The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

CREEPING UNKNOWN, THE (The Quatermass Xperiment)

(director/writer: Val Guest; screenwriter: based on the BBC-TV serial by Nigel Kneale/Richard Landau; cinematographer: Walter Harvey; editor: James Needs; cast: Brian Donlevy (Prof. Quatermass), Margia Dean (Julia Carroon), Jack Warner (Inspector Lomax), Richard Wordsworth (Victor Carroon), David King-Wood (Dr. Gordon Briscoe), Gordon Jackson (TV Producer), Thora Hird (Rosie), Lionel Jeffries (Blake), Jane Asher (Little Girl), Harold Lang (Christie), Sam Kydd (Police Sgt.); Runtime: 82; Hammer/United Artists; 1955-UK)

“This shoestring budget sci-fier began the craze in Great Britain for the modern horror film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This shoestring budget sci-fier began the craze in Great Britain for the modern horror film. It is based on the popular TV series written by Nigel Kneale. In order to save money, most of it was filmed at night eliminating the need for much lighting. This worked, making for a crafty production, mainly because it left much of the horror scenes to the viewer’s imagination. Hammer studio also exploited the X rating it received, which meant only those over 18 could attend, as it launched a massive ad campaign which brought in the crowds to find out why such a rating and also by making the X part of the film’s title–The Quatermass Xperiment. This kept the public’s attention on its ad campaign. In America, the film opened as The Creeping Unknown. The reason for the X rating seems to be because of the ending, as on TV the monster was talked to death but in the film he’s electrocuted when discovered in Westminster Abbey.

The film begins as a rocketship lands in the middle of a cow field where a couple was just petting. When the police and the cold-hearted space program head, Prof. Quatermass (Brian Donlevy), wait for the rocket to cool down they find two of the astronauts have disappeared (all that’s left of them is their empty space suits). The other astronaut, Victor Carroon (Wordsworth), is barely alive while in a comatose state.

The police, under Inspector Lomax (Jack Warner) of Scotland Yard, treat it as a possible murder case. They become suspicious when they discover Victor now doesn’t have human fingerprints.

Victor’s being treated secretly at Quatermass’ lab by Dr. Gordon Briscoe (David King-Wood), but when he fails to improve he’s brought to the hospital and kept in isolation. His wife Julia makes the mistake of getting an orderly to sneak him out of the hospital, which results in the orderly’s death as Victor turns into a Frankenstein-like monster and fatally swats him on the head.

Victor has transformed into a fungus-like alien monster and is being pursued by both Inspector Lomax (Jack Warner) and Quatermass, who is told by Gordon that the metamorphosis into this creature could mean the destruction of London as the creature continues to multiply if unchecked and grows gigantic. The danger is that he could affect the whole London population with this fungus he picked up from outer space.

The monster devours the city zoo of all its animals, breaks the head off a little girl’s doll, and kills a chemist. Yet the monster remains a sympathetic figure. He represents to the calculating Quatermass, a failed experiment that is one of the necessary risks taken if man is to make advancements in knowledge.