Combustible Celluloid
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With: Brian Donlevy, Jack Warner, Margia Dean, Thora Hird, Gordon Jackson, David King-Wood, Harold Lang, Lionel Jeffries, Sam Kydd, Richard Wordsworth
Written by: Richard H. Landau, Val Guest, based on a teleplay by Nigel Kneale
Directed by: Val Guest
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 82
Date: 12/02/2014

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Monster from Space

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

What looks like a black-and-white sci-fi cheapie actually turns out to be quite a good, moody, spooky film. Hammer Studios' The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) was based on a BBC television serial, but featured an American star, Brian Donlevy (from Preston Sturges films) to help sell the movie abroad.

Donlevy plays Quatermass, the head of a team of rocket scientists who launches the first rocket into space. It returns to earth, crashing, and with only one of three astronauts alive. The other two appear to have simply disappeared out of their suits, while the third (Shakespearian actor Richard Wordsworth, who doesn't speak any dialogue) is in a kind of catatonic state. While doctors examine him, and while a police inspector (Jack Warner) tries to figure out what happened, the astronaut's wife (Margia Dean) tries to break him out of the hospital. It's then that he connects with a cactus and turns into a kind of shambling, pain-wracked monster with a huge cactus-arm. He goes on a rampage, further evolving into a terrifying creature, with the possibility of contaminating the entire world.

Within only 83 minutes, director Val Guest takes all this very slow, using long moments to set up sounds and atmosphere, such as the notable scene in the zoo, with the animals beginning to grow uneasy in their cages, well before the monster approaches. In the United States, several minutes were cut and the title was changed to The Creeping Unknown (that alternate title is included as an extra). But it was horror movie of higher-than-usual quality, and its success led to the legendary cycle of horror films at Hammer Studios.

Kino Lorber's excellent Blu-ray comes with lots of extras, including appreciations by directors John Carpenter and Ernest Dickerson, featurettes, interviews, trailer, and a commentary track, recorded previously with director Guest.

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