Val Guest, 1957
Starring: Brian Donlevy, John Longden, Sidney James
Meteorites begin crashing to Earth and Professor Quatermass — who is busy trying to get a Moon colonization project off the ground — decides to investigate. He finds his way to a strange factory, which seems to have borrowed his plans for the Moon colony, though he meets with resistance because operations there are top secret. One of the meteorites is filled with an unidentified gas that seems to possess Quatermass’s associate, who is then taken away by guards from the factory. Quatermass teams up with Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lomax to find out what happened to his friend and they discover a terrifying alien conspiracy that may go all the way to the British government.
The sequel to Hammer’s The Quatermass Xperiment is once again based on Nigel Kneale’s excellent BBC series and, like the first film, manages to be surprisingly faithful to Kneale’s script. Kneale was unhappy with the casting of hardboiled (and allegedly alcoholic) American actor Brian Donlevy as Professor Quatermass in The Quatermass Xperiment and subsequently refused the studio’s request to use the character in their loose follow up X the Unknown, but managed to get more input with Quatermass 2. Of course director Val Guest — who returned from the first film — also had a hand in the script and made one crucial change: while the series’ climax has Quatermass traveling to outer space to defeat the aliens, Quatermass 2 has the slightly more believable premise of the protagonists firing an unmanned rocket to blow up the alien base in space.
Admittedly, there are things about Quatermass 2 that are arguably better than The Quatermass Xperiment. First and foremost, it’s a relief that Brian Donlevy has settled into the role a bit more comfortably. I intensely dislike him in the first film, but the sequel is so fast paced and action packed that he fits into the grand scheme of things a bit more smoothly. In The Quatermass Xperiment, he spends most of his time yelling at people and ordering everyone around, but he’s more appealing here as the odd man out; he has trouble getting anyone to believe him and, for once, is unable to constantly get his own way.
He also makes a decent pair with John Longden (Alias John Preston), who replaced Jack Warner (The Ladykillers) as Inspector Lomax. I do have a serious soft spot for sympathetic Scotland Yard-type characters though. But the film is basically stolen by Sidney James (The Lavender Hill Mob) as a hilariously drunken reporter who is the only member of the press to believe in Quatermass’s theory of an alien conspiracy and who has moments of brilliance that allow Quatermass to take him seriously. Also keep your eyes peeled for Hammer regular Michael Ripper — my favorite of the studio’s stock company — fresh off his first appearance in a Hammer genre film with the previous year’s X the Unknown.
Similar to the previous year’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Quatermass 2 is concerned with hysteria and government conspiracy, apt subject matter during McCarthyism and the Red Scare. The film has the same assured sense of direction, moody cinematography, and documentary-like style that Val Guest displayed in the first film, but with a larger budget and plenty of location shooting. Notably, this is the first time production designer Bernard Robinson would work with Hammer, though it’s obviously a far cry from his colorful work on the studio’s later Gothic horror films. The factory set is quite fun — complete with its own bio-dome — and allows for a breathy conclusion where Quatermass and co. are forced to lock themselves in and defend against an angry mob — a later staple of Hammer’s horror films.
All in all, Quatermass 2 comes recommended, particularly for fans of sci-fi horror crossovers. In retrospect, it feels like a blend of Doctor Who and The X-Files, and I would say it’s worth watching even if you haven’t yet seen The Quatermass Xperiment or any of Kneale’s serials. Pick it up on DVD, though I’d love for Hammer and the BBC to release a joint box set that contains all three films and all the serials. Quatermass 2 was somewhat ignored because it was released in the same year as The Curse of Frankenstein, the film that would set the course for Hammer’s future.