The British-American Rocket Group, headed by the taciturn Professor Bernard Quatermass, launches its first manned rocket into outer space. Shortly thereafter, all contact is lost with the rocket and its three-man crew: Carroon, Reichenheim and Green. The large rocket later returns to Earth, crashing into an English country field. Quatermass and his assistant Marsh arrive at the scene. With them are the local emergency services, Carroon’s wife Judith, Rocket Group physician Dr. Briscoe and Blake, a Ministry official who chides Quatermass repeatedly for launching the rocket without official permission. The rocket’s hatch is finally opened, and the space-suited Carroon stumbles out. There is no sign of the other two crew. Carroon is in shock, only able to say the words, “Help me”. Inside the rocket, Quatermass and Marsh find only the fastened but completely empty spacesuits of the two missing men.
Carroon is taken to Briscoe’s laboratory facility on the grounds that conventional hospitals and doctors would have no idea how to evaluate or treat the world’s first returned astronaut, now suffering from some sort of adverse outer space event. Even under Briscoe’s attentive care, Carroon remains mute, generally immobile, but alert with eyes that now have a feral and cunning quality. Briscoe discovers an oddly disfigured area on his shoulder and notices changes in his face, suggesting some sort of mutation of the underlying bone structure. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard Inspector Lomax has undertaken investigation of the other two men’s disappearance and, having surreptitiously fingerprinted Carroon as a suspect, alerts Quatermass that the prints are like nothing human.
At Judith’s insistence that Briscoe is not helping her husband, Quatermass agrees to have Carroon transferred to a regular hospital, under guard. Marsh, meanwhile, has developed the film from the rocket’s interior view camera, and Quatermass, Lomax and Briscoe watch it. The crew are seen for a time at their duties, then suddenly, something seems to heavily buffet the ship. After that, there is a nightmarish wavering distortion of the cabin’s atmosphere, and the men react as if something frightening, yet not visible, is there with them. One by one they collapse, Carroon being the last.
Quatermass and Briscoe determine from the evidence that something living in outer space has entered the spaceship, dissolved Reichenheim and Green in their sealed spacesuits, and evidently entered Carroon’s body, who is now in the process of being transformed by this unknown entity. Not knowing any of this, Carroon’s wife, Judith, hires a private investigator, Christie, to break her husband out of the secured hospital. The escape is successful, but not before Carroon smashes a potted cactus in his hospital room, which fuses to his flesh. In the lift he kills Christie and absorbs the life force in his body, leaving a shrivelled husk. Judith quickly discovers what is happening to her husband. Carroon disappears into the London night, leaving her unharmed, but completely traumatized.
Inspector Lomax initiates a manhunt for Carroon, who goes to a nearby chemist’s shop and kills the chemist, using his swollen, crusty, cactus-thorn-riddled hand and arm as a cudgel and leaving a twisted, empty man-husk to be found by the police. Quatermass theorizes that Carroon has taken select chemicals to “speed up a change going on inside of him”. After hiding on a river barge, Carroon encounters a little girl, leaving her unharmed through sheer force of will. That night he is in the zoo, barely visible amongst some shadowed bushes, now with far less of his human form remaining. In the morning, scattered animal carcasses are found, their life forces having been absorbed, with a slime trail leading away from the zoo. Among the bushes, Quatermass and Briscoe also find a small but living remnant of Carroon, and take it back to their laboratory. Following an examination, Quatermass concludes that some kind of predatory alien life has completely taken over and will eventually release reproduction spores, endangering the entire planet.
The remnant, having now grown much larger, breaks out of its glass cage, but dies of starvation on the floor. On a police tip from a vagrant, Lomax and his men track the Carroon mutation to Westminster Abbey, where it has crawled high up on a metalwork scaffolding. It is now a gigantic shapeless mass of combined animal and plant tissue with eyes, distended nodules, and tentacle-like fronds filled with spores. Quatermass arrives and orders London’s electrical power centres be combined and the generated power quickly diverted to the Abbey. Heavy duty electrical cable is run and attached to the bottom of the metal scaffolding. The alien creature is cremated by electrocution before it can release its spores.
The threat eliminated, Quatermass quickly walks out of the Abbey, preoccupied by his thoughts. He ignores all who ask questions. Marsh, his assistant, approaches and asks “What are you going to do?” Never breaking stride, Quatermass offhandedly replies, “I’m going to start again”. He leaves Marsh behind, walking off into the dark, and sometime later a second manned rocketship roars into outer space.
In 1954, Hammer’s long-running co-production deal with Robert Lippert, which had begin with The Last Page/Man Bait (1952) was about to end with Women Without Men (1956), and the company was in desperate need of a new outlook and a fresh approach. Second features had had their day, and with the advent of Cinemascope, Hamnet was being forced to move up to first feature production in order to survive. Hammer had bought the rights to The Quatermass Experiment the previous year. “I had seen the first two episodes of the television serial and I thought it was great stuff.” said producer and company co-director Anthony Hinds When my partner, James Carreras saw the third, he and I went to the BBC and told them we’d produce the film version and give them a split of the profits. They agreed immediately.
Val Guest was hired to direct the film. In his approach to directing the film, Guest sought to make “a slightly wild story more believable” by creating a “science fact” film, shot “as though shooting a special programme for the BBC or something”. Influenced by Elia Kazan’s Panic in the Streets (1950), Guest employed a cinéma vérité style, making extensive use of hand-held camera, even on set, an unusual technique for the time which horrified several of the technicians employed on the film. To inject pace and add further realism into the story, Guest directed his actors to deliver their lines rapid-fire and to overlap the dialogue. A meticulous planner, he created storyboards for every shot and mounted them on a blackboard so as to brief the crew for each day’s scenes. As a consequence, some members of the crew found Guest’s approach to be too mechanical.
