The rocket, the Q1, returns from space and crashes in the British countryside. One survivor, astronaut Victor Carroon staggers from the craft, but where have the other two crew members gone, and more importantly what has Carroon brought back to Earth with him? The man responsible for the space programme, Professor Bernard Quatermass(Brian Donlevy) soon finds himself in a race against time to save the world from a terrible threat from outer space!
I know strictly speaking that 'The Curse Of Frankenstein' was Hammer Films' first 'proper' horror film, but I like to think of this film as their first foray into horror territory. Okay, strictly speaking 'The Quatermass Experiment' is a classic science fiction film, but it does cross over the border into horror on many occasions. It was successful, and probably encouraged Hammer to continue down the path of making films to scare people, so we all have a lot to thank this film for.
It's not as accomplished as either its sequel, the classic Quatermass 2, or the third in the triology, Quatermass And The Pit, which was made by the same studio several years later, but this is an exciting, and at times genuinely creepy film in its own right.
One major critisism is the casting of Donlevy as Quatermass. I think it should be remembered that it was a very common practise to cast slightly over the hill American actors in leading roles in British films to assist box office takings. Forrest Tucker and Dean Jagger were also recruited by Hammer for this purpose. So Donlevy can hardly be blamed, although his one note, staccato delivery of his lines does take some getting used to. By the time he reprised the role in Quatermass 2, he was far more assured in the role, and delivered a far better performance. If Donlevy's can be counted as a weak performance in this film, then you can balance it against the superb performance from Richard Wordsworth as Carroon. His almost completely silent portrayal of the tragic astronaut, desperately trying to communicate with a world that becomes very alien to him, as he is assimilated with the alien lifeform, is a great success. There is also excellent support from British character actors such as Lionel Jefferies, Jack Warner, Maurice Kauffman and Thora Hird.
The special effects may seem a bit primitive to today's jaded audiences, but since when has British Science Fiction, a genre that relied on great ideas overcoming budgetary limitations, ever been judged on special effects alone. Okay, we can all laugh at the quivering creature in Westminster Abbey, but I bet it gave a few scares back in the day.
The most memorable segment of the film for me is when Quatermass and others sit down to watch the surviving footage from inside the space craft. These scenes have a suitably eerie quality all of their own.
So this is the film that started it all. 'The Curse Of Frankenstein' is quite rightly regarded as the film that kick started a golden age of British horror, but the seeds had beeen sown by 'The Quatermass Experiment' and its ilk. In that respect, this excellent little film is a very important film indeed.
This review is for the Dutch Region 2 release, a clear full screen transfer with sound that is occasionally muffled. Nice to have two episodes of 'World Of Hammer' in the extras though, along with three Hammer trailers. 4 out of 5