B&W, 1956, 84 mins. 47 secs.
Directed by Val Guest
Starring Brian Donlevy, John Longden, Sidney James, Bryan Forbes, Vera Day
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.75:1) (16:9), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

A Quatermass IIchilling example of paranoid '50s science Quatermass IIfiction at its most potent, Quatermass II (released in the United States as Enemy from Space) often turns up on people's "hidden treasures" list as a scary childhood favorite that never seems to turn up anymore. The middle installment in Hammer Films' Quatermass trilogy (also including The Quatermass Experiment and Quatermass and the Pit), this film still tends to get shuffled aside sometimes in favor of its more famous companion features but easily stands on its own merits all the same.

Disgruntled by the British government's refusal to back his plans for moon colonization, Professor Bernard Quatermass (film noir regular Donlevy) is nearly hit while driving along a country road. The other driver was apparently wounded by a meteorite-like object from the sky. Upon returning to his lab, Quatermass is informed of a series of strange formations falling from the sky towards the nearby Winnerden Flats. Accompanied by one of his assistants, Quatermass drives out to the site and discovers a facility similar to his own moon colony designs. However, Quatermass is apprehended by mysterious security guards and escorted to a government created housing project. Upon further study, however, the tenacious scientist discovers that perhaps the eerie dome structure houses alien forces whose intentions are quite sinister indeed.

A lean and intelligent thriller along the same lines as such novels as Jack Finney's The Body Snatchers and Robert A. Quatermass IIHeinlein's The Puppet Masters, this film also concerns itself with the concept of human identity as the ideal facade for alien invaders. The moral ambiguities of this premise are not lost on writer Nigel Kneale, who Quatermass IIprovides yet another literate and engaging screenplay which ventures far past the standard film conventions of science fiction. Looking at this film decades after the fact, it's a shame Hammer largely abandoned projects like this after the financial failure of These Are the Damned; one can only imagine what might have been. James Bernard also supplies an effective, deliberately grating music score which anticipates his later masterworks like the Dracula films.

Anchor Bay's DVD of Quatermass II contains an insert explaining that the edition restored from the original British negative did not include the original two minute prologue, which is grafted on here from a different, grainier source. This hiccup aside, the image quality is exceptionally clear and looks like it was filmed a week ago -- a far cry indeed from the hazy, battered print used for the old domestic Corinth laserdisc. Also included is a commentary track prepared for the Roan laserdisc reissue, featuring Guest and Kneale discussing the various locations and actors used for the film and how the story evolved through Kneale's various drafts. The audio quality on the commentary is distractingly hollow and hissy sounding, but the quality of the chatting makes it worth the effort. Also included is the U.S. Enemy from Space theatrical trailer and the World of Hammer episode, "Sci-Fi" (25m39s), which covers everything from classics like the Quatermass films to, uh, less respected fare like Moon Zero Two.

In 2019, Scream Factory finally brought the film back into circulation in a much-needed Blu-ray special edition that finally gives the film its due. It's also a bit ominous in that the packaging features a notice that this is transfered from the only surviving film print, and it's a bit alarming to think that a film this important is teetering at the brink of extinction. In any case, the source is in excellent shape with fine film grain and detail. Quatermass IIThe opening sequence still looks pretty dark and murky as always which may be the original intention, and the Quatermass IIaspect ratio here is 1.75:1 versus the open matte edition seen on the earlier DVD. The compositions snap into focus nicely here and appear to be framed correctly. The DTS-HD MA English mono track is perfectly good for one pulled off a print, and optional English SDH subtitles are provided. The earlier Guest-Kneale commentary is carried over here, but you also get a pair of new tracks from the same participants heard on Scream Factory's Pit disc, the first with Ted Newsom and the second with Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr. Between them it's a barrage of great insights into the film including extensive discussions of Kneale and his attitudes about sci-fi and social issues, Guest's approach to the material, the BBC serial version that preceded it, the still-controversial casting of Brian Donlevy, the issues of identity and labor treatment running through the story, and plenty more. Plus Nasr shows off his vocal stylings at the beginning of their track, so that's worth the sticker price by itself. A video interview with the late Val Guest (20m56s) covers his entire tenure at Hammer with a focus on his two Quatermass films, including thoughts on the budgetary limitations, Kneale's dissatisfaction with his lack of involvement in the film scripts, and the transition to dinosaur films at the studio. Then special effects assistant Brian Johnson (3m10s), who went on to a successful Oscar-winning career, briefly chats about the glass trickery used to create some memorable effects at the time, and then third assistant director Hugh Harlow (1m41s) has an even quicker video bit as he recalls being on the set. The World of Hammer "Sci-Fi" episode is ported over along with the U.S. trailer, and a gallery (3m12s) of promotional stills and artwork.

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Updated review on July 6, 2019.