Thursday, August 23, 2012

THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT

Based on a BBC television serial by noted British writer Nigel Kneale, the early Hammer Films production of THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955, a/k/a THE CREEPING UNKNOWN) is an effectively creepy slice of Fifties science fiction horror, available as a Made-To-Order DVD by the MGM Limited Edition Collection.

A British-launched, manned space capsule plunges to Earth and crashes in the English countryside, where investigators discover that of the three astronauts that went up, only one returned - the other two having vanished completely. The head of the space program, the abrasive Professor Bernard Quartermass (American actor Brian Donlevy, CURSE OF THE FLY), immediately has the survivor, Victor Carroon (Richard Wordsworth, REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN), taken to a nearby hospital for examination, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the ashen astronaut, well... he just ain't right. Escaping from the hospital with the help of his distraught wife (Margia Jean), Victor starts to mutate into something decidedly unearthly... and kinda gross, really.

Stylishly directed by Val Guest (THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE) from a script co-written with Richard Landau, XPERIMENT condenses the original television storyline and maintains a brisk pace more suitable to a feature film. The black & white photography is stark and atmospheric, contributing a suitably dark, fatalistic tone to the story. Neale was critical of the casting of Donlevy, who plays Quartermass more arrogantly than originally written, and of the various "B-movie" changes made to his story, especially the climax. But THE QUARTERMASS XPERIMENT is, nonetheless, a superior sci-fi flick and an effective thriller.

The MOD DVD-R disc from the MGM Limited Edition Collection sports a very nice, 4x3 1.33:1 black & white transfer culled from a surprisingly pristine, high-contrast source print. The picture quality is quite remarkable, considering the film's vintage, with nary a speck or scratch in sight. Audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. The only extra feature is U.S. theatrical trailer, under the CREEPING UNKNOWN title.

Fans of Fifties science fiction films with needle-nosed silver rocketships, heroic scientists and strange extraterrestrial beasties should definitely check this out. Recommended.

BUYThe Quatermass Xperiment (aka Creeping Unknown)