The Quatermass Xperiment

The Quatermass Xperiment

Infobox Film
name = The Quatermass Xperiment

image_size = 300px
caption = A scene from near the end of the film, as Briscoe, Quatermass and a television crew observe the mutated creature in Westminster Abbey.
director = Val Guest
producer = Anthony Hinds
writer = Richard Landau
Val Guest
starring = Brian Donlevy
Jack Warner
Margia Dean
Richard Wordsworth
David King-Wood
Gordon Jackson
Thora Hird
Lionel Jeffries
Jane Asher
music = James Bernard
cinematography = Walter Harvey
editing = James Needs
distributor = Exclusive Films
released = 28 September 1955
runtime = 82 minutes
country = UK
language = English
budget = £42,000
followed_by = "Quatermass 2"
amg_id = 1:153617
imdb_id = 0049646

"The Quatermass Xperiment" ("The Creeping Unknown" in the United States) is a 1955 British science-fiction/horror film. Made by Hammer Film Productions, it was based on the 1953 BBC Television serial "The Quatermass Experiment". Its success was a key factor behind Hammer turning towards the horror film productions for which they became particularly noted as a film studio. It was directed by Val Guest, and stars Brian Donlevy as the eponymous Professor Bernard Quatermass.

The plot of the film involves the return to Earth of astronaut Victor Carroon, who has become the first man in space in a rocket ship of Quatermass's design. However, it becomes very clear that something infected Carroon during the flight, and he rapidly begins mutating into an alien organism which, if it spores, will destroy humanity. Quatermass and his associates have just a few hours to track the creature down and prevent an apocalypse.

The film was often criticised by Nigel Kneale, the creator of the "Quatermass" series and author of the original television serial upon which "The Quatermass Xperiment" was based. Kneale particularly disliked Donlevy's performance in the title role, but despite his comments the film is seen by some reviewers as a classic of the genre. In his book "British Science Fiction Cinema", media studies lecturer I. Q. Hunter describes it as "the key British science fiction film of the 1950s."Hunter, p. 8.]


Hammer Film Productions' producer Anthony Hinds saw the original television production of "The Quatermass Experiment" during its run on the BBC in the summer of 1953, and was immediately keen on buying the rights to make a film version of the serial.Kinsey, p. 27.] Hammer contacted the BBC on August 24 1953, only two days after the transmission of the final episode, to enquire about the cinematic rights.Pixley, p. 14.] These were subsequently granted, although Nigel Kneale was upset not to receive any say in the matter, nor to receive any immediate financial benefit. As Hammer had several other films in various stages of production at the time the rights were acquired, production on their film version of the story did not begin until October 18 1954.Pixley, p. 15.]

The director assigned to the project was Val Guest, who although very experienced had not handled a science fiction production before, and was not a fan of a genre.Murray, p. 43.] He was given copies of Kneale's original television scripts, which he took on holiday with him to Tangiers but only eventually read at the encouragement of his wife. He liked the story and agreed to direct the film, the screenplay of which was provided by Richard Landau, with Guest performing additional rewrites.Kinsey, p. 32.] As Nigel Kneale was a BBC staff writer he was not permitted to work on the film's screenplay. However, in his BBC staff capacity he was eventually assigned by the corporation to provide a last-minute rewrite of dialogue to be delivered by a BBC radio announcer character, as they had felt that the originally scripted lines did not sound authentic.

Much of Guest's writing work involved specially tailoring Quatermass's lines to suit American actor Brian Donlevy, who had been hired to play the leading role.Hearn & Rigby, p. 7.] Donlevy had been brought in to play the part, in spite of the character being British in the original television serial, in order to provide appeal to American audiences and help the film find distribution there.Murray, p. 45.] This was done through American producer Robert L. Lippert, who helped finance the film, as he had many of Hammer's earlier films with the same casting stipulation, and would distribute the British Hammers in the USA in exchange for the Hammer distribution arm, Exclusive Films, handling Lippert's films in the UK.Kinsey, p. 22.]

Production on "The Quatermass Xperiment" lasted from October 1954 until just before Christmas, and the film was made at Hammer's Bray Studios premises. It had a budget of £42,000, [£731,640 in 2007 figures, according to the National Archives [ currency converter tool] .] and was retitled "The Quatermass Xperiment", without the 'E', in order to emphasise the X-certificate (adults only) that it had been classified under by the British Board of Film Censors.Kinsey, p. 34.] In the United States the film was released under the title "The Creeping Unknown", although the title "Shock!!" was initially considered for the US release, and an alternative opening title sequence exists for the film using that name.cite web|url=|title=The Quatermass Xperiment|publisher=British Film Institute|accessdate=2007-01-26]


Victor Carroon is the pilot of the first rocket ship to travel into space, and despite overshooting its planned orbit the rocket successfully returns to the UK where Carroon is regarded as a hero. But something has gone wrong during the flight, and Carroon begins behaving strangely. Fleeing the care of the mastermind of the rocket project, Professor Bernard Quatermass, and his medical expert Dr Briscoe, as well as his own wife Judith, Carroon goes on the run through London while continually mutating into an alien organism. Quatermass and his colleagues ascertain that Carroon's mutation will eventually cause him to spore, endangering all of humanity as the organisms spread. They manage to track Carroon down to Westminster Abbey, where the creature he has become has wrapped itself around some scaffolding; Quatermass manages to electrify this, killing the creature.

