AKA ENEMY FROM SPACE
AVAILABLE ON BLU RAY AND DVD [Blu Ray Region B Australia only]
RUNNING TIME: 84 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
After a man carrying a rock with an odd V-shaped mark on his face causes his girlfriend to crash into Professor Bernard Quatermass’s car, Quatermass and his colleague Marsh investigate some meteorites in a place called Winnerden Flats and find a huge complex under construction, apparently based on Quatermass’s plans for a Moon colony which he has been trying to get government support for. One of the meteorites cracks open, releasing a gas which leaves a V-shaped mark on Marsh’s face, and some black-clad guards take Marsh away and order Quatermass to leave. He returns with a visiting party led by Vincent Broadhead, an MEP who has been trying to uncover the veil of secrecy surrounding Winnerden Flats and the complex there which is supposedly to manufacture artificial food. Slipping away, Broadhead attempts to get inside one of the large domes that dominate the skyline. Quatermass later finds him dying, covered in a poisonous black slime….
Outside of some films which were released in two parts, Quatermass 2 is the first movie sequel to have a number two after it [and it wouldn’t be until 1974 when there would be another], follow-up films usually having slightly more imaginative titles back then. It’s probably slightly better than the The Quatermass Xperiment, though it’s a very close thing. It isn’t as focused, its running time being too short for its extremely involved plotline and therefore leaving much that is vague and unresolved, and it’s less exciting in a conventional manner, but it’s also a lot more chilling, a kind of British variant on Invasion Of The Body Snatchers which, much like that masterpiece, combines horror/science-fiction with a full-on political allegory, the latter element being perhaps being just as or even more pertinent today considering how much we distrust our politicians, who often seem like they’re not exactly human to us, or certainly not in a way we can relate to. Quatermass 2 doesn’t really sort all of its ideas into a totally coherent and satisfying screenplay, but it’s crammed full of interesting scenes and ideas and will probably retain its chill for longer when the more conventional thrills of its predecessor may cease to wear so well with repeated viewings.
It seems that both Jack Finney, whose novella The Body Snatchers inspired Don Siegel’s masterly film, and Nigel Kneale wrote their tales at around the same time, though of course there had already been at least two preceeding cinematic variants [Invaders From Mars, It Came From Outer Space]. With some input from producer Anthony Hinds, Kneale himself scripted the film from his TV series sequel, altering little besides some heavy condensing, removal of characters, and a different ending which now didn’t have Quatermass blasting into space with a rocket. Director Val Guest cut it down a bit further, while, curiously, the BBFC requested that a scene in which a guard from the Winnerden Flats complex murders a family having a picnic be omitted from the script despite it being present in the TV series. Because of a distribution deal with United Artists who provided some of the money, Quatermass 2 was a bit more expensive than The Quatermass Xperiment, allowing for much location shooting, most of it being at an oil refinery at Shell Haven in Stanford-le-Hope, Essex, and the currently-being-built Hemel Hempstead, as well as Elstree Studios. Keale claimed that star Brian Donlevy was so drunk for much of the time that sometimes he could barely stand up and didn’t even know what film he was making, let alone his lines, though Guest has said he was fine on set despite lacing his coffee with whisky. Quatermass 2, usually double billed with the controversial sex drama And God Created Woman in the UK, was a hit, but considerably less so than The Curse Of Frankenstein, meaning that Hammer, despite buying the rights to the third Quatermass series Quatermass And The Pit, sat on them for ten years.
