While viewing films from Hammer Studios’ golden age, I found this little gem of a movie. The sci-fi horror film The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) aka The Creeping Unknown is surprisingly dark and gruesome for its era, although the violence would be considered quite tame by current standards. Not so in 1955, when British censors gave it the “X” certificate, banning admission to audience members under the age of 16. The filmmakers apparently reveled in the “X” rating, because they flaunted it in the unconventionally spelled title. The strategy worked, and the film performed well in Britain.
You may ask, what could have been shocking about a 1955 science fiction movie? In The Quatermass Xperiment, an astronaut returns from outer space infected with an alien spore that could end all life on Earth. As he touches other living things, he absorbs those organisms’ properties and simultaneously drains them of their life force. Victims include unlucky humans, several zoo animals, and a cactus. In short, you have a guy running around and bludgeoning people with his cactus arm, turning them into twisted piles of goo, and leaving a snail trail in his wake.
Richard Wordsworth gives a sympathetic and tormented performance as the infected astronaut Victor Carroon, who fights to retain his humanity despite the alien consciousness gradually taking control of his mind. The “hero,” Bernard Quatermass, is a tough, egotistical scientist whose unethical experiment on Carroon is the catalyst for Carroon’s horrible transformation, yet Quatermass eventually prevents the destruction of the human race. Although the ending was reassuring compared to that of other “B” movies and the rare big-budget “A” film, The Quatermass Xperiment and its sequels were subversive for the time. This is something that we will hopefully discuss on a future podcast.
This film not only spawned a franchise, but may have influenced TV series such as The X Files. It definitely influenced John Carpenter, as he explicitly referenced the later series Quatermass & The Pit in his meta-horror film In the Mouth of Madness.