Differences from the television version

As well as the condensation from six half-hour episodes to one eighty-two minute film and the resultant compression of the cast and events, several plot incidents are changed for the film screenplay. The major change is that the consciousnesses of Carroon's fellow astronauts are not absorbed into him when the organism struck in deep space as they are in the original. In the television version Quatermass is able to appeal to the last vestiges of humanity of the three astronauts left inside the mutated creature in order to get the organism to kill itself, as opposed to the electrocution presented in the film.

The opening section of the story, detailing the Rocket Group's attempts to come into contact with the seemingly lost BR7 rocket, is entirely removed. The character of John Patterson is also absent. In the original television version he is an integral to the story, seen to criticise Quatermass about the mission. Aspects of this are replicated in Judith Carroon of the film, who—in a major change from the television version—is not connected to the mission, whereas originally she was the first assistant to Quatermass. In the film she criticises the mission as it has done terrible things to Victor. The nationalities of Briscoe and Quatermass are swapped. The character of Marsh is given a larger role in the film; as he only appears in the first two episodes of the television version. The scene of Victor speaking German is entirely removed due to the removal of the merged personalities plotline.

The character of James Fullalove, also an integral part of the story, is also removed entirely. As a result, he does not appear in Hammer's Quatermass and the Pit, as he appeared in the televised version of the story. In the television version his role was reporting on the events after the BR7 rocket crash. Another key event near the end of the original version was a speech made by Quatermass to the country on television, warning them about the dangers ahead and asking for forgiveness; this also is fully absent. As a result of Judith Carroon not being directly connected to the mission the scene were Inspector Lomax interrogates Carroon is also absent. Lomax is in the film apparently a nemesis of Quatermass, whereas on television they were more co-operative. Judith Carroon is not featured in the last half of the story, with some reviewers claiming that she died after Victor escaped from the car.Fact|date=May 2007 Other changes include the death of the chemist and the removal of Louise Green, and the removal of the relationship subplot between Gordon and Judith.

Cast and crew

The casting of Brian Donlevy as Quatermass, and the manner in which Donlevy played the Professor, was highly disparaged by the character's creator, Nigel Kneale. "I may have picked Quatermass's surname out of a phone book, but his first name was carefully chosen: Bernard, after Bernard Lovell, the creator of Jodrell Bank. Pioneer, ultimate questing man. Donlevy played him as a mechanic, a creature with a completely closed mind." Kneale also alleged that Donlevy was often drunk and incapable of remembering his lines on-set during the making of the "Quatermass" films, an accusation denied by Val Guest.cite video|people=Val Guest, Nigel Kneale|year=2003|title=Quatermass 2|format=Audio commentary|accessdate=2007-05-07|medium=DVD|publisher=DD Home Entertainment] Guest has praised Donlevy's performance, saying that "he gave it absolute reality."Kinsey, p. 35.]

In addition to Donlevy, other actors starring included Jack Warner as Quatermass' nemesis, Police Inspector Lomax. Warner would subsequently become best known for playing the title role in the BBC police drama series "Dixon of Dock Green", which began its 21-year run the same year as "The Quatermass Xperiment" was released. [cite web|url=|title=Dixon of Dock Green (1955-76)|first=Susan|last=Sydney-Smith|publisher=Screenonline|accessdate=2007-05-07] Carroon was played by Richard Wordsworth, whose performance as the mutating astronaut has been praised by later critics. "The pathos and anguish he injects into the role is awesome," wrote Wayne Kinsey in "Hammer Films - The Bray Studios Years".Kinsey, p. 36.] Dr Briscoe was played by David King-Wood, and also appearing were Thora Hird, in a small cameo as a local drunk; Lippert's girlfriend Margia Dean as Carroon's wife; and Lionel Jeffries as a bureaucrat. [cite web|url=|title=Full cast and crew for The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)|publisher=Internet Movie Database|accessdate=2007-05-07] Jane Asher also made an uncredited appearance as a small child, one of her first screen roles.Murray, p. 44.]