Again, this one gets into things right away, with a very tense pre-credits scene of a man and a woman in a car. The woman is driving and the man has some kind of rock which has caused him to have a V-shaped mark on his face and to behave oddly. He causes the car to crash into another, which of course is driven by Quatermass. He and another decide to investigate the area and its strange complex, and the film already has quite a strong atmosphere of paranoia and even downright weirdness what with a road that suddenly ends as well as seemingly prefiguring things like the James Bond series with its sinister villainous lair and its armed guards which our hero must sneak into and destroy. There’s one silly bit here though. The masked, robotic minions take away Quatermass’s companion but just tell him to go away, leaving him to go and try to tell everyone of what he’s seen, then return as part of a touring group. Not every clever, these folk, but then they are basically automatons or even zombies. And it’s good to see that Quatermass hasn’t lost his callous side when he and a woman are taken into a large dome and he flees, leaving the woman behind, without any concern for her fate or – God forbid – risking his life to save the distressed damsel. In many ways Quatermass was an ahead-of-his-time anti-hero.
We then get the scene which is known to make many younger viewers uncomfortable when the dying Broadhead shuffles down the steps of one of those domes covered in black goo which is killing him, but it’s the next few scenes that really chill, as Quatermass investigates and it seems that people with the V mark exist in the Government. There’s one especially effective moment when Inspector Lomax, Quatermass’s aide from the first film but now played by John Longden [who doesn’t have the same chemistry with Donlevy as his predecessor] enters the Commissioner’s office where the Commissioner is sat intently perusing some documents. When Lomax notices the mark on his wrist, we see what the Commissioner is studying: “Now Is The Time For All Good Men…” written over and over again, in a foreshadowing of one of The Shining’s classic moments. This stuff is largely forgotten about though when we switch to in and around the complex and we get a very action-filled final third with much gunplay. There’s one striking macabre detail when a scream reverberates through the oxygen pipe which is being pumped in to kill the aliens, then blood starts to drip out of the pipe, revealing that the aliens are using men as a plug to stop the flow, and a very convenient rocket which just might save the day. The blob-like aliens themselves are quite unnerving, either when glimpsed in their small form in the domes, or in their much larger form near the end, lots of small creatures forming several big ones as they stomp about in an especially nightmarish image from cinematographer Gerald Gibbs, who does a superb job throughout, really making the bleak landscapes part of the texture of the film.
Guest again brings a strong cinema verite feel to the proceedings, which strengthens the obvious political subtext of workers revolting against their bosses, something which the BBFC usually disapproved of at the time but which they passed here because of the fantastical nature of the story. It’s fascinating though how the film seems to be wary of both left and right viewpoints in its depiction of a socialist society sleepwalking its way to alien domination by those on high, and it’s some of its more subtle details which most perfectly underly this, like Quatermass observing truckloads of building materials bearing the anonymous Winnerden symbol moving unnoticed through the streets of London. The invasion is everywhere, yet undetected except for a select few. The rest of us are blind to it, largely because of our overall complacency. Along with some extremely timely commentary on the damaging effects of industrialisation and the corruption of governments by big business, Quatermass 2’s allegorical and political aspects make it quite an extraordinary picture to have come out in Britain at the time, while at the same time it still works as a sinister science-fiction horror, but its script needed a bit of reshaping and refining and perhaps being lengthened a little. Unlike The Quatermass Xperiment, the TV series of Quatermass 2 works considerably better, though even that doesn’t quite fulfil its potential.
Blotto or not, Donlevy actually seems better in the title role than before, while Sid James adds a bit of comic relief as a drunken reporter. James Bernard’s chilly music, again orchestrated for strings and percussion, works as well as before. He re-uses his two note title motif from The Quatermass Xperiment several times while provided lots of throbbingly urgent passages throughout. Despite it being a longer score than before, the composer still knows when to hold back at a time when most other composers scoring similar films would have laid on the music heavily. Quatermass 2 makes the mistake of having so many good and interesting things in it that it ends up failing to do all of them justice, but it still seems rather fresh and ambitious and most definitely retains its unique chill. I generally try to avoid politics in my film reviews, but honestly, look around you. Do we trust our rulers and do they seem to have our best interests and the good of the country at hand? And do enough people notice or care? Science-fiction can sometimes do this kind of thing better than any other genre without letting things lapse into propaganda.