The first draft of the screenplay was written by Richard Landau, an American who had worked on six previous Hammer productions, including Spaceways (1953), one of the company’s first forays into science fiction. Landau made significant changes in condensing the action to less than half the length of the original teleplay. The opening thirty minutes of the television version are covered in just two minutes in the Hammer film. In the process Landau played up the horror elements of Kneale’s original teleplay. Aware that the film would be co-funded by American backers, Landau added a transatlantic dimension to the script: Quatermass’s “British Rocket Group” became the “British-American Rocket Group” and the character of his assistant, Briscoe, was rewritten as a US Air Force flight surgeon. Quatermass himself was demoted to a doctor and written much more as an action hero than the thoughtful scientist created by Nigel Kneale. Some characters from the television version, such as the journalist James Fullalove, are omitted altogether. Judith Carroon’s role in the film version is reduced to little more than that of the stricken astronaut’s anxious wife, whereas in the television version she is also a prominent member of Quatermass’s Rocket Group. A subplot involving an extramarital affair between her and Briscoe is also left out of the film version. Kneale was particularly aggravated by the dropping from his original teleplay the notion that Carroon has absorbed not only the bodies but also the memories and the personalities of his two fellow astronauts. This change leads to the most significant difference between the two versions: in the television version, Quatermass makes a personal appeal to the last vestiges that remain of the three absorbed astronauts to make the creature commit suicide before it can spore, whereas in the film version Quatermass kills the creature by electrocution. Director Val Guest defended this change believing it was “filmically a better end to the story”. He also felt it unlikely that Brian Donlevy’s gruff interpretation of Quatermass would lend itself to talking the creature into submission.
The script was refined further by director Val Guest, who cut 30 pages from Landau’s script. One of Guest’s key script contributions was to tailor the dialogue to suit the brusque style of star Brian Donlevy. With an American actor cast as Quatermass, Guest reverted Briscoe to a British character and reinstated Quatermass’s title of professor. Guest also adapted some sections of the script in response to the concerns of the BBFC. Further stylistic changes were sought by the BBC, who retained a script approval option after the sale of the rights and asked Nigel Kneale to work on their suggested changes, much to his indignation. Kneale was tasked with rewriting any scenes featuring BBC announcers to match the BBC’s news reporting style.
“Now, in doing this, you make an enemy of the writer, in this case Tom (Nigel Kneale) but that’s life in this picture business. The writer always feels you’ve taken out the best parts and the film-maker has to say, ‘This is what I think people will sit through without shuffling their feet,’ and has to take the decision of what to cut. It’s like making a two-hour film of War and Peace – something has to go.” Perhaps understandably, Val seems irked by the criticisms he has heard come from Kneale’s direction. “You know, I am getting awfully tired of people telling me how Nigel Kneale didn’t like things,” he says. “In all my years in this film industry I cannot remember anybody who had more upsets, worries and grumbles I have heard – from other people – that Nigel Kneale has. He seems to go through life grumbling about everything. He didn’t like the casting of Donlevy, he didn’t like the way the script was written, he was upset about the first Quatermass film because he thought we’d ruined the whole thing. I quite honestly think he should shut up and thank his lucky stars that Hammer took a television writer, of immense talent and brilliance, and turned him into a world-wide name in his genre. Even the most brilliant writer needs an editor, someone to sub his stuff down and peddle it to the public so they won’t go away yawning. I have a great respect and admiration for him, but I cannot stand hearing about all these things he’s supposed to have complained about over the years.”
Val is full of praise for the star of his Quatermass films, Brian Donlevy. “Donlevy was a very good actor,” he says, “and for my money it was far better to play someone as down-to-earth and factual, as he was, than it was to play him as an ethereal professor. He fitted in beautifully with my method of trying to film it as a newsreel and make it more believable. The whole thing with all these pictures was to never do a scene that you didn’t honestly believe couldn’t happen. For me, Donlevy gave a down-to-earth feel to a very off-the-earth subject.”
Whereas his star was chosen by the American money men, Val does remember being given a freer hand in most other areas of the production. “No-one has complete control,” he says. “The producer, but no-one else. I mean, I had 90 per cent casting control, as a writer I had 90 per cent script control and as a director I had 100 per cent control of the sort of film I wanted to make. You never get complete control, unless you are a writer/director/producer, which in later years I became.”
The casts of the first two Quatermass films were full of household names Sid James, Thora Hird, and Jack Warner among them. “I used to have a sort of film rep company,” says Val, “and a lot of these people, like Sid James, I used to write in. I hadn’t worked with Jack Warner before, but I knew him. Thora Hird I’d used before. They were all part of our family. We had fun and everybody knew their business. If they weren’t pros, we wouldn’t use them again.” Val also gave new talent a try and, in The Quatermass Xperiment, featured a relative newcomer to film, Lionel Jeffries, as Blake, the man from the Ministry. “Thereafter, I wrote Lionel into every other film I did,” says Val.
Principal photography began on 12 October 1954 with a night shoot at Chessington Zoo and continued from 18 October 1954 into December. The budget was £42,000, low even by the standards of Hammer at the time. The scenes with the crashed rocket were shot in a corn field at Water Oakley, near Bray. It was originally intended to make the crash site look more spectacular by setting fire to the field but bad weather interfered. Guest used a wide-angle lens for these shots to convey a feeling of vastness to the scene.
The hull of the rocket was built on a field next to the lot, adjacent to Water Oakley Farm. The rocket ship in the opening sequence, we built in the grounds at Bray Studios, said Guest. “It looked enormous but it wasn’t really, we only built the bottom put of it, the rest was matted on afterwards. I used wide-angle lenses on it most of the time to give it a feeling of vastness … The fire engines roared through the village of Bray itself, right past Bray Garage.
Carroon’s encounter with the little girl was filmed at the East India Docks in London. A second unit, under cameraman Len Harris, conducted additional location shooting around London for the montage scenes of the police search for Carroon. For the shot of the lights of London going out when the electricity is diverted to Westminster Abbey, an agreement was made with one of the engineers at Battersea Power Station to turn off the lights illuminating the outside of the station; however the engineer misunderstood and briefly cut all the power along the River Thames. Most of the remaining location shooting was done in the Windsor area. The rest of the film was shot at Hammer’s Bray Studios, with the New Stage there housing the sets for the hospital and the interior of Westminster Abbey. Michael Carreras had written to the Abbey seeking permission to film there but was refused. The rooms of Down Place, the former country house Bray Studios were built around, were used for other scenes such as Inspector Lomax’s office. Art director James Elder Wills, in his final film for Hammer, made great use of the existing architecture of Down Place to enhance the effectiveness of his sets.