Val Guest returned to direct "Quatermass 2" in 1957, and worked in films up until the 1980s.cite web|url=|title=Guest, Val (1911-2006)|first=Steve|last=Chibnall|publisher=Screenonline|accessdate=2007-05-07] On the second "Quatermass" film he worked directly with Kneale on the screenplay, the writer by then being freed from the restrictions of his BBC staff contract. "The Quatermass Xperiment"'s screenplay writer, Richard Landau, continued working, particularly in television and usually as Richard H. Landau, until the late 1970s. [cite web|url=|title=Richard H. Landau|publisher=Internet Movie Database|accessdate=2007-05-07]

Jimmy Sangster, who later directed several horror films for Hammer, handled some second unit production work on "The Quatermass Xperiment". The film score was by composer James Bernard, also a writer who had previously shared an Academy Award for Best Story win for the 1950 film "Seven Days to Noon".Kinsey, pp. 37–38.]

Reception and influence

On its UK release "The Quatermass Xperiment" was paired with the French film "Rififi" as a double bill; this went on to be the most successful double bill release in UK cinemas in all of 1955. [cite news|title=Profitable Films: British Successes|publisher=The Times|date=1955-12-15|pages=p. 5] It was also the highest-grossing film that Hammer had so far released in their history, and one of their first to be released by a major distributor in the United States, where it was put out by United Artists.Hearn & Rigby, p. 6.] The success of the film encouraged Hammer to invest in further fantasy / horror films, and over the following twenty years they became well known for their "Hammer Horror" productions. [cite web|url=|title=Hammer Horror|last=Moody|first=Paul|publisher=Screenonline|accessdate=2007-05-07] They even attempted to make another "Quatermass" film right away, with the science-fiction film "X the Unknown" (1956) intended as a vehicle for the character, but Nigel Kneale refused them the rights and the alternative character of Doctor Adam Royston was created instead.Kinsey, p. 41.]

"The Times" newspaper gave the film a generally favourable assessment: "Mr. Val Guest, the director, certainly knows his business when it comes to providing the more horrid brand of thrills... The first part of this particular film is well up to standard. Mr. Brian Donlevy, as the American scientist responsible for the experiment, is a little brusque in his treatment of British institutions but he is clearly a man who knows what he is doing. Mr. Jack Warner, representing Scotland Yard, is indeed a comfort to have at hand when Things are on the rampage."cite news|title=Back To The Moulin Rouge: Jean Renoir's New Film|publisher=The Times|date=1955-08-29|page=10] Other reactions were mixed: "New Statesman" called the film "better than either "War of the Worlds" or "Them"," while "Reynolds News" claimed that "quitermess they've made of it."Kinsey, p. 39.]

The British Film Institute's "Screenonline" website describes "The Quatermass Xperiment" as "one of the high points of British SF/horror cinema." The horror fiction writer Stephen King praised the film as one of his favourite horror movies from between 1950 and 1980 in his non-fiction book "Danse Macabre" in 1991.Murray, p. 153.] The film director John Carpenter, who later collaborated unsuccessfully with Nigel Kneale on the film "" (1982), has claimed that: " ["The Quatermass Xperiment"] had an enormous, enormous impact on me—and it continues to be one of my all-time favourite science-fiction movies."Murray, p. 154.]

The plot of the film bears similarities to the 1999 Johnny Depp movie "The Astronaut's Wife",cite web|url=|title=Trivia||accessdate=2007-01-27] cite news|title=Arts: OTHER FILMS: We've waited 40 years for this. Was it worth it?|publisher=The Observer|first=Philip|last=French|date=1999-11-28|page=10] although it is not known whether the film really was an inspiration or whether this is coincidence.



*cite book|last=Hearn|first=Marcus|coauthors=Rigby, Jonathan|year=2003|format=paperback|title=Quatermass 2—Viewing Notes|location=North Harrow|publisher=DD Video|id=DD06155|pages=24 pages
*cite book|title=British Science Fiction Cinema|first=I. Q. (editor)|last=Hunter|year=1999|publisher=Routledge|location=London|pages=218 pages|id=ISBN 0-415-16868-6
*cite book|title=Hammer Films - The Bray Studios Years|first=Wayne|last=Kinsey|year=2002|publisher=Reynolds & Hearn Ltd|location=Richmond|id=ISBN 1-903111-11-0|pages=368 pages
*cite book | last=Murray| first=Andy | title=Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale |format=paperback|year=2006 | location=London|publisher=Headpress | id=ISBN 1-900486-50-4 | pages=192 pages

External links

*tcmdb title|id=4909|title=The Quatermass Xperiment
* [ BFI Screenonline]
* [ Britmovie]
* [ Page on the film at The Quatermass Home Page]
* [ - Nigel Kneale & Quatermass Appreciation Site]

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