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Soon after lockdown began, [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 and I worked out a basic way of doing a virtual film-watch together. We use FB messenger for it, starting off with a video-chat to say hi, catch up and get ready for the film, then switching to text-based chat while the film itself is on, and finishing up by returning to video to discuss what we thought of it and have a bit more social time. This was the first film we watched that way, taking advantage of the fact that Talking Pictures were showing it anyway, so someone else would do the business of pressing 'play' for us.

It's one of my absolute favourite Hammer films, but although I watched and wrote about the TV version a few years ago when the BBC made it available on iPlayer (LJ / DW) I don't think I've ever reviewed the film version here.

It uses a script developed for film treatment by Nigel Kneale, author of the original TV version, so fairly unsurprisingly it follows the same plot pretty closely. The most obvious differences are the removal of a subplot about a journalist covering the discovery, and the fact that the Martian capsule is found during work on the London Underground rather than during construction work in Knightsbridge. That latter change means that the relationship to the discovery of the London Mithraeum which so struck me when I watched the TV version disappears, but I don't really mind as the London Underground setting is excellent and so iconic of 1960s Britain. I think the character of Barbara is a little more prominent in the film version too, which is also very welcome as she is played by Barbara Shelley whom I love beyond measure.

The production values are very high on the scale of what Hammer could do, and indeed it's one of those Hammer films like The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula or The Mummy where a form of magic seems to have happened, and everyone involved was at their absolute best. In keeping with the TV version, it has a very intelligent script, dealing with profound social issues including racism and groupthink, and setting up well-defined and plausible conflicts between different forms of authority (military, academic, political, ecclesiastical). It does also perpetuate some of the same tropes around women and working-class people being more sensitive to primitive alien influences as as in the TV version, though I should note in fairness that we see our ultimate academic authority-figure, Quatermass, falling into the grip of it too.

It also has absolutely amazing sets, which were purpose-built for the film by Bernard Robinson on the back lot at Elstree, where Hammer were working at the time. You could very easily believe they were real London streets, but they aren't, as this image from Peveril Publishing's book Hammer's Grand Designs (which I highly recommend) shows:

2020-03-27 22.23.20.jpg

There are so many good scenes in it that it's hard to pick a favourite. There are plenty which build the tension up nicely as successive discoveries are made in and around the Martian capsule, including very good use made of horrible disorienting sound effects which drive characters mad, and then some good climatic moments such as when winds rush through the underground station, possessed crowds rampage in the streets and of course Roney heroically swings a crane into the huge Martian apparition at the end.

But I think one particularly effective scene comes about a third of the way in, when Quatermass, Barbara and a policeman investigate a deserted house immediately above the underground station. The policeman is visibly uncomfortable with the childhood memories he recounts there, knowing that he is supposed to be rationalistic, but also clearly experiencing visceral and traumatic flashbacks to what he experienced. It gets right to the heart of the conflict between the rational and the emotive mind which horror likes to probe at. And probably the best scene of all, mainly because the film has really earned it by this point, is the shot which the closing credits roll over, of Barbara Shelley and Andrew Keir outside the underground station just staring around them, traumatised at everything they have witnessed.

A fine example of what Hammer could do, and one I'll always happily re-watch.

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 19th, 2020 08:54 am (UTC)
Watching films together, either over WhatsApp/Telegram with one or two friends or en masse over Twitter, has been one of the great pleasures of lockdown (it's something I'd done a couple of times before, but not to this extent). I hope it continues when we're all released and busier.
Apr. 19th, 2020 06:06 pm (UTC)
Yes, it's a useful discovery. Though I find that it's only really something I want to do for films I already know well or expect to be relatively light-weight. If it's something I feel I'll want to concentrate on, I don't really want to be distracted by keeping looking at the messages I am writing or reading instead of the screen.
Apr. 20th, 2020 07:02 am (UTC)
Yes, same - luckily those are the films I mostly feel like watching anyway!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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