The work of makeup artist Phil Leakey in transforming Richard Wordsworth’s Carroon into the mutating creature was a key contribution to the effectiveness of the film. Val Guest, Anthony Hinds, and Leakey all agreed that the makeup should make Carroon appear pitiful rather than ugly. Leakey placed a light above the actor in the makeup chair and then worked on accentuating the shadows cast by his eyebrows, nose, chin and cheekbones. The makeup was a liquid rubber solution mixed with glycerine to give the impression of sweat. Leakey’s job was made easier by Wordsworth’s natural high cheekbones and hollow temples and he also worked closely with cinematographer Walter J. Harvey to ensure the lighting in each shot emphasized Wordsworth’s features. Leakey mentions that this, and much of the rest of the makeup, “was invented using simple items-corn flakes, rice, cotton wool, rubber and latex. We had no laboratory in the studio at that time, so I had to make everything at my home! The cactus-arm was a wraparound piece made from rubber, cast from a plaster mold, which was attached to a lady’s stocking so Richard could slip it on and off easily. Likewise, the handpiece was built onto a cotton glove.” The rest of the arm was built up using latex and rubber and, inside, had a series of plastic tubes through which fluid was pumped to give the effect of the arm swelling. A large sponge-rubber prosthetic was used for a brief scene in the zoo showing Carroon’s mutation had advanced further. The shrivelled corpses of Carroon’s victims, glimpsed from time to time in the film, were also made by Leakey.
Leakey’s work at Shepperton eventually led to his being hired by Exclusive Films, the precursor to Hammer. Standard makeups were the rule for the most part during this time, until Hammer Films emerged from beneath the Exclusive banner. One of the earliest productions to carry the Hammer brand name was The Quatermass Experiment, known in the U.S. as The Creeping Unknown. It was the first picture which allowed Leakey to explore a wholly new makeup terrain. Its unusual story about an astronaut who returns from space possessed by alien spores which turn him into a kind of life-absorbing sponge, allowed for some truly creative moments for the first time in Leakey’s career. Hammer Cast British character actor Richard Wordsworth in the pivotal role of the astronaut.
“Richard remained in the hands of the makeup department for as long as he maintained humanoid form,” says Leakey, pointing out that once Wordsworth’s character became too inhuman, it was time for the special effects team to take over. Special effects technician Les Bowie recalled, “We did Quatermass on a budget so low it wasn’t a real budget. I did it for wages not as a proper effects man who gets allocated a certain budget for a movie”. The shots of the emergency services rushing to the rocket crash site at the beginning of the movie were filmed in the village of Bray, Berkshire, where Hammer’s studios were located.
Les Bowie provided the special effects: he had made his name perfecting an improved technique for matte painting, called the delineating matte, and formed a company with Vic Margutti that specialised in matte effects. Bowie provided a number of matte paintings to enhance the scale of certain key shots in the film, including the crashed rocket, the Westminster Abbey set, and the shot of Quatermass walking away from the Abbey at the climax of the film. Partly because of the concerns raised by the BBFC and partly on account of the low budget, Val Guest kept the creature largely off-screen for much of the film, feeling that audiences’ imaginations would fill in the blanks more effectively than he and the special effects team could deliver on-screen. For the climactic scenes at Westminster Abbey, however, Bowie created a monster from tripe and rubber and photographed it against a model of the Abbey. Sparks and fireworks were used for the shots of the creature being electrocuted. Michael Carreras felt something was missing when he viewed the first cut of this scene: he said, “There was this great glob of something hanging about on the scaffolding. And they had put in the best music they could and put the best effects on it, but it meant nothing as far as I was concerned … absolutely nothing at all”. An eye was added to the model of the monster and a human scream added to the soundtrack to give the creature some semblance of humanity in its final moments. Models were also used for the rocket blasting off in the film’s final shot.
The film had its premiere at the London Pavilion in Piccadilly Circus on Friday 26th August 1955. Playing in support was one of Hammer’s shorts, the 29-minute The Erle Winstone Band Show, featuring Alma Cogan and Kenny Baker. When Quatermass went out on general release through ABC from 20th November 1955, the featurette was dropped. and a suitable stable mate had to be found from the mostly foreign) X certificate films that were currently available. Jules Dassin’s Rinna French ‘caper’ movie that had received me notices because of a nail-biting robbery sequence, was picked for the second half of the show. The publicity material that was issued by Hammer to ABC managers suggested that they should headline their newspaper ads with slogans such as. “Engulfs you in a limbo of terror and “Colossus of sprawling terror! The Quatermass Xperiment achieved impressive box-office results, both in London and the country at large
By September, Robert Lappert had Columbia interested in distributing The Quaternas Xperiment in the States, but, judging the film to be in competition with their own R Came From Beneath the Sea (which was luming out to be the biggest science-fiction hit of the year), Columbia delerred their decision Lippert promptly retitled the film Shockl, but there were mo takers With the sci-fi boom in full swing by the end of 1953, and Hammet about to start a second science-horror X – The Unknown Lippert finally settled on The Creeping Unknown as the title most likely to appeal to American teen audiences
In March 1956. The Creeping Unknown was taken up by United Artists. According to Variety’s report of 28th March Lippert was paid a fiat fee of $125.000 for the rights, United Artists lopped four minutes of the running time of The Creeping Unknown and opened it in June 1956 with The Black Sleep, alised Gothic potboiler that traded on the ageing talents of Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney Jr. The billing was 50 Successful that Limited Artists not only wanted a sequel but to fund it as well and double Hammer’s modest budget for The Quatermass Xperiment in the process!
Interview with Director Val Guest
What led you to direct The Quatermass Experiment in England?
