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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Quatermass 2: Enemy From Space

Hammer Films recognized a successful product in the Quatermass stories. They first produced The Quatermass Xperiment in 1955, adapted from Nigel Kneale's BBC TV series which ran in 1953. Hammer wanted to produce a sequel, but could not get permission to use the Quatermass name. They produced X The Unknown earlier in 1957, which was a Quatermass-style story but without the Quatermass character. In 1955, Kneale's Quatermass 2 TV series ran -- perhaps the first sequel to actually use a number. Hammer bought the movie rights to it. They condensed down the 3 hours (6 half-hour episodes) into an hour and a half feature film. In it's American release, it was retitled "Enemy From Space." Quatermass 2 (Q2) is a rather good B sci-fi movie, combining the alien-takeover theme with the mass invasion theme reminiscent of War of the Worlds.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Mysterious objects are falling over eastern England. Professor Quatermass, whose rocket and moon base program have been scraped by the government, is in a foul mood. Curious, he and his assistant, Marsh, travel to small village of Winnerden Flats to investigate. They find only ruins and a huge processing plant that is supposedly producing synthetic food. The plant that looks suspiciously similar to Quatermass's own proposed moon base. Marsh finds one of the objects. It bursts and he is taken ill. Storm troopers arrive and carry away Marsh. Quatermass (Q, for short) drives to a nearby working class town for help, but they're all construction workers at the plant and refuse. Q asks Inspector Lomax for help. He puts Q in touch with an MP named Broadhead who arranges for a tour of the plant. Q escapes the trap and finds Broadhead covered in black acidic goo. He dies. Q escapes and tells Lomax. They return to the worker's village to learn more. Just before being nearly ejected by angry workers, a capsule falls into the pub, infecting the local beauty. Troopers arrive, shoot a reporter trying to call in the story, and take Sheila away. The enraged workers decide to storm the plant. Meanwhile, Q has infiltrated the plant wearing a dead soldier's uniform. Inside, he sees that the domes contain writhing gooey aliens. The soldiers are about to get him when the workers storm the gate, calling away all hands. The workers succeed and take one of the pressure control rooms. Q has them switch the gasses from ammonia to oxygen -- toxic to the creatures. After a tense siege, the workers fire an anti-tank weapon at the dome. It blows up, releasing several huge gooey blob creatures. These set about stomping the plant. Q's rocket finally hits the aliens' orbiting mother ship. The creatures fall over dead and burst into flames. The world is safe...for now... The End.

Why is this movie fun?
British sci-fi has a refreshingly non-Hollywood air about it. Kneale's story has a tense paranoia to it, similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers yet with more malice. The pacing is quick and the story has many layers to it.

Cold War Angle
There is an aspect of the aliens-taking-over-the-government which fits the Cold War mood. As well, the notion of regular men turned into "zombies" by infection from "them". There is yet a second layer (see Notes section) that is still Cold War, but more introspective.

Like On TV... -- Q2 was adapted from a six part TV series run by the BBC in 1955. Hammer Films condensed Nigel Kneale's screenplay reasonably well, keeping the story almost unchanged. A notable change was near the end. The BBC version had no monsters emerge from the domes. They simply died in there. The BBC version had Q fly in his rocket to the asteroid. There, he left his nuclear motor behind as a bomb, then returned. In the film, the rocket is sent as a pilotless drone to do the same thing. Beyond this, the two stories are very much alike.

First To Phobia? -- Hammer's Q2 was released in 1957, after Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it was not a copy or spin-off. The TV series was written in '55, before the '56 film. Of course, Jack Finney's novel "The Body Snatchers" was serialized in '54, but alien take-overs had been in the movies prior to both. The Man From Planet X ('51) featured villagers taken over by the alien to do his manual labor. Invaders From Mars ('53) featured people taken over via alien implants to do the martian's bidding. Q2, however, is a powerful example of this sub-genre.

Goverphobia -- Where Finney's Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a less specific tale of paranoia about friends who "change," Q2 is more specific. It's more about fear of one's own government being compromised by the aliens. This could be communism, of course, but there is a double edge to that sword. The government secrecy and storm troopers with obvious nazi overtones look back at a Cold War spooked government which feels justified in any action (regardless of civil rights). This had a Cold War application, but still finds resonance in our post-9/11 terrorist-phobic world.

Cold Blooded Killers -- For a refreshing change, the aliens come from a very alien place -- one of the cold outer planets, perhaps a moon of Saturn. Also refreshing, they are not humanoid and do not speak English. In fact, they make no effort to communicate with earth's current inhabitants. They simply use them. With no particular explanation, they come to invade and colonize the earth. As advanced as they're supposed to be, they need humans to create a suitable ammonia-based environment for them first. The final blob things are definitely not humanoid.

Bottom line? Q2 is well worth watching for fans of 50s sci-fi. It combines some potent themes -- alien take-overs and global invasion -- quite successfully.


Mike Scott said...

Always enjoy reading your posts on classic sci-fi!

Wish they'd put the Hammer film out on DVD, again! In the meantime, you can watch the BBC serial online. Here's a link to pt. 1:


Hope you'll join us at It Came From The 50s!

Unknown said...

Howdy Movie Fans,

I have seen this movie several times…………

What the heck was that, something just flew over my head?

“Just an overshoot Luv”.

The plot line is good, the coarse acting is great.

Brian Donlevy is an excellent actor.

The miniatures are just fine.

When I was a kid, the part where the people are turned into “human pulp” by the aliens scared the wits out of me.

The giant monsters are a tad on the hokey side, but who is keeping score?

All in all, a fun 50’s science fiction.

And I will watch it again

See you at the movies,