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The Quatermass Xperiment AKA The Creeping Unknown (1955) - Blu-ray Review

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The Quatermass Xperiment - Blu-ray Review

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3 stars

Based on the popular television serial, Hammer Studios produced a trilogy of science fiction gems featuring the talents of Professor Bernard Quatermass in the 1950s and 60s.  Their first film, The Quatermass Xperiement brought them a box office hit and a major film distributor.  It also angered creator and screenwriter Nigel Kneale who didn’t see the casting of Irish-born American Brian Donlevy in the lead role as very fitting.  It didn’t matter much to Hammer Studios, though.  They had a hit on their hands.  The Quatermass Xperiment is, in fact, the film that gave Hammer Studios its legs to stand on in the horror genre. 

Written by Richard Landau and Val Guest, The Quatermass Xperiment condenses what came before on television (albeit with a different cast) into a crisp 80 minutes. Professor Quatermass has sent three men into deep space via rocket ship.  When their rocket crashes on earth but only one member, Carroon (Richard Wordsworth), emerges from the chaos.  He is in an almost trance-like state, appearing quite startled and unable to speak.  Quatermass has him admitted to a local hospital while he and Scotland Yard's Inspector Lomax (Jack Warner) attempt to uncover what went wrong with the mission. 

As it turns out, the lone survivor has come into contact with an extraterrestrial being that’s bent on spreading through the earth like a fungus, absorbing everything it encounters…including him.  Creepy as anything you’ll ever see in science fiction, The Quatermass Xperiment, in spite of its cold war era setting and limited budget, is a delicious example of a classic B-movie monster picture in the age of the atom.  The dialogue is quick, witty, and lacking emotion.  The pace is solid and the scares are abundant as Quatermass tries to keep one step ahead of Carroon on his mutated tear through the city. 

The horror begins here.  Director Val Guest, who takes a very solid documentary/Cinéma vérité approach to the script, is to be praised for being adventurous.  The film is still fresh; still youthful; and still energetic.  Of course, The Quatermass Xperiment could have been more mysterious – to match the six-hour long television serial – but that simply isn’t the film’s focus.  Audiences – especially during the middle of the 1950’s – wanted to be scared because the politics of time.  That’s what Professor Quatermass delivered.  Just study the car ride scene with Carroon and his wife after he’s busted out of the hospital.  The scene is as honest an attempt at horror there ever was in motion pictures and the wife’ s blood-curdling scream as she sees, for the very first time, what her husband is becoming, is an ear-splitting effect for the ages.

Without The Quatermass Xperiment, there is no Hammer Studios legacy to celebrate.  Own it on blu-ray today.

The Quatermass Xperiment - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: This film has not been rater by the MPAA
Runtime:
78 mins
Director
: Val Guest
Writer:
Richard H. Landau and Val Guest
Cast:
Brian Donlevy, Jack Warner, Margia Dean
Genre
: Sci-fi | Horror
Tagline:
Nothing Can Destroy It!
Memorable Movie Quote: "Nobody ever wins a cold war."
Distributor:
United Artists
Official Site:
Release Date:
June 1956
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
December 2, 2014
Synopsis: A missile, launched by the team led by Prof. Quatermass, lands in the English countryside. Of the three members of the crew, two have mysteriously disappeared. The third one, barely alive, undergoes an horrible metamorphosis turning into a monstrous "thing". When he breaks out and, chased in vain by inspector Lomax, starts killing humans and animals to feed his transformation, Quatermass realizes that this is the way chosen by an alien form of life to invade the Earth.

The Quatermass Xperiment - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - December 2, 2014
Screen Formats: 1.75:1
Subtitles
: None
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A

Although it’s been available on DVD and Blu-ray in several other foreign regions, the last time The Quatermass Xperiment was visited in this country is when MGM issued it as part of their Limited Edition Collection manufactured-on-demand DVDs a few years ago.  For this Blu-ray release, Kino has licensed the film from MGM with winning results. The film is presented here in 1080p HD and unlike the previous full frame DVD, the Blu-ray has it at 1.66:1.  Framing and compositions looks fitting and accurate throughout, while the black & white image is very pleasing.  The transfer is rich in detail with excellent contrasts, black levels are deep and grey scales are also replicated nicely.  Overall, the transfer has an attractive, filmic appearance to it, and any fleeting instances of blemishes only give it character.  The DTS-HD Master Audio English track is quite clear from start to finish.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • An entertaining and thorough audio commentary with director Val Guest, nicely moderated by Hearn is ported over from the 2003 DVD release.  The commentary provides a great listen, as Guest discusses shooting the opening scenes on the surrounding backlot of Bray studios, condensing the original television scripts into an “up-to-date” feature film, and he is able to share some scene-specific recollections (so it’s a treat to hear him detail how the climax was shot).

Special Features:

The Blu-ray is accompanied by a number of “Quatermass Xtras” including some great featurettes.  One has legendary director John Carpenter talking about how he became aware of the “groundbreaking” film as a kid.  He goes onto discuss how 1950s sci-films plucked people’s fears and utilized them.  Another features Guest (who passed away in 2006) summing up his experience on the film, from receiving the script (which instantly turned him into a sci-fi fan) to working with producer Anthony Hinds and the main cast and that he was actually happy to have Donlevy in the lead despite Kneale’s protests.   The final featurette compares the British version with the American version of the film.  Overall, this is a solid release from Kino-Lorber.

  • Carpenter on Quatermass (9 min)
  • From Reality to Fiction (11 min)
  • A Creeping Xperiment (7 min)
  • Interview with Val Guest by Hammer Film Historian Marcus Hearn (8 min)

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