Val Guest: I was working elsewhere at theç time and Tony Hinds called me up to ask if I’d seen Quatermass on television. I hadn’t, as I had been off on location filming. Anyway, he mentioned that they were going to adapt it for the cinema, and was I interested? Well, I was just about to go off to Tangier for a holiday, but he suggested I take the script with me to have a look. Tony turned up at the airport with a big pile of scripts, the whole television script, and I politely took the lot. I left them by the side of my bed for most of the holiday and just read the precis. I couldn’t make up my mind as to whether or not I wanted to do the film, but my wife encouraged me to seriously consider the story, and I finally said yes. I remember she said, “Why don’t you have a go,” and I replied “Oh, it’s science fiction-it’s not really me.” She came back at me saying, “Since when have you been ethereal?” Well, I had no answer to that, (laughs] so I informed Tony I would do it.
Part of the funding for the movie came from an American producer named Robert Lippert.
Val Guest: Robert Lippert was one of the-I don’t want to say Poverty Row producers, but you know what I mean. He was one of the small, independent producers working in Hollywood. Jimmy Carreras used to do quite a bit of work with Bob, and Bob used to give Jimmy distribution of some kind in the early days of Hammer. Lippert was a nice enough guy. He had a girlfriend called Margia Dean, who I was asked to put into the film; she was a sweet girl, but she couldn’t act.
What part of QUATERMASS was shot in Windsor Castle?
Val Guest: Not in the Castle, in the city of Windsor. In the shadow of the castle, yes; in fact, we were about 100 yards away when we shot the scene of Richard Wordsworth breaking into the pharmacy.
Are you aware that the film is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the only film on record that scared a person to death?
Val Guest: No! I don’t believe that. Really?
I don’t know the exact details but it happened somewhere in America back in ’57. During a performance, a small boy died of what the coroner described as heart collapse.
Val Guest: That’s in the Guinness Book of Records? Well, I didn’t know that. Still, it’s not a very good thing to be in for, is it?
A lot of your films, either as director, writer or producer, have been comedies. How did you approach the sciencefiction premise of The Creeping Unknown?
Val Guest: I felt right from the start that there should be a sense of science fact about the story. Almost a feeling of cinemaverite, if you like. You’ve got to believe 100 percent in what you’re doing on a film of that nature, and I wanted the audience to believe that it could happen, so I tried to present it in a newsreel fashion. I wanted the story to seem rather everyday, to make it frightening, and tried to shoot it like a documentary. We used a lot of hand-held cameras to achieve certain shots. It certainly was a far cry from comedy.
Hammer’s films were always lowbudget. I imagine that factor imposed a number of restrictions.
Val Guest: Yes, it did. But on the other hand it provided an enormous groundwork of having to think quickly and deeply. It really was a case of necessity being the mother of invention. The fact that we worked on miniscule budgets and tight schedules was a great training ground. Talking of restrictive budgets, I remember the last days of The Creeping Unknown posed some problems. We were going to film the final scene where the monster takes over Westminster Abbey, and Tony Hinds told me that Jack Warner, who played the police inspector, wouldn’t be available for the shooting because they couldn’t afford him. I told Tony that it was ridiculous, the character had been in the film from the start and that it was down in the screenplay that he was present in the last scene. We couldn’t shoot it without him. But Tony said no, so I ended up paying Jack’s fee out of my own pocket to get him in on the set for the shots needed, which was a silly state of affairs.
I hope they paid you back.
Val Guest: They did. They were horrified when I did it. But it demonstrates just how limited their money was.
Even though some plot elements have dated both The Creeping Unknown and Enemy From Space, the sequel, they stand up well today. Did you enjoy making them?
Val Guest: Yes, although I haven’t seen either of them for several years, so I can’t say whether or not they have lost their original strengths. I last saw The Creeping Unknown at a fantasy festival about seven years ago and it seemed fine to me at the time. Enemy From Space was never a favorite of mine, though. On that film I think we were digging too deep to try to achieve the same thing, perhaps pushing our luck. It was rather gimmicky. The first film was linear in its dramatic direction and worked very well. The second one with the aliens trying to colonize the Earth was a bit too complicated and convoluted for its own good. Personally, I don’t like it at all. But it’s not a bad film.
Following Enemy From Space you made another film based on a Nigel Kneale television script, in this case The Creature, also originally made by the BBC, but released as The Abominable Snowman by Hammer. Despite a solid performance by Peter Cushing it has dated considerably. What are your feelings?
Val Guest: I didn’t like it, even then. If the budget had been larger and we’d had the opportunity to go and make it on location it would have been a far better picture. We were tied by the lack of money and the limited locations we !could create in the studio. It wasn’t sufficiently convincing. For that sort of film the budget was totally inadequate.
Wasn’t some of the film shot in the French Pyrenees?
Val Guest: Yes, we went off for a few days to shoot long shots of doubles roped together for the expository mountaineering scenes. Climbing and that sort of thing. But we didn’t have any actors present, and that would have made a great difference. There’s so much I could have done with that picture.
Immediately after Quatermass, Hammer turned to Kneale’s 1955 BBC television play The Creature, changing the title to The Abominable Snowman (1956). Once again, Guest and Kneale were retained as director and writer respectively. Although Kneale was the only writer credited on the project and the film retained a principal star from the television version, the team still experienced familiar difficulties. “We had to cut the script to make it more cinematic,” Val recalls. “It had sounded a bit like standing on a soapbox and pronouncing theories – all very well, but only to a certain extent.” The script dealt with the potential extermination of an entire species for profit by professional hunters and it was very much in keeping with the environmental issues highlighted in the Quatermass films. “It was a good message then and it’s a good message now,” says Val. “That was all down to Nigel Kneale, it was his story and his script. All I had to do was edit it again and bring it a little down-to-earth and down to size, which again I believe poor Tom was very upset about. Poor Tom. He’s wasted an awful lot of his life being upset. It’s a shame he can’t enjoy the success that he’s had.”
According to the director, The Abominable Snowman wasn’t rushed into production in a bid to capitalize on the success of the Quatermass team’s previous efforts. “I made it because I was interested in the subject. It was nothing to do with Quatermass at all. It was a very good story and the Snowmen had been in the news. Some very well-known and respected people had found a footprint and it had been very well covered by the press. It was a very up-to-date subject to tackle, way away from Quatermass. You see, I happen to believe there is something in the mountains, an animal or a man-animal, that we haven’t really seen. People say they have had glimpses – I’m quite prepared to believe that.”
