The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

OCTOBER 24, 2011


Following Warner Brothers’ lead, MGM is now making “on demand” DVDs from their library – they won’t be available in stores, and they won’t have any bonus features of note (besides trailers), but you can at long last have a DVD of a movie that has never been available on disc in Region 1. So fans of Hammer’s The Quatermass Xperiment can rejoice! Not only does the film have its correct title (in the US it was retitled The Creeping Unknown), but it’s a pretty damn nice looking transfer, albeit full frame (the ratio on IMDb is listed as 1.66:1, which means you’re not missing much, if anything – but worth noting).

John Carpenter fans will definitely want to check the film out, as it was a big influence on him and he has tossed in little references to it in his films over the years, even using the pseudonym Martin Quatermass (the alleged brother of this film’s hero) for his Prince of Darkness script. You can also see why he has such a fondness for downer or cynical endings, as Quatermass learns nothing from the events of this movie, even though most of the death and destruction that occurs is basically his fault. He’s also kind of a dick, but unlike Kurt Russell or whatever, he’s just this stocky guy in his 50s, which makes him less “awesome”.

He’s also not even really the star of the movie; we don’t get any more information about him than most of the other characters, and he’s off-screen just as often as on. It’s almost sort of an ensemble, as he’s aided by a couple guys who figure out a lot of stuff for themselves, plus you have the guy turning into a monster, his wife, a reporter or two, a little girl… Additionally, the script doesn’t bother taking anyone out of the direct story at any point; you never have a scene of Quatermass (or anyone else) talking about their life outside of what happens on-screen in this particular movie.

Apparently, that’s a side effect of paring what was a serialized television drama down to an 80 minute movie that tells the same story. Something that once took a half hour now only gets two minutes, so they didn’t really have time for strong characterization or subplots. Or even a buildup to the climax – our tragic villain suddenly turns from a man into a giant plant/crab thing, which we don’t see at all, and it is dispatched almost as soon as it makes its first appearance. We also never see it do much, 90% of the shots of the monster are on a tiny TV screen. Yet they remake The Thing instead.

But I dug the flick. The matter of fact approach was quite different than the usual movies of the era, and they don’t waste time with too much romantic nonsense (basically just some minor stuff with the poor sod turning into a monster and his fretting wife). I also liked the monster a lot – he’s sort of a shapeshifter (like, erm, The Thing), but instead of impersonating humans he kind of absorbs the things he drains, so his hand turns into a cactus, and his monster form is the result of absorbing a couple of different things in a brief period. The guy playing the human is also quite good; it’s almost a shame that he is unceremoniously dropped from the movie (when he turns into the crab thing) as it would have been nice to see him play the “final stand” like Karloff or whoever.

There’s also a bit where one of the cops is at home and gets an urgent call just before dinner, which his wife isn’t too happy about. But instead of making it a generic melodramatic moment, she just dryly mocks his eating habits and what not, and he dishes it right back, making for a very amusing and cute conversation. I also like that he turns down tea, which really sells how critical the situation is. There’s also a wonderful old drunk/homeless lady who reports the monster to the police and is amazed to discover that they believe her (because they had gotten other calls about it), figuring it was another one of her “gin goblins” (I love this term, by the way). Hell even the little girl (in a scene very much influenced by Frankenstein, but with a funnier outcome) is memorable, as she’s actually kind of pushy in her attempts to get this obviously disturbed guy to join her and her doll for a tea party. It might not be the best paced movie, but it’s got personality to spare.

There are two sequels, one of which I saw on VHS back in college when I was attempting to see more older stuff so I could sound smarter in my film classes, but damned if I can remember anything about it. I do remember it was Quatermass And The Pit though, which is the 3rd in the series (and with a different actor as Quatermass), so I’ll have to check out the 2nd film (merely called Quatermass 2) next and then revisit Pit later on down the road. I really like the idea of a series built around an irascible middle aged scientist who doesn’t seem to give a shit about the fact that his ideas can cost lives. Especially if they always result in folks turning into monsters.

I just hope I don’t need this service to watch them. While the transfer is nice and the packaging sufficient, the disc will apparently only play on real DVD players, not DVD-rom drives (I didn’t try it in my portable; I assume it will work there though). Granted, the number of people who only have a DVD player via their computer is probably a very low percentage, but it’s still somewhat obnoxious. It’s also a bit ironic; the only way to obtain these discs is through a computer, but you can’t play it on one? I assume it’s some sort of way to ensure that the discs aren’t copied, but it still seems quite lame to me. So, just a heads up in case you miss the fine print.

What say you?


  1. Oh yes! A wonderful old classic Movie with funny monster creature effekts... but I heard, that it give am Remake from this Film... oh no! It's a shame, that all good movies become a stupid Remake.. only the Original like this are good. (I hope i become understand^^ My english is sooo bad)

  2. The great news about MGM's on demand library is that it'll actually be just that: on demand, as you can stream most of the titles through Netflix, which I think is great. I wish Warner Archive would follow suit.

    As for Quatermass, I was glad to finally see it because of the Carpenter connection too. The other 2 are way out of print, unfortunately, but I'm going to find a way to see them somehow because I liked Xperiment well enough.

  3. Quatermass and the Pit is brilliant.I remember taping it off the TV as a kid and watching it several times - very scary at that age too. I think it's in colour too...

  4. Quatermass and the Pit (the best of the three, though the second isn't bad at at all) is on a 5-disc best of Hammer box set which I've just ordered. It's Region 2 though and I don't know if it's available as a Region 1 set. Different actor plays Quatermass in each one.

  5. Quatermass and the Pit is one of the best. Xperiment, Q2 and the TV series are all worth a look but Pit is the business. The sinister atmosphere, superb performances, creepy special FX and a stunning climax. It really gets under your skin. You can buy it as part of 'The Hammer Collection' DVD boxset which is very cheap these days.

  6. "Full frame" (meaning the old 'square' 1.33:1 standard) would mean that you're gaining information (at the top and bottom) viewing a 1.66:1 film, not losing it (from the sides).

    Are people erroneously referring to the 1.78:1 shape of a widescreen TV as "full frame" nowadays?

  7. Is that always the case though? I could swear I've seen 1.66 films slightly cropped on the left and right to fit a square TV (Truman Show, I think?). But no, when I say full frame I am referring to the old standard 4x3 TV size.

  8. Thanks for the clarification, re: "full frame", BC.

    You know, I'm not entirely sure - you could be right about 1.66:1 films being cropped for TV broadcasts, etc. Hmmm.

    I do know that the recent Blu-ray of 'The Night of the Hunter' was in 1.66:1, whereas all the old DVD releases were open matte 1.33:1, showing more visual information at the top and bottom of the screen (as can be seen in the image comparisons over at

    As far as I'm aware, all DVD releases of 'The Quatermass Xperiment' have been in 1.33:1, but I've never seen anyone commenting on image cropping, so I tend to assume the movie's being shown in an open matte like 'The Night of the Hunter'. I could be wrong, of course.

    I'm not sure where you're getting a 1.66:1 for 'The Truman Show'; IMDb lists it as being 1.85:1 and I think DVD releases are 1.78:1 or thereabouts?

  9. Nope. First bit explains it.


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