While many might say it was The Curse of Frankenstein that really started things off for Hammer or even the Horror of Dracula, many would argue it was Val Guest and Nigel Kneale’s The Quatermass Xperiment that kick-started Hammer’s foray into horror for the next two decades. The film is a perfect example of how to merge genres, specifically that of horror and science-fiction, much like The Thing From Another World did a number of years earlier. Kneale who created Quatermass and his world would not have as much input into his property as he would like and as such, most of it would be written by Richard Landau and Val Guest, yet even so, the film managed to turn out pretty good and is in fact, one of the best science-fiction movies to come out of the 1950s, not to mention a pretty decent little horror film as well.
Part of that reason was the fact that it took the material seriously and it never felt hokey. Instead, it was smart and treated with respect, perhaps knowing that audiences could handle a film that was not dumbed-down. To that effect, the characters were extremely well-written and felt real whereas in a lot of science-fiction pictures to come from this time period, they just seemed more like caricatures of what they were supposed to be. That in itself made the horror of the film real as well, for if the characters felt authentic, that would carry itself over to other elements of the movie. Even when the creature that Carroon would transform into made its first, full on-screen appearance and it looked no better than your average monster-movie creature, there was a level of certainty about it as the characters made you believe in it. Sometimes all it takes to make a great film is strong writing and here, that was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Most of the horror in this film comes from Richard Wordsworth’s character Victor Carroon who has just come back from a mission in space, only to find that there is something really wrong with him. Over the course of the movie, it is shown that Carroon is able to absorb the qualities of other life forms and as such, when he transforms, he takes on those qualities to some degree. The makeup and special effects in the film where Wordsworth is concerned are fantastic. The man always looks like he is covered in a sheen of sweat, that his body is going through a literal transformation, becoming gaunter and more inhuman as the film progresses. It is terrifying in a way, especially as Professor Quatermass can see it and does little about it. You could also say that the Professor himself adds to the horror that is present as the man is fairly uncaring and cold and Brian Donlevy who plays the man, is perfectly cast. Quatermass is all about science, never mind the cost of it and that is proven at the end of the film when Carroon is finally killed and his assistant asks what they will do next. The professor responds with, “I’ll need your help. We start over again.” It is as classic and as defining a phrase as you will ever hear and tells you exactly what kind of man Quatermass is and it sends a chill down your spine knowing that something like this could happen again.
Kneale who created Professor Quatermass may not have had as large a role in the big screen adaption as he would have liked, but he would become the writer of the two sequels that followed, as well as the television series that the films would be based on. When it comes to horror, the film is a good one and Guest uses all the tricks that he knows to make it as knuckle-biting and as suspenseful as he can, but as a science-fiction picture, it excels and stands far above most that would be released during that decade. To see where Hammer truly began, The Quatermass Xperiment is the film you need to see, one that would turn the studio into the machine it would soon become.