More subtle and introspective than the Quatermass films, The Abominable Snowman followed a doomed expedition into the rugged Himalaya Mountains, in search of the fabled time-lost race. Burdened by a limited budget, Guest had to content himself with a less exotic journey.
“The principal actors never even left the studio,” he discloses. “We shot all the exteriors with doubles. We went out to a very high point in the French Pyrenees, and shot there for about a week. It was a terribly difficult location.”
Once again, Hammer imported a displaced American lead, Forrest Tucker, to play the greedy explorer Tom Friend, who had been portrayed in the TV version by Stanley Baker. ” ‘Tuck’ was a complete pro,” Guest observes. “There were no problems with him whatsoever.”
Repeating his TV role as the benign botanist Dr. John Rollason was the gifted Peter Cushing, who had just emerged as Hammer’s first horror star in The Curse of Frankenstein. “Peter is an old chum of mine, and I was thrilled to have him in the picture,” Guest says. “He has the most raucous sense of humor of anyone I’ve ever met, a wonderful character. He’ll suddenly go into a dancing routine of “Knees Up, Mother Brown’ in the middle of the most serious scene.”
True to form, Cushing took advantage of every opportunity to indulge his favorite professional pastime. “Peter is a great man with props,” Guest chuckles. “It was terribly funny to watch him. He used to get the cast and crew in hysterics, because he would never produce his props during rehearsals. He would work out what he was going to do the night before.
“For example, we were doing a scene between Peter and ‘Tuck,’ in which he had quite a lot to say while he looked at a Yeti’s tooth. Once we started shooting, Peter suddenly took a magnifying glass out of his pocket and examined the tooth. It was absolutely perfect, but nobody knew it was going to happen. We all tried not to break up, because it was a very good take. Finally, I said, ‘Print it.’ I adored working with Peter. We had a million laughs.”
Warner Brothers executives in New York were shown sample footage from the film in early 1957, they were so impressed that they had a print of Curse sent to their president, Jack L. Warner, in California, and Warner Brothers quickly arranged for worldwide distribution rights on the film. Warners gave the film a large-scale promotional campaign. and the public did the rest. Based on Kneale’s BBC-TV play The Creature. Shot in widescreen RegalScope, it featured Forrest Tucker and Peter Cushing. Tucker played an opportunistic adventurer and Cushing a dedicated scientist. This unlikely pair are united by their common desire to seek out the legendary “yeti”, a semi-human creature rumoured to live ‘in the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet.
Peter Cushing on Val Guest
Val Guest directed you in THE ABOMINABLE SNOW. MAN OF THE HIMALAYAS, which is one of the most quietly profound & thought-provoking science fiction films ever made.
Peter Cushing: That was based on a television play, which I did first, as a matter of fact. It was a lovely film and I adored working with Val, even we only worked together on that one occasion. But there again is this extraordinary business. Val Guest could have quite easily become one of the “chosen few” but at least he manages to work all the time, which is what’s really important. In terms of prestige, however, you either strike lucky or you don’t.
The scene in that picture which I will never forget is the one in which the Yeti appeared but all you saw were its eyes. Those eyes were sad but also very ancient & very wise and that single brief shot contained immense implications, which could only have been accomplished in a visual medium.
Peter Cushing: It’s very interesting that you should pick out that particular shot. Many critics wrote: “It was a great mistake to use Mr. Cushing’s eyes for the Yeti.” Of course they were not my eyes but they were so convinced they were mine. I would never dream of correcting critics but somebody should have. Actually they used a very well-known Irish actor who had marvelous sad eyes. I do agree with you that it was extremely effective. The original idea was that you saw the great big footprint and then the great shadow but you never actually saw the Yeti because no one has. Horror is in the eye of the beholder, as is beauty, so to leave it to the imagination was the intention. Just to show the eyes was quite a brilliant thought. The character I played, the scientist, was the only person to survive the expedition, because he was the only one with a spiritual approach. All the others had commercial motivations and they met their doom. It was a lovely picture to be in and it had great atmosphere. It was, however, the only time in my film career that I had to disagree with the director. At the end of the movie the Yeti saved me and I was discovered in a frost-bitten condition by my wife. To achieve that effect, they had an airplane propeller blowing the ice at me. Val Guest wanted me to keep my eyes open. I said: “Dear boy, it is physically impossible. Let me wear contact lenses, at least. If you don’t believe me, come here & try it yourself.” He took one look at what I was going thru and said: “On second thought, I agree with you.” So I was able to keep my eyes closed.
Dr. John Rollason (Peter Cushing), his wife, Helen (Maureen Connell), and assistant, Peter Fox (Richard Wattis), are guests of the Lama (Arnold Marlé) of the monastery of Rong-buk while on a botanical expedition to the Himalayas. A second expedition, led by Dr. Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker) accompanied by trapper Ed Shelley (Robert Brown), photographer Andrew McNee (Michael Brill) and Sherpa guide Kusang (Wolfe Morris), arrives at the monastery in search of the legendary Yeti or Abominable Snowman. Rollason, despite the objections of his wife and the Lama, decides to join Dr. Friend’s expedition. Whereas Rollason is motivated by scientific curiosity to learn more about the creature, Dr. Friend seeks fame and fortune and wants to capture a live Yeti and present it to the world’s press. The expedition climbs high into the mountains and finds giant footprints in the snow, evidence of the Yeti’s existence. As the tensions between Rollason and Dr. Friend rise, McNee is injured by a bear trap laid by Dr. Friend to catch the Yeti. As soon as McNee is well enough to move, he hobbles from his bed and jumps off a cliff. The Sherpa guide, Kusang, sees this and flees downhill at double speed back to the monastery, from where Helen and Fox decide to mount a rescue mission. Meanwhile, Shelley succeeds in shooting and killing a Yeti, an act that enrages the Yeti’s fellows. When Shelley is killed in a failed attempt to catch a live Yeti person, Dr. Friend finally decides to cut his losses and leave with the body of the dead Yeti. However, the Yeti close in on the two survivors and Dr. Friend dies spellbound at the sight of a crushing avalanche.
