Quatermass and the Pit (Five Million Years to Earth) (1968)
Release Date: February 16th, 1968 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Roy Ward Baker Actors: James Donald, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, Julian Glover, Peter Copley, Duncan Lamont
riginally titled “Quatermass and the Pit” in the UK, then renamed “Five Million Years to Earth” for American audiences, this unique little science-fiction thriller is one of the more recognized non-horror subjects to come from Hammer Studios in the ‘60s. The title character is certainly one of the most celebrated. Nigel Kneale created Quatermass and penned the original BBC miniseries that was adapted into the first movie. He also wrote this film adaptation of his third TV miniseries starring the same character.
“Quatermass and the Pit” is nothing spectacular by today’s standards, but it does offer up some interesting ideas, such as villains that must continue to be fought even after they’ve been killed. The film series has an interesting history, made confusing by the US theatrical titles: the first movie based on the TV show was “The Quatermass Xperiment” (aka “The Creeping Unknown,” 1955), followed by “Quatermass 2” (aka “Enemy from Space,” 1957), leading to this third film, entitled “Quatermass and the Pit” (aka Five Million Years to Earth, 1968), before ending with “The Quatermass Conclusion,” 1979, which was simultaneously a miniseries and an overseas feature film. And finally, 2005 saw a TV movie version from the BBC with an accompanying making-of documentary.
Underground tunnel workers uncover a human skull, then a whole skeleton at Hobbs End, which is announced to be a prehistoric ape-man. The London transit station quickly becomes an excavation site headed by Dr. Mathew Roney (James Donald), uncovering at least six fossilized bodies – one of the most remarkable finds of all time. These artifacts prove that creatures resembling mankind walked the earth five million years ago, long before previously supposed. Fiery-haired Barbara Judd (Barbara Shelley), the assigned photographer, helps to find an unexploded bomb also buried inside the rock and clay, creating an even more unstable, tension-filled scenario. Once the military moves in, chaos ensues, leading to political turmoil and scientific anomalies as they determine that the “bomb” isn’t manufactured from any earthly metal.
Meanwhile, England is in the race for being the first military presence on the moon and in outer space, much to the disgust of Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir), who works for the Ministry of Defense – but openly prefers science instead of strategic world maneuvers. During his discussion with Colonel Breen (Julian Glover), the two are called to the underground tunnel to investigate the gradually unearthed missile. The first guess is a German weapon – until another, nearly intact skull is located inside. Perhaps it’s some sort of spaceship. They then discover that the surrounding area has a history of haunting, with old wives’ tales fueling ghost stories and eerie suppositions about evil creatures and the devil; it’s a place popularly notorious for weird happenings. They’re all scientists, however, refusing to accept the idea of aliens, goblins, or phantoms – until they exhume the entire object, containing evidence of a sealed compartment with something still inside…
“Quatermass and the Pit” includes a few overly advanced, futuristic gadgetries that put it entirely in the realm of science-fiction. Although the setting and characters are grounded in reality, at least as much as they are convincingly acted, the notion of supernatural elements, flying saucers, premonitions, hallucinations, mind control, hideous dwarves, and monstrous, gooey, horned locust, create an enticingly thrilling horror premise. It’s also a mystery, cleverly building to a point in which the real scares are introduced. Unfortunately, the monsters themselves are expectedly rubbery, accompanied by dated special effects and cheap practical creature makeup.
The theories, especially of Martians, telekinesis, the alien intervention of the evolution of man, and the resulting military cover-up procedures, are pure B-movie material, but nevertheless brilliantly original. The Ministry won’t stand for otherworldly presumptions, demanding rational explanations and solid proof, which is likely to be dismissed even if it were substantial (the “proof” that is finally supplied is, in fact, rather hokey). Resorting to an apparatus that can create images from an unconscious mind, “Quatermass and the Pit” heads steadily down the road of silliness, routinely rerouting it from the more alluring opening premise. And though the conclusion is action-packed and startling, it leaves things a bit too open-ended to be entirely satisfactory.
– Mike Massie