I love Bernard Quatermass. He’s sort of a grouchy, anything-for-science, early combination of Peter Cushing as Dr. Frankenstein, William Hartnell as The Doctor, and MacGyver. There’s also a Frankensteinian streak of driven determination to him, the kind that usually leads to disaster.
Thankfully, unlike Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, and The Fly, disaster doesn’t generally befall Quatermass. Sure, in the first movie, he reveals an attitude that could have dire consequences, but those never really materialize.
The Quatermass Xperiment (1955): Indirect references to The Thing From Another World aside, this is an early foray into “astronaut returns to Earth with an alien plague” territory. In order to survive, said astronaut, Carroon, has to feed off of living energy.
Carroon is slowly taken over by this thing, becoming somewhat of a forerunner to the pod people from Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and predating it by a year. In fact, Quatermass has to defeat said menace before it releases spores that will result in the same thing happening over all the Earth.
As for that Frankenstein-like drive, it’s evident in the last line. After all the death and destruction, Quatermass’s assistant asks, “What are we going to do?” Without hesitation or so much as a flicker of doubt, Quatermass says, “We’re going to start again.” These guys just never learn.
Quatermass II (1957): This is possibly my favorite of the three. For one thing, it predates and, at least to me, influences The Blob. Yes, there are significant differences. In this case, somewhat zombie-like humans work to maintain and help the blob-like beings, much like what will happen years later in The Stuff.
For another, we have more Body Snatcher type pod activity, this time in the form of meteorites that burst open and leave burn marks on their victims. These victims then act as a hive-mind in the service of their interstellar overlords. How generously Lovecraftian of them.
We also have an early example of the “poke/pick up/get too close to the strange object, suffer the consequences” pattern that will show up again and again from The Blob to Alien to “The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill” to Slither. Again, these guys never learn.
Incidentally, it’s always a guy. Women are smart enough to not touch weird shit–much like the fact that most skeletons of mammoths that are found in tar pits tend to be adolescent males. True in science fiction, true in life.
Quatermass And The Pit (1967): Again, there are indirect references to The Thing From Another World and Lovecraft. For one, it centers on the discovery of a spaceship that’s been buried underground for millions of years. Inside it are insectoid beings that Quatermass theorizes came from a dying Mars eons ago and directly influenced the evolution of mankind. It would appear that the good folks at Hammer were way ahead of the Ancient Aliens/Tsoukalos curve.
As in Quatermass II, the creatures take over people’s minds, but this time they also proceed to wreak telekinetic havoc all around Hobbs End. Mass violence and rampage ensues. The final confrontation between the paleontologist, Matthew Roney, and an enormous, mind-controlling, energy-based space being would be right at home in the Cthulhu mythos.
So, to sum up in a painfully obvious way, Nigel Kneale had a deep and lasting impact on science fiction and horror cinema. I’d love to see these remade. He might have been a little long in the tooth to play Quatermass, but I could imagine Sean Connery doing it well. Maybe Daniel Craig? Peter Capaldi? Malcolm McDowell? Sam Neill? Anyone else? Let me know in the Comments.