Rollason takes refuge in an ice cave and watches in amazement as a number of Yeti arrive and take away the body of their fallen compatriot. He realizes the Yeti are an intelligent species biding their time to claim the Earth for themselves after humanity has destroyed itself. The rescue party brings Rollason back to the monastery where Rollason asserts to the Lama that the expedition found proof that nothing exists regarding the “myth” of the Yeti. Perhaps Rollanson is keeping the secret of Yeti existence because he feels it is the only way to protect the Yeti race. Or, perhaps Rollanson is still under telepathic control by the Yetis. Or perhaps Rollanson fears that the Lama might kill him and his wife to ensure the ongoing secret of the Yeti people. The uncertainty of Rollanson’s motivation makes a terrific ending to the film.
The Abominable Snowman was the only film to be produced for Hammer by Aubrey Baring, who was a member of the Barings banking family. Shooting began with a ten-day second unit location shoot at La Mongie in the French Pyrenees between 14 and 24 January 1957. Guest and Baring led a crew that included cinematographer Arthur Grant, camera operator Len Harris and focus puller Harry Oakes. Local trade union rules required that they were accompanied by a French crew. None of the principal performers were brought on location and doubles were used for the actors. Most of the filming was done in the vicinity of the observatory at the summit of Pic du Midi de Bigorre, reached by cable car from La Mongie. Although a helicopter was used for some of the panoramic shots of the mountains, many of them were shot from the cable car as it ascended the mountain. Cognisant of the conditions they would be working in, Harris used a Newman-Sinclair clockwork camera whereas the French crew used a conventional Mitchell BFC camera, which failed numerous times on account of the cold.
The film was shot in an anamorphic wide screen format called Regalscope, renamed “Hammerscope” by the company. Val Guest found it an unsatisfactory format to work in, which made getting in close to the actors difficult and required careful framing of scenes. This was the first film Arthur Grant worked on for Hammer as cinematographer and his reputation for being fast and cheap meant he soon replaced Jack Asher as Hammer’s regular cinematographer. Just as he had done with the Quatermass films, Guest tried to give the film “an almost documentary approach of someone going on an expedition with a camera for Panorama or something”. To this effect, he made extensive use of hand-held camera and overlapping dialogue.
Principal photography took place between 28 January and 5 March 1957 at Bray and Pinewood studios. The sets for the monastery were constructed at Bray by production designer Bernard Robinson, assisted by art director Ted Marshall and draughtsman Don Mingaye, and required detailed research in books and libraries. Nigel Kneale was particularly impressed by the monastery set, feeling that it acted not just as a background but as a participant in the story. These sets were later reused for the series of Fu Manchu movies made in the 1960s, starring Christopher Lee. Assistance was provided by members of a Buddhist temple in Guildford to choreograph the monks chanting. Most of the extras were waiters in Chinese restaurants in London. It was realized early in production that there was insufficient space at Bray for the sets depicting the snowscapes of the Himalayas and so production shifted to Pinewood. Each element of the set was built on a wheeled rostrum so the set could be reconfigured to show many different panoramic backdrops. The set was decorated with artificial snow made of polystyrene and salt. Matching the footage shot in the Pyrenees with the scenes filmed in Pinewood represented a major challenge for Guest and his editor Bill Lenny. Guest had a Moviola editing machine brought on set so he could view scenes from the location shoot and synchronize them up with the scenes being shot at Pinewood.
It was Val Guest’s view that the Yeti should be kept largely off-screen, bar a few glimpses of hands and arms, leaving the rest to the audience’s imagination. By contrast, Nigel Kneale felt that the creatures should be shown in their entirety to get across the message of the script that the Yeti are harmless, gentle creatures. In the climactic scene where Rollason comes face to face with the Yeti, only the eyes are seen: Guest used Fred Johnson to play the Yeti in this scene, relying on his “eyes of worldly understanding” to convey the benign nature of the Yeti.
Those who have seen it consistently agree that Hammer’s film production of The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas is far and away the best film of its type. (And who could argue, with competition like Man-Beast, Half-Human, and Snow Creature!?) Although he has never seen the finished picture, Leakey admits that there was more than the usual amount of thought put into the creation of the picture, especially during pre-production phases.
“When the time came for us to make it,” recalls Leakey, “I had another get-together with Val Guest, Tony Hinds, art director Ted Marshall, and myself. It was generally agreed that the Yeti should be of a more sympathetic nature than the people who were hunting it, with the exception of Peter Cushing, who was playing a far more sympathetic part than his companions.
“Ted Marshall and I made a few drawings, and one day Tony Hinds, while looking at them, remarked, ‘You know, that looks a little bit like Peter! Everyone had a look at it and they all agreed that the creature’s face did have an inkling of Peter in it, and everyone thought it was a good idea to carry the resemblance over, as a sort of sympathetic link in the film. To tell you the truth, I never could see this ‘resemblance’ which everyone else seemed to see! Leakey chuckles. “But Since they did, that was the way we went ahead and made it.”
Though never as budget-conscious as American International had been during the 1950’s, it is true that the British company cut corners whenever they thought it was within the realm of possibility. And so on The Abominable Snowman, they refused to hire anyone to help Leakey with the makeup chores.
“Hammer was rather reluctant in let ting me have an assistant to help out on that picture,” he remembers. “As a matter of fact, I had to enlist the aid of the wardrobe department to get the snow creature completed on time! It was the wardrobe department that ended up supplying the creature’s outfit. They took a lot of furs and sewed them together to fit the actor and that was our Yeti!”
Interview with Nigel Kneale
You didn’t script the film of The Quatermass Experiment
Nigel Kneale: No. There was the usual hurried deal by Hammer with some American people and they insisted on having an American actor and an American adaptor. So this chap came over who worked out some nonsense which turned my poor old Quatermass into a screaming, shouting person – probably like the last film producer he’d worked for. I had no control over it all. I still see that thing turn up and I hate it.
In the first Quatermass, you had him encountering an alien who freshly arrived in the next, you have Quatermass encountering aliens who had been around a year, in the third, you have him encountering aliens who arrived five million years ago and in the Quatermass Conclusion, he deals with aliens who may very well have been around longer than that.
