British title: Quatermass and the Pit.
Definitely different British sci-fi. We’re underground, in London, and that weird thing in the diggings is an unexploded WWII German bomb, right? No. Oh, an ancient ufo? Yes, and before too long, aliens will check in too. Actually, this is kind of a franchise, in that Dr. Quatermass (Andrew Keir), is the go-to eccentric good guy for English sci-fi TV and movies the ’50s and ’60s.
Backing up Quatermass are Dr. Roney (James Donald) and Barbara Judd (Barbara Shelley). Not exactly seeing eye-to-eye with those guys are Colonel Breen (Julian Glover), Captain Potter (Bryan Marshall), and the disdainful Minister (Edwin Richfield).
First we find ape-like skeletons, then the alleged bomb. It doesn’t take long–thanks to Quatermass’s meeting with Col. Breen–that we get the annoying, but quintessential English-ism: “miss-aisle” (American = missile). Back at the dig site, Quatermass, Roney, and Barbara realize that at least one of skulls was inside the metal object. Meaning that the ‘bomb’ was something else. One cool bit of urban legend is that no one will live in that vicinity due to strange happenings. (Breen says “miss-aisle” again).
“Are they of this earth?” Quatermass asks Roney of the skulls. Barbara’s been on the urban legend path, digging up history on Hobbs Lane (street nearest the ‘pit’). Once excavated, the spacecraft looks very cool, but hollow, except for an impenetrable wall. Strangely, there’s occult markings. Suddenly, a soldier claims to have seen a freaky figure.
Thanks to an antiquarian, sightings of “devils” near Hobbs Lane are documented back to the 14th century, with hints of issues back to Roman times. There’s more of Breen’s rivalry with Quatermass and the other civilians. A hole appears in the spacecraft bulkhead, then it collapses to reveal a hive-like insect colony. They pull one, then all of the locust things out. They look pretty cool, but the chartreuse/olive green blood is a bit much. (Quatermass lets loose with the “miss-aisle” reference).
Notwithstanding an overheated argument between Quatermass and the (Prime?) Minister, it comes out that the aliens are Martians (the giant locust guys); but that the ape-men were kidnapped by the Martians millions of years ago, altered genetically, and sent back to Earth. All of that because of climate change on Mars. The occult is likewise a Martian import.
A worker is driven nuts by poltergeist-type activity. With the aid of some hallucinatory stuff communicated via souped-up headphones, Quatermass is able to do a video recording of the Martians doing a ritualistic slaughter. Breen and the Secretary are impressed; the Minister still thinks it’s recordings of hallucinations only, not Martian memories.
Incredibly, Breen still clings to the Nazi angle; they have sent ‘fake’ ufos and aliens instead of bombs to scare London to death during the war. That does sound like Nazi-think, although it would’ve taken very little time for even a child to figure out that a rubber locust was–a rubber locust. And, if those same Nazis had been cunning enough to create the spacecraft’s impenetrable metal, then their tanks and planes would’ve naturally been invincible too.
“It’s coming alive, it’s glowing!” says Barbara, of “the mysterious ‘miss-aisle’.” Why can’t they call it a ufo, a spacecraft, or a flying saucer? Anyway, panic on Hobbs Street, as the spacecraft seems to be cracking up. More poltergeist activity, but increasingly destructive. Breen is drawn to the spacecraft nonetheless. And he gets literally melted down. Quatermass is losing it to the alien intelligence/energy, but gets it together with Roner’s help. Suddenly, people are brainwashed in zombie-like hordes.
A gigantic devil image appears in the sky, while buildings collapse and fires rage. There’s a miracle weapon that might work: Matter v. Energy or whatnot. All this mayhem goes on with just Quatermass, Roney, and Barbara on the streets. (where’s the panicky crowds and pod people?) No police, no soldiers, no firefighters, no one else. Thanks to Quatermass’s and Roney’s quick thinking, and especially because a long crane furnishes a suitable deux ex machina, the devil is short-circuited or something. So, it’s all good–the end.
That was enough stuff for three or four sci-fi movies. And a lot of cool stuff happened; still, the movie seemed to go on forever, and in many directions. All of the rivalry bits were just filler; certainly it makes sense for there to be skeptics ranged against ‘believers’, but the constant bickering was unnatural. The weirdest thing about all that jabbering was that it was the authorites who downplayed the danger, not the scientists.
The actual danger posed by the aliens hasn’t got anything to do with them directly. All of the life-force/energy stuff is a sort of abstract weapon. I kept waiting for the locusts, or the cavemen, or both, to come alive; but it didn’t happen. Just invisible forces punctuated by weird sounds and vibrations. There’s two sets of monsters and yet they may as well all be teddy bears.
Quatermass’s explanation for the Martians is way too irrational to attain suspension of disbelief. Is it really meaningful for them to recycle proto-humans to preserve their civilization? If our ancestors can live on Mars, why don’t the Martians just come to Earth as they are (we’ve got locusts already). What’s the occult/the devil got to do with it anyway? I would say, living in colonies like they do, they’re more likely going to spread communism than devil worship.
The best plot strand was the historical spookiness of the Hobbs Lane area. If that had been played up more there might’ve been a legitimate horror element; maybe with some flashbacks to the tune of the legends and such. That way, the de-bunking of the supernatural explanation by the modern ufo theory would not lessen the danger, only make it more believable. The key ingredient would be animating some of the creatures to give some palpable otherworldly atmosphere.
Farmermouse passed out after the boat load of ‘miss-aisle’ references; but I think he squeaked to give this six giant locusts. 6/10.