Sci-Fi Redefined: The Quatermass Legacy

Sci-Fi Redefined: The Quatermass Legacy


ADAM SCOVELL explores the impact Nigel Kneale’s creation Quatermass had on British science fiction and ultimately Hammer Horror.

A lot is owed to Professor Bernard Quatermass.  His television show gave Hammer Films the chance to experiment with the genre of horror, it laid the groundwork for shows like Doctor Who and Survivors and even influenced John Carpenter enough to reference him in at least three of his films.  In other words, even with the dabbling in science fiction elements, horror owes a lot to Nigel Kneale and his creation of dear Bernard Quatermass.

Said to be created from a mixture of a random name from a phone book and the Christian name of famous astronomer Bernard Lovell, Kneale created a character for his BBC serials that was not only transferable across mediums but something quintessentially British.

1955’s The Quatermass Xperiment is Hammer’s first true delve into the world of horror and its importance can really not be understated.  The birth of Hammer horror as we know can be seen before our very eyes.  This perhaps casts a shadow over its 1957 sequel, Quatermass 2. Yet when reviewing all three films, this instalment was the most solid and exciting of the three.  1967’s Quatermass and the Pit on the other hand left the simplicity behind and instead mixes up genres with folklore and asks some very dark questions indeed.

Even with the obviously massive influence of Hammer’s remakes glaring us in the face, there is still some air of snobbery surrounding the first two Hammer films.  No doubt this is down to the casting of Brian Donlevy, which even provoked a reaction from Kneale himself who thought he was atrociously miscast.

Here though that snobbery is left aside.  This reviewer came to the Quatermass world through these Hammer films and not the original BBC series therefore came to them without any previous baggage.  Donlevy is replaced for the final instalment with Andrew Keir in Quatermass and the Pit so perhaps this evens the playing field a touch.

The BBC serials themselves are of course brilliant (and come thoroughly recommended along the Thames remake of the late seventies though perhaps not the remake of 2005), yet there’s something wonderfully straightforward about Hammer’s adaptations.  Though the third instalment delves far deeper into philosophical territory than any previous Hammer film, the first two are straightforward problem-solution scenarios that hide their simplicity behind some startlingly brilliant direction, acting and location work though rampant of course with healthy dose of Cold War paranoia.

Perhaps these reviews may not coincide with the usual ranking order of three serials but overall they are easily some of Hammer’s best output and the triumphant underdog to both Cushing’s Frankenstein and Lee’s Dracula.  We are the Martians now!

Tomorrow, ADAM SCOVELL reviews the first in the three Quatermass movies, The Quatermass Xperiment.

ADAM SCOVELL is a music student specialising in film music. When not obsessively watching and writing about film, he can be found playing jazz guitar in seedy clubs and making short films found at

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Adam Scovell is a writer and filmmaker currently studying for a PhD in Music at the University of Liverpool. He has written for The Times and The Guardian, had films screened at Manchester Art Gallery, FACT and The Everyman Playhouse, and runs the twice Blog North Awards nominated website, Celluloid Wicker Man.

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