Nigel Kneale: Yes, you get the pattern. It was just so that I didn’t repeat myself. Every two or three years, I’m writing a story which involved Quatermass saving the world. He’s setting monotonous and obvious, and so I thought I shouldn’t do that. So, the least I could do was change the pattern of the threat as much as possible; otherwise, he would have been on the lookout, too keen to find the next one.
They also become physically more remote. Initially, the monster is right there in the room with you, and at the last, they’re possibly on the other side of the galaxy, shooting & ray at the Earth.
Nigel Kneale: Yes, I hoped for an increased sophistication in the audience that they might be put off by a plain old monster appearing again, and I didn’t want to put off my audience.
Quatermass 2 was about the evil of science
Nigel Kneale: No not science. I’m not a bit anti-science, only occasionally some scientists. After all, old Quatermass himself is one: perhaps a bit more sensitive to his responsibilities than some. And in the new serial his main ally (Dr Joseph Kapp) is also a research scientist. Even Kapp’s wife is a qualified archaeologist. The whole of the fourth Quatermass is about a last-ditch use of logic and dwindling technological resources, pitted against suicidal mysticism, Quatermass 2 was about the evil of secrecy. It was a time when mysterious establishments were popping up: great radar establishments and nuclear establishments like Harwell and Porton Down germ warfare. All the Quatermass things
In Quatermass 2, the aliens have infiltrated the government. Was that idea intended as commentary on the whole communist-witch hunt period?
Nigel Kneale: No, I’ll tell you what it was. At that time, in England certainly, we were getting many mysterious projects. They were putting up those big golf ball radar domes or something like that on the coast of Scotland for the Distant Early Warning system, and other projects, some of which were totally non-military-but nobody knew what they were. There was a great tendency in England for secrecy on government projects at that time, and probably still, English government secrets are being waved about all over, of course, at the moment, but in the ’50s, there was a feeling. somehow a hangover from the war when there had been much very necessary secrecy. that there was now much intercessory Secrecy, but it had somehow dribbled on. They got in the habit of being secret, and in the ’50s, people were getting tired of it-high time to have it stopped.
There are some fine scenes in Quatermass 2 where the workers are angry at the suggestion that they should have questioned the secrecy. They had been working on the plant while unknowingly helping an alien invasion. That seems to be a sweet commentary on the common man allowing the government to do what it will with them.
Nigel Kneale: It’s true. You see, they got their wages regularly, they were paid well every week for working on a special project. I think that’s still true today they don’t notice because they don’t want to notice anything wrong doesn’t concern them. “I’m all right, Jack.”
I understand that you were even less happy with Brian Donlevy’s performance as Quatermasss in the film version of Quatermass 2. Enemy From Space?
Nigel Kneale: Yes, time had rolled on and so had many other things, and flowed, too. Donlevy was less interested and less apt, and probably didn’t really want to do it. I think he was horrified when he saw the script and realized how much running about he had to do, because he had become a bit portly and he didn’t enjoy it at all. He was clearly bored by the semi-scientific bits that he didn’t want to bother himself to understand.
I have a copy of the film’s shooting script. Several scenes that you included were taken out by the director, such as the family down by the beach.
Nigel Kneale: That’s right, those were all in the TV show, the best bits
They were also intended to be in the film. Did that cause any bad feelings between you and director Val Guest?
Nigel Kneale: Well, no, we didn’t have any bad feelings, except that it seemed to get further and further away from the film script that I had written, for reasons of economy We didn’t have a great buddy relationship if that’s what you mean.
The teleplay’s climax takes place in space, where Quatermass discovers his best friend has been taken over by the aliens
Nigel Kneale: Yes, I liked that. Think what Steven Spielberg could do with that today, with the asteroid reaching out its tentacles. But what effects we had gain, it was six episodes long. By five, they had completely run out of money, and the designer said. “What can I do? I’ve got to put a satellite or something like it into space. In the insert film, of the satellite, it actually turned out OK. We had tentacles coming out of the craters in the satellite, and drew them back into it, then printed the film in reverse.
The climax of the film we in America know as Enemy From Space doesn’t take place in space as it does in the teleplay. Instead, it occurs in giant domes. When the domes explode and these big rubbery shambling things come out, did that disappoint you?
Nigel Kneale: We had a version of those, too, in the BBC play, but it went on a bit longer and you finally got to the pair in space.
Was this the budget again?
Nigel Kneale: Yes, and the BBC didn’t have much of a budget, either. With the film, it was partly the length. Again, we’re shrinking three solid hours of entertainment into one-and-a-half, and many things have to go
Whilst this was happening a then ‘new innovation’, the Cinemascope lens, was hired from its developers, 20th Century Fox, and Michael Carreras, who. since he could snap his fingers, had been a fan of Big Band Swing, produced and directed a series of six, half hour, musical entertainments, starring the current top talents of popular music. (In some countries three were joined together as a feature release). Additionally, three short story featurettes The Right Person, A Man on the Beach—directed by Joseph Losey (his first English film) and starring Donald Wolfitt, and Dick Turpin—Highwayman were produced. But all this was marking time until the worldwide release late in ’55 of The Quatermass Xperiment. The spelling of ‘Xperiment’ had been altered to emphasize the ‘X’ censorship rating that the film had received and the British public did the rest. Guest’s and Kneale’s mixture of science fiction and horror elements in equal parts was just what the avid audiences wanted. For once even the critics. who had never been Hammer fans were tongue-tied and The Quatermass Xperiment became the most successful film that Hammer had produced (of the 44 features plus two ‘Dick Bartons’, six musical and three story featurettes and one travelogue) since formation of the unit in late ’47. It also made its mark in the U.S.A. where it was released by United Artists as The Creeping Unknown.
Hammer quickly sought to capitalize on its good fortune with a sequel. Staff member Jimmy Sangster pitched a story about a monster emerging from the Earth’s core. However, when the company asked Nigel Kneale for permission to use the character of Quatermass, he refused, not wanting to lose control of his creation. Nevertheless, production started with another X designed film entitled X the Unknown (1956) from Jimmy Sangster’s first screenplay and directed by Leslie Norman, starring Dean Jagger and Leo McKern. Sangster, then a young staffer at Bray, turned screenwriter overnight after he’d pitched in the most ideas at a production meeting for a rushed semi-sequel to The Quatermass Xperiment. He’d joined Hammer in 1948 as a third assistant director on shorts, rising quickly to the heights of Production Manager: a job he retained on the film of his first full-length script. He would become one of the company’s most prolific writers, revelling in his self-proclaimed handle, “Jim the Nasty.
His hero. Dr Adam Royston, is Quatermass in all but name.
Phil Leakey was called upon to create a hand which caved in on itself as “X”, the title monster, sucked out the body’s life force. “For that effect I built a sponge rubber hand, and into the hand were set thin plastic tubes with perforations along their length” explains Leakey. “These tubes entered the forearm through the wrist to each finger, and all the ends were attached to a specially-adapted pump. At the director’s signal, a special chemical mixture was pumped into the flaccid handpiece, which immediately began to swell up and discolor. It was quite a good effect.” Hammer then took the effects footage and reversed it to achieve a deflating effect on screen. Leakey achieved the ground-breaking effect of making a man’s face melt before the eyes’ by taking a moulding of the actor’s head, casting it in two halves from paraffin wax, and placing this over a complete plaster skull with heating elements inside.
Hammer’s newfound success brought opportunities for worldwide distribution deals with major companies, and Exclusive was gradually eliminated as a distributor in favour of Hammer as a production unit X-The Unknown was Exclusive’s last feature release, and after that they only distributed a few more short subjects produced by themselves and Hammer.
As Professor Bernard Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) struggles to gain government support for his Moon colonisation project, his interest becomes focused on reports of hundreds of meteorites landing in Winnerden Flats. Travelling there with Marsh, his colleague (Bryan Forbes), Quatermass finds a huge complex under construction, based on his lunar colony plans. Marsh finds an undamaged meteorite shaped like a small stone rocket. It then cracks open, releasing a gas, leaving him with an odd V-shaped mark on his face. Black-clad guards from the complex arrive, armed with machine guns and sporting similar V-shaped marks, and take Marsh away, knocking down Quatermass and ordering him to leave. Trying to discover what happened to Marsh, Quatermass contacts Inspector Lomax (John Longden), who had previously assisted him. Lomax puts him in touch with Vincent Broadhead (Tom Chatto), a Member of Parliament, who has been trying to uncover the veil of secrecy surrounding Winnerden Flats and the organization and deliverance of massive quantities of material supplies and manpower without any real explanation as to what it is for or whom. Quatermass joins Broadhead on an official tour of the complex, which he is told has been built to manufacture artificial food. Slipping away from the visiting party, Broadhead attempts to get inside one of the large domes dominating the skyline. Quatermass later finds him dying, covered in a poisonous black slime.
Shot at by guards as he exits, Quatermass rushes to Inspector Lomax, explaining that he believes that the complex is indeed making food, but not for human consumption. Its purpose is to provide a suitable living environment for small alien creatures being housed inside the huge domes. Lomax attempts to alert his superiors, but when he meets the Commissioner of Police, he notices that he, too, is sporting the V-shaped mark; the aliens have taken control of the government. Quatermass and Lomax then turn to journalist Jimmy Hall (Sid James), who is skeptical of their story, but asks to visit Winnerden Flats. At the local community centre, they receive a hostile reception from locals employed to do heavy construction and other work at the complex but told anything more than they need to know. The mood changes, however, when one of the meteorite-missiles crashes through the building roof, injuring barmaid Sheila (Vera Day). Armed guards arrive and gun down Hall after he telephones the press. The villagers form a mob that marches on the complex. Rushing the gates, Quatermass, Lomax and the villagers barricade themselves in the pressure control room.
Realising that Earth’s atmosphere must be poisonous to the aliens, Quatermass sabotages their life support system, pumping oxygen into the large domes. Simultaneously, Quatermass’ assistant, Brand (William Franklyn), sacrifices his life by launching a Quatermass rocket at an asteroid believed to be the invasion’s staging point. The individual aliens combine their small bodies to create huge 150-foot tall creatures that soon burst from the domes. The rocket destroys the asteroid with a nuclear explosion. Their base gone and now fully exposed to Earth’s atmosphere, the giant masses of combined creatures collapse and die. The V-shaped marks disappear from those affected, leaving them with no memory of having been under alien control. As they head back to the village, Lomax wonders aloud how he’ll make a believable report on all that’s happened. More pointedly, Quatermass questions just how final will that report be …
A new team was assembled for Quatermass 2 (1956), with Bernard Robinson installed as art director, Gerald Gibbs taking over from Jimmy (Walter) Harvey as director of photography and Michael Carreras putting in an early appearance as executive producer. Another recruit was Nigel Kneale. credited as Val’s co-writer. It may be possible that Kneale was responsible for a softening in the way the Professor was portrayed. In the first film, Quatermass comes over as very tough, highly motivated and doggedly single-minded, but by the second film he seems to have undergone a sea change and is a much more human character. If Quatermass is still persistent, hard-nosed and bull-headed, it is only because the human race depends upon him for its survival. But was Kneale responsible for the perceptive shift in Donlevy’s performance? “I honestly don’t know,” Val says. “He could very easily be. I wasn’t aware that Quatermass came over as that much more human. Maybe Brian Donlevy himself had, with the passage of time, become less hard-headed or single-minded, but I think he played the same character. Maybe the story made the character confront more situations which called for a human response, I don’t know.”
Returning to Hammer in 1957. Guest embarked upon his most fruitful collaboration with the company, directing eight pictures for them during the next four years. Eager to duplicate the box office triumph of The Quatermass Experiment, Hammer purchased the screen rights to Nigel Kneale’s follow-up 1955 BBC-TV serial, Quatermass 2. Once again, they turned to Guest for the movie version. Dissatisfied at his lack of creative input with the first film, Kneale insisted on writing the sequel script himself, sharing screenplay credit with Guest
“We never worked together on the script.” Guest reveals. “At the time I made Experiment, ‘Tom Kneale had never written a film script before. But, by the time of Quatermass