Palgrave Macmillan, out now
An in-depth and absorbing study of the classic SF movie – and much more.
Kim Newman’s contribution to the BFI Film Classics’ batch of SF-related titles (linked to the BFI’s Days of Fear and Wonder season) doesn’t just look at the 1967 Hammer version of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit in isolation.
Before delving into the film’s history, we get a well-researched and written account of Kneale’s beleaguered scientist up to that point, explaining the series’ origins, as well as the many differences between the small and large screen incarnations. It helps for clarity that the first movie changed the title to The Quatermass Xperiment, while the second TV serial adopted the roman numeral for its “two” rather than the Arabic number on the film, and Newman doesn’t hesitate to point out some of the inconsistencies in Kneale’s accounts of his knowledge of science fiction (as well as adding a few personal insights of his own).
The majority of the book is devoted to Quatermass and the Pit, with Newman using a detailed synopsis of the film as a springboard to discuss various elements. Comparisons with the TV version, both in terms of editing and thematic changes, are of course here, and Newman queries some of the characters’ motivations where applicable. The Pit’s place in Hammer’s history, as well as the careers of its various creators is discussed, as well as its resemblances and differences from other contemporary SF books and screen stories.
The 1979 ITV Quatermass serial (known in its film version as The Quatermass Conclusion) and the radio series from 1996 are mentioned where applicable, and there are some interesting comments on the way that the former plays with the formula that Kneale had used in the earlier serials. There’s also a lovely theory about what might have happened to Quatermass himself after the bomb’s detonation.
The Quatermass stories have always fascinated me ever since my mother admitted that she had been terrified (aged 28) by the conclusion of the TV version of Quatermass and the Pit (in a misguided and futile effort to stop me watching the first broadcast of the Hammer film!); this short book has reminded me why I’ve enjoyed all of them in their own way.
Verdict: An excellent guide not just to the movie but to the whole world of Quatermass. 9/10
Fans of Kneale’s writing may be interested in a new book coming out from Spectral Press next year, We Are The Martians, featuring essays and interviews about Kneale’s work, with a special edition including an unpublished screenplay. More details can be found here.