Two years after ‘The Quatermass Xperiment’, Brian Donelevy was back as the nutty professor in ‘Quatermass 2’ (I have wondered if this film and the TV version that preceded it are the first examples of numbered sequels, but it’s not like I’ve looked into it or anything). Once again, Quatermass is battling an alien invasion, this time a methane breathing mass of micro-organisms who have been coming to Earth in artificial meteor showers, latching onto human hosts and getting the resulting zombies, some of whom are in positions of authority, to do stuff for them, including building a massive, top secret base out in the country.
Shot mostly on location, the film benefits from filming at two fantastic sites: the new town of Hemel Hempstead, still under construction (more here) and the huge but lightly manned Shell refinery at Stanford-le-Hope in Essex (the facility was largely automated, which adds to the eerie atmosphere). It is at the refinery where the bulk of the horror takes place: an MP dies after snooping around a storage tank and being covered in a horrible, hot, corrosive black slime; men are murdered and their bodies shoved into pipes to stop Quatermass gassing the aliens; the metal domes are not full of synthetic food (the cover story), but with millions of individual alien life forms clinging together to make a pulsating, undulating giant pile of greasy, toxic life. Best of all are the silent, scarred guards – mindless enforcers and killers for an alien hive mind. They are cool.
Full of conspiracy and unease, ‘Quatermass 2’ is a superbly paranoid film, brilliantly creating a world where nothing is as it seems and all the misgivings the individual has about big business, corporate secrets and government collusion turn out to be true, and the implications far worse than anyone (except perhaps David Icke) could imagine.
Donlevy is noticeably less shouty as Quatermass this time around, although he still truncates his sentences and has a fairly obvious stand in for scenes that require rapid movement. He is ably supported by a cast of smooth British character actors, including the unflappable John Longden, the suave William Franklyn and a bequiffed Bryan Forbes. Sid James is in it too, playing a drunken, wide boy journalist who dies a hero.
The script was adapted from the original teleplay by Nigel Kneale himself, and condenses three hours of TV into a tidy hour and twenty five. It’s a classic, and a huge favourite of mine.