Color, 1967, 97 mins. 36 secs.
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Starring James Donald, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, Julian Glover
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Studio Canal (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1)

A Quatermass and the Pitkey entry in the dramatic science fiction wave Quatermass and the Pitduring the Cold War era, Nigel Kneale's quartet of stories about the dogged Professor Quatermass integrated touchy issues of environment, evolution, and basic scientific ethics into what had could have been brainless pulp yarns involving aliens and rampaging beasties. Arguably the high water mark of the cycle is Quatermass and the Pit, a challenging, mind-twisting saga that began life as a 1957 production shown in six episodes on live British television. Nine years later, Hammer Films had already established itself as a strong voice in science fiction with films like Quatermass 2 and X the Unknown, so a big screen remake was in order. The result appeared in American theaters as Five Million Years to Earth and captured an entire generation of stunned kiddie matinee audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.

During an excavation beneath the concrete surfaces of Knightsbridge, a group of construction workers uncover a strange, unidentifiable skull that may actually be the missing link. Professor Bernard Quatermass (Keir) is called in to work with paleontologist Dr. Roney (Donald) and his assistant, Barbara (Shelley), when further investigation uncovers a metallic structure, seemingly missile-like in appearance but actually containing a huge, locust-like creature's corpse. The resemblance of this alien being to man's conception of the devil poses a series of tantalizing questions, indicating that perhaps man did not originate as he had always believed. The ship and its contents begin to exert a powerful, dangerous psychic influence over London, where natural disasters begin to rip the city and its populace apart.

Like many of the major Hammer films, this one was actually very difficult to see for many years outside of scarce TV airings until it hit DVD and VHS from Anchor Bay Entertainment in 1998 (with a simultaneous laserdisc from Elite). The non-anamorphic transfer was fine for the time but looked pretty sickly by later standards; its 5.1 remix unfortunately splits most of the voices into the right and left front speakers - quite distracting at times - and tinkers with the Quatermass and the Pitsound effects quite a bit. The disc also includes a World of Hammer episode devoted to Quatermass and the Pit"Science Fiction," an informative and elegant commentary track with Kneale and director Roy Ward Baker (Asylum), and a host of American and UK promotional spots and trailers.

The film went on to make its global Blu-ray bow in the U.K. in 2011 from Studio Canal, featuring the Baker-Kneale commentary, the World of Hammer episode, U.K. and U.S. trailers, alternate U.S. credits, and video interviews with Judith Kerr (Kneale's wife) (17m11s), Joe Dante (11m5s), Kim Newman (29m30s), Julian Glover (29m27s), Marcus Hearn (12m24s), and Mark Gatiss (19m24s). It's a nice balance of production recollections and Hammer "monster kid" enthusiasm for the film along with plenty of thoughts about the studio's production methods at the time and its distribution deals with major studios that were starting to fray a bit by the time this came out. The transfer looked extremely impressive for the time and still holds up quite well today, with far more vibrant colors than any prior transfer, excellent detail, and no undue grain scrubbing or other digital manipulation.

That same excellent transfer can also be found looking exactly the same on the 2019 U.S. Blu-ray premiere from Scream Factory, which also ports over all of the extras from the U.K. edition while adding a substantial amount of new goodies as well. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is much better than the one on the DVD; it's spacious and fun, though the DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track is of course much more faithful to the original theatrical mix and the way to go for purists. Try 'em both; English SDH subtitles are also included. In addition to the preexisting audio Quatermass and the Pitcommentary, this edition adds two new tracks, the first with Bruce G. Hallenbeck and the second Quatermass and the Pitwith Constantine Nasr and Steve Haberman (a return to Hammer after their great earlier track on Frankenstein Created Woman). Both tracks are very informative and frequently filled with amusing observations with surprisingly little overlap; both compare and contrast this with the TV version and note the film's complex treatment of the relationship between science and the military (mostly represented by Julian Glover's interesting performance), but you'll also hear about an earlier aborted attempt to make this at Columbia (as The Pit), Baker's open infatuation with Shelley, Kneale's dissatisfaction with the two earlier Quatermass films, the state of Hammer at the time, and lots more. A new video interview with actor Hugh Futcher (6m40s) is quite funny as he talks about the infamous fainting incident that got him hired for the film and his shared agent with Glover, after which special effects technician Brian Johnson (5m10s) briefly goes into the bits of "rubber and glue and jelly and stuff" along with butcher's material that were necessary to create practical illusions at the time. After that you get new interviews with clapper loader Trevor Coop (8m26s) and focus puller Bob Jordan (2m23s) recalling their early gigs on this film, the popularity of the original miniseries, the quality level of the special effects for the time, and the ways they got into the industry. In addition to all the featurettes from the U.K. disc, both the U.S. and U.K. trailers are included (the U.S. one in far better quality) along with 1m25s of TV spots, the U.S. title sequence, and a gallery (5m29s) of stills and promotional material. All told, this is still bracing, scary, thought-provoking stuff with enough subversive ideas to fuel a dozen other genre films.

Quatermass and the Pit Quatermass and the Pit Quatermass and the Pit Quatermass and the Pit Quatermass and the Pit

Quatermass and the Pit Quatermass and the Pit Quatermass and the Pit Quatermass and the Pit Quatermass and the Pit

Quatermass and the Pit Quatermass and the Pit Quatermass and the Pit Quatermass and the Pit Quatermass and the Pit

Updated review on July 6, 2019.