Val Guest's QUATERMASS 2 (ENEMY FROM SPACE)
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
This mixture of British horror and sci-fi from 1957 is thoughtful and at the same time scary. I remember being terrified by several scenes when it was released in the U.S. as “Enemy from Space.” Seeing it again on the recent DVD release makes it clear why. The movie well acted, well directed, well written, and well produced. It exudes professionalism — thanks greatly to Val Guest, the director who professes (in the recorded DVD commentary) to have had little experience with science fiction up till then.
Hats off too to Brian Donleavy, who plays rocket establishment manager Quatermass with bullheaded aggressiveness. It’s also in black and white, which suits the film well.
Perhaps most arresting is the extensive use of a giant Shell oil refinery as a stand-in for a secret base that is (according to the government) manufacturing artificial food. Hero Quatermass suspects otherwise. Once he and colleagues make their way onto the giant facility in a government sanctioned inspection visit, he quickly finds out the horrible truth about What Is Really Growing In Those Giant Domes that loom so menacingly on the horizon.
Several scenes still give me the creeps, even after so many years have passed since the first viewing. One is the descent down a twisting metal staircase of a Quatermass colleague who has fallen into one of the domes and has been hideously burned. The effects are simple but grisly. Another is the splitting of a gas-feeding pipe that is poisoning dome occupants by the stuffing of a captured human into the narrow pipe to stop the gas flow. Horrible screams precede the splitting of the pipe and the horrified realization by Quatermass that what is dripping out is human blood. That’s all we see, but that’s enough.
There are some very interesting historical undercurrents, too. One is that the (British) government is portrayed as being secretly in league with an alien-managed plot to take over the earth. Sound familiar? Another is the assumption that following World War II the British had the wherewithal to finance a nuclear rocket program, independent of what the U.S. and others were doing at the time.
If you know anything about post World War II British technology development, you can’t help but view as tragic what happened to British aeronautical research and development once the true costs of keeping up with the Americans and the Russians became apparent to the Labor government. I’m sure there are plenty of companies in the U.S. that were quite happy that the British could not (or would not) maintain the same pace as the U.S. Seeing Quatermass 2 is a reminder that it was not always assumed that the first human on the moon would be American or Russian.
I highly recommend this film. It’s creepy, imaginative, and still very effective despite its age. See also Val Guest’s DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE.
Movie review copyright (c) 2002 by Dennis D. McDonald