Made in Britain – Quatermass and the Pit

This Hammer sci-fi favourite is in UK cinemas for one day only on 3 July…

Hobbs End, Knightsbridge, London. Whilst working on a new subway tunnel for the London Underground a group of construction workers uncover a strangely shaped skull amongst the rubble. Nearby is another discovery: a large, mysterious and impenetrable metal object. Initially mistaken for an unexploded bomb the origins of the object and its strange power are far more horrific and terrifying than anybody could have possibly imagined. Is it of this earth? Could it be the ancestral link to mankind’s evolution? Or could it be an ancient link to unleashing ultimate evil? There’s only one man capable of unravelling the clues, his name is Professor Bernard Quatermass, a man of science who thrives on the dark mysteries of the world, a man with answers.

First released in UK cinemas back in 1967, Quatermass and the Pit was the third film by Hammer Film Productions featuring the Professor Bernard Quatermass character created by writer Nigel Kneale. Likes its predecessors – The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass 2Quatermass and the Pit was adapted from the fifties’ BBC TV serials of the same names. Adapted for the big screen by Nigel Kneale, creator and writer of the BBC versions, Quatermass and the Pit was held up in production due to finance issues and would not make it to cinemas for a whole decade following the last feature film adaptation. This delay saw a change in director and casting, replacing director Val Guest with Roy Ward Baker and actor Brian Donlevy with Andrew Keir in the lead role of Quatermass. Both would go on to have healthy careers within Hammer and elsewhere, while Keir would reprise the role of Quatermass for a 1996 radio serial once again penned by Kneale. Rounding out the cast is Hammer regular and the “First Leading Lady Of British Horror” Barbara Shelley (Dracula: Prince of Darkness) and Julian Glover as Quatermass’ nemesis in the film.

Quatermass and the Pit will return to UK cinemas in 2012 for one day only on Tuesday 3 July. This British sci-fi favourite has been selected as the fifth and final title in Studiocanal’s Made in Britain film season which looks to celebrate British film in the summer period between the Queen’s Jubilee and the 2012 Olympic games. Each film will be screened digitally using the latest restoration which, in the case of Quatermass and the Pit, was created for the 2011 Blu-ray release.

We have no less than three reviews of this sterling piece of British cinema on The Digital Fix, the most recent being the Blu-ray review by Matt Shingleton who praises the “excellent presentation” and says Quatermass and the Pit “remains one of the great examples of what can be achieved within the science fiction genre if a writer has a head full of great ideas and the ability to weave them together in a realistic way”. Going back further we have a review of the 2006 Optimum DVD by Eamonn McCusker who says “This is amongst the very best work that Hammer and Nigel Kneale ever offered and ought to be cherished as a classic of British horror” while Mike Sutton adds that the film is “intelligent and stylish enough to appeal to a wider audience” in his review of the out-of-print Warner DVD.

You can find a full listing of screening locations for the Made in Britain film season on the Ico website. Studiocanal also have a Made in Britain Facebook page for you to check out. All TDF content on the season – including our poster competition – can be found using our handy Made in Britain tag page.

Should your interest in Quatermass be sufficiently peaked then you may be interested in our reviews of the fifties TV serials and the 1979 TV series (now out-of-print). The former will be of particular interest to Quatermass and the Pit fans as it features the BBC TV original of the story.

Rounding out this introduction to the film is a short clip below, a gallery of stills at the bottom of the page and just before those we have a recent Q&A with Julian Glover who portrays Colonel Breen in the film.


By Joe Utichi – – May 2012

The film was released in 1967, a good few years after the initial QUATERMASS explosion of the 50s. Was there a hesitation to go back?

I remember the serials being very successful, and I remember watching them and loving them. We thought that this one couldn’t possibly work, because we had the memory of André Morell, who played Quatermass in the BBC serial of QUATERMASS AND THE PIT. But Roy Baker was a very good director and they made a very good job of it. We were rather sceptical about it because of how successful they’d been before on TV and in the first two Hammer films. Once I started working on it, and got to know Andrew Kier, James Donald and Barbara Shelley, I started to get a sense that it was going to work. By the standards of the time, the modelling was terribly good. There were no special effects or anything; there the bloody thing was and we had to drill into it – or not as the case may be. We were all absolutely delighted when it was such a success, though I think I’ve only seen it a couple of times. I was too young for it, I think, but I didn’t mind that. You don’t mind how old you are once you’ve got the part! [laughs]

The film did recast the role of Quatermass. They couldn’t have done much better than Andrew Kier.

Exactly, he was remarkable. He was such a strong actor. That dour, Scottish thing, which won’t be defeated and won’t go down; that was the great strength of him. It always was; everything he did was wonderful, and he was a beautiful actor. It was a very sad loss when he went. In the serial, André Morell was a completely different animal. He was much more intellectual. He was more professorial, perhaps, than Andrew. That said, Andrew had a very good head on his shoulders – he was a smart bloke – but his approach was more about not giving in and not letting the authorities overwhelm him.

He certainly doesn’t give in to Breen, who’s quite aggressive, isn’t he?

Colonel Breen, my character, is one of my many examples of being the idiot who doesn’t know what’s going on! Yes, he’s quite aggressive. He doesn’t like being told what to do! He takes an instant dislike of Quatermass. It’s the sort of part I usually play! [laughs]

You have developed quite a specialty in bad guys. Is there more meat in those roles?

The parts got better and better as they went on. I’ve had some damn good ones. I’ve always been an actor who has accepted the work he’s offered. It was never a case of picking and choosing; I got offered a lot of these sorts of roles, and so I did them. Indeed, there is a great deal of meat, and hopefully you consume the meat, and it shows. The parts I played in the Bond film, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, and then INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, they were out of Colonel Breen, but much more interesting because you knew that to the face of the world they were frightfully nice people, and would have been good company to have around, when they weren’t up to no good. With Colonel Breen, you knew nothing about his private life or any of that. He was just that figure; that authoritative figure who always gets in the way of people who’ve got the right idea.

It was your only Hammer film. It was a company with a tremendous reputation for horror.

Yes, though you could say that QUATERMASS was outside their normal brief. It was not a horror film. It was frightening, and dealt with things we don’t know about, but it wasn’t a horror film in that people didn’t suck anybody’s blood. Though I think Colonel Breen might have done had he been pushed! I’d like to have done one of Hammer’s vampire ones, I must say, but I wasn’t. You can’t be in everything!

Was it a special company to work for?

Not especially – it was a film company. It was a successful film company and they were very nice to us, though they didn’t pay us very well. No change there. They treated us properly and they were quite firm on time. They had the right director in Roy Baker, who was very, very good on timing. They were strict on that because they obviously didn’t want to spend too much money on it. They were spending a hell of a lot of money on the locusts, and those sets, which were really very good. Genuinely, the feeling of London at night at the beginning of the film was terribly good. It was very atmospheric and well done.

Was it a little grim to be spending your days in a muddy pit – albeit a fabricated one?

It was horrible. We didn’t enjoy it at all. But we got by because we got on so well as a cast. Working with James Donald was such a privilege. He was a stunningly good actor. I bought a car off him! A beautiful, silver Mercedes. I used to see him drive into Elstree Studios ahead of me every morning and I thought, “Wow, I’d love to have that car.” I told him one day and he said, “Oh, well I’m selling it, do you want it?” In many ways I was glad he did that, but in many ways I wasn’t; it was a pig of a car. [laughs]

Could you have imagined the film would have endured for this long?

Absolutely not. That is rather unexpected and delightful; that they went to the trouble of Blu-raying it and everything was something, and I can’t wait to see it on the big screen. I’ve only seen bits and bobs, when I’ve come in to do a bit of re-dubbing, but I haven’t seen the whole film in years, and I’m hoping next month to do that.


Updated: Jun 29, 2012

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