Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Quatermass and the Pit

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Two screened Technofantasies, 1 being a Television serial, 2 being a movie based on 1.

1. UK tv serial (1958-1959). BBC. Pr Rudolph Cartier. Spfx Jack Kine, Bernard Wilkie. Writer Nigel Kneale. Script published as Quatermass and the Pit (1960) by Kneale. Starring Anthony Bushell (Colonel Breen), Christine Finn (Barbara Judd), Cec Linder (Dr Matthew Roney), André Morell (Professor Bernard Quatermass), John Stratton (Captain Potter), Brian Worth (James Fullalove). 6 35min episodes. B/w. Released as a video "tvm" (1988), 178 mins.

The Technofantasy par excellence. Excavations in London under Hobbs Lane – the locale has a history of Ghosts and Poltergeists – reveal fossils of exceptionally early hominids and, alongside them, a five-million-year-old Martian spaceship. During the excavations, spectral manifestations are witnessed; the spaceship is engraved with cabbalistic signs. Historical records show that any ground disturbance in the area has triggered appearances of beings perceived as imps, Goblins and Demons. Coincidentally, chief archaeologist Roney has invented a prototype "opticencephalograph" – a sort of telepathy machine capable of projecting thoughts onto a tv screen. Through its use we discover that our racial memories of the Devil are in fact of the horned, insectile Martians; the Ritual self-culling of that race gave rise to our legend of the Wild Hunt. The human species is a product of psychological tinkering by the Martians with our hominid ancestors: in effect, we are all still victims of demonic Possession. Psychic disturbances radiate from the newly activated spaceship, and London falls into rioting chaos as the Wild Hunt is enacted afresh.

Kneale has a dour faith in human stupidity that leads the motivational aspects of the plot well beyond plausibility, and his fixed anthropocentrism is depressing (the Martians were Evil because their social customs were alien to ours); there are some bizarre scientific gaffes. The production was obviously shoestring – props wobble. Yet the cumulative effect of QATP is exceptionally powerful, and its fiesta of fantasy ideas easily carries the interest through its several longueurs.

It is virtually inconceivable that Stephen King was not strongly influenced by QATP in writing The Tommyknockers (1987). [JG]

2. (vt Five Million Years to Earth US) UK movie (1967). British-Pathe/Seven Arts-Hammer/20th Century-Fox. Pr Anthony Nelson Keys. Dir Roy Ward Baker. Spfx Bowie Films. Screenplay Nigel Kneale. Based on 1. Starring James Donald (Roney), Julian Glover (Breen), Andrew Keir (Quatermass), Bryan Marshall (Potter), Barbara Shelley (Judd). 97 mins. Colour.

The same story as 1, with frequent duplications of dialogue, but pared back and with slightly more effort taken to cover up the wilder scientific unlikelihoods. Did this movie stand alone its reputation would be higher; as it is – despite good performances and dramatic spfx – it suffers severely by comparison with 1, almost certainly because 1's low-budget murkiness and slowness left more room for the viewer's imagination. [JG]


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.