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The Quatermass Xperiment

Posted by martinteller on October 1, 2012

Professor Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) launches a rocket ship into space.  It returns, crashing in an English field.  Of the three crew members, only Victor Carroon (Richard Wordsworth) survives… the other two have mysteriously vanished.  Victor appears to be in a zombie-like state, he won’t talk and his skin seems to be transforming.  Quatermass, Inspector Lomax (Jack Warner) and Dr. Briscoe (David King-Wood) struggle to determine what happened out there in space, but meanwhile something is happening inside Victor….

This is pegged as a landmark sci-fi/horror classic by some, but I found it too uneven.  It’s awfully sluggish for a 78-minute film, with lots of time spent on superfluous events.  For instance, a scene of a zookeeper locking up for the night takes far longer than necessary.  It’s not a tremendously long scene all told — maybe a minute or two — but things like that keep popping up.  If they’re done in the service of building suspense, I wasn’t feeling it.  And much of the action feels repetitive, as Quatermass (to my surprise, pronounced Kway-ter-muss… I expected Kwah-ter-mass) and his cohorts keep discovering scenes where Victor has been, without really doing much to advance the plot or provide explanation.

But it does have a certain eeriness to it that’s compelling.  There is a scene where they watch recovered footage from the rocket’s camera, and something about the way it’s presented, very matter-of-fact, is unsettling.  And Wordsworth’s performance conveys a heavy aura of despair and suffering.  He’s not just a shambling, mindless monster, he’s clearly in pain and confused.  Oh, and there’s a wonderful scene with him being confronted by a little girl.  Whether it’s an homage to or a theft from Frankenstein, I’m not certain, but it’s a great moment.

Donlevy (a noir regular) does the arrogant, driven scientist thing well enough, but there’s not much else there.  And Margia Dean (as Victor’s wife) is simply terrible.  The special effects are not bad, though, and most of the cinematography is quite well done.  I dunno, I wish I had stronger feelings about the movie.  There’s some good qualities, but it all felt too rambling.  The battling ideologies of Quatermass’s intellectual curiosity vs. Lomax’s paranoia didn’t do much for me.  I did enjoy it a lot more than the somewhat similar Thing from Another World, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea.  Rating: Fair (68)


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