THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (Val Guest, 1955)

I e-mailed these remarks to friends in early June 2006:

A sharp satire on Cold War tunnel vision in which science substitutes for politics, The Quatermass Xperiment confirms for me what The Day the Earth Caught Fire, about which I wrote to you maybe two weeks ago, suggested: Val Guest, who died last month, is a brilliant artist. He brings documentary realism to the most outrageously grotesque sci-fi/horror material. This particular film, which was originally released here in the States in a trimmed version titled The Creeping Unknown, ingeniously conflates the vampire and the sci-fi alien genres before anticipating The Blob. Much of the black-and-white imagery is stunning, and some of it resembles that of an American film released the same year: Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly. The one American member of the cast, Brian Donlevy, who plays Quatermass, doesn’t quite fit in, but the Brits are all excellent. Quatermass is the last word in mad scientists; he seems perfectly sensible and sane.
     This is one of the most terrifying movies imaginable; it must have been considerably milder in its American incarnation, because I saw The Creeping Unknown with my mom when I was 8 or 9, and at that age I simply wouldn’t have survived anything as frightening as this complete version. The all-absorbing blob at the end is a bit of a disappointment, but I promise you that, after seeing this film, you will never look at a cactus plant again without thinking about the film and experiencing a shudder. I recommend seeing the film, either on DVD or VHS, late at night, with all the lights turned off. And not alone, because you’ll need someone to grab onto in terror. I’m not kidding! And this movie is about something—something, as it happens, that’s applicable to Bush and his war in Iraq.

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