other films. There is far more effect given over to the guards and sinister industrial landscape.
Moreover, Quatermass 2 lacks the horror effects of The Quatermass Xpriment of Richard Wordsworth absorbing cactuses into his arm and mutating the film is more about the prosaic stuff of Quatermass arguing with officials and trying to sneak into plants. The sole exception might be the scene where Tom Chattos politician stumbles down the external stairs of the dome steaming and covered in gunk, before collapsing dead. An equivalent scene where a woman in the town hall picks up a newly fallen meteorite and becomes infected is played for little in the way of atmosphere, despite being given a certain edge by Brian Donlevys urgent warnings not to touch things. There is a reasonably interesting giant alien mass that emerges at the end, a la the climax of the first film, before Quatermass conveniently manages to fire his rocket down onto it.
One of the aspects I dislike about the first two Quatermass films was the importation of American star Brian Donlevy in the role of Quatermass. Where he should demonstrate intellectual power and wisdom, Donlevy gives an angry bullish performance, constantly barking orders at subordinates. In the opening scenes here, he is chewing out and threatening to fire his associates for diverting resources without even first doing something like attempting to see what they are doing. To the characters favour, he at least calms down after that point and the role becomes somewhat more like what a Quatermass should be.
Outside of Quatermass, Nigel Kneales other tv works are: 1984 (1954), a live adaptation of the George Orwell novel; The Creature (1955) about the search for The Yeti; The Road (1963) about a haunting that may be an example of time travel; The Year of the Sex Olympics (1970) about a future dulled into compliance by televised sexual competitions; Wine of India (1970) about future euthanasia; The Stone Tape (1972) about a scientific investigation into a haunting; the six-episode tv anthology series Beasts (1976), which all featured unseen monsters; the seven-episode comedy series Kinvig (1981) about an SF fans who has an encounter with aliens; and the ghost story tv movie The Woman in Black (1989). Kneales film scripts were The Abominable Snowman (1957) adapted from The Creature, the adaptation of H.G. Wellss The First Men in the Moon (1964), the occult film The Witches/The Devils Own (1966) and uncredited work on Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982).
Val Guests other genre films include: the comedy Mr Drakes Duck (1951) about a duck that lays radioactive eggs; Hammers Nigel Kneale adaptations The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) and The Abominable Snowman (1957); the end of the world film The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961); some scenes of Casino Royale (1967); the sf pop music film Toomorrow (1970); and the prehistoric drama When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970).