Quatermass II (Enemy from Space)

Year: 1957

Production: Hammer / United Artists

Director: Val Guest

Starring: Brian Donlevy, Bryan Forbes, John Longden, Sidney James

Screenwriter: Nigel Kneale, Val Guest

Based on the BBC TV serial by Nigel Kneale

85 minutes; B/W


This was second of the three Quatermass films produced by Hammer, and the first co-scripted by Kneale; it is the most difficult to judge since Kneale, who disliked Donlevy's US performance and Guest's tampering with his script, withdrew the film from circulation in 1965 when rights reverted to him. Many critics think it the best of the Quatermass films, and some deem it the greatest of all UK sf movies (though astonishingly similar in theme to the US film Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)): disturbing, intense, unrelenting, paranoid and especially nightmarish in its depiction of figures in power conspiring with aliens capable of entering and controlling human bodies. Much of the action takes place in the brooding landscapes of the North of England, where a mysterious technological complex turns out to be the alien power base. The string political allegory of ordinary people cruelly exploited by a cold-blooded (and in this case literally inhuman) ruling class was very adventurous for the time.

The tv ending (Quatermass goes into space to destroy the asteroid which is the alien base) is dropped in the film. The film's predecessor was The Quatermass Xperiment (The Creeping Unknown) (1955) and its successor was Quatermass and the Pit (Five Million Years to Earth) (1967).

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

The bleakest and best of the trilogy of films adapted from Kneale's teleseries, Quatermass II sets Donlevy's determined scientist against alien invaders who have all but taken over the British government and are on the verge of world conquest. Clearly influenced by George Orwell's 1984, which Kneale had adapted for British tv to great effect in 1954, the film is a chilling political allegory in the manner of Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) but with the significant difference that Kneale stresses not the process of the alien takeover but the connivance of those in authority. Thus, although the film has a conventional happy ending, its conspiratorial edge remalns intact.

Kneale objected to Guest's rewrite of his screenplay as a coarsening of the original teleseries and to Donlevy's brusque performance, but the film's power is undeniable. What is particularly impressive is the way the story develops from a few seemingly odd occurrences to an enveloping sense of nightmare in which nothing and no-one is what and who he seems to be, a feature it shares with both Siegel's film and Robert Aldrich's similarly apocalyptic thriller, Kiss Me Deadly (1955). The film opens with Donlevy, angry that funds for his Moon rocket project have been cut off, meeting a couple who gabble about strange goings-on at Wynnerton Flats. When he later learns of a strange meteorite shower landing in that vicinity he investigates, only to discover that the surrounding area is cordonned off and at its center are a collection of pressure domes which look remarkably like his moonbase life-support system. It soon transpires that the (artificial) meteorites contain tiny living orgamsms that have the ability to take over humans and that the life-support system is being prepared for the waiting aliens by the zombies they have taken over to provide them with a habitable environment, Earth's atmosphere being unsuitable for them. The manner of Donlevy's unravelling of the conspiracy (which ranges to the upper reaches of government and includes the Commissioner of Scotland Yard) is marvellously handled by Guest and cinematographer Gibbs, as are some of the details, such as Donlevy encouraging the local villagers, done out of work by the zombies, to pump air into the domes to kill the aliens and the authorities responding by blocking the pipes with the bodies of those workers they've bought off. With The Damned (1961), this is the highpoint of the British sf film.

The third of the series, Quatermass and the Pit (Five Million Years to Earth) , was not filmed by Hammer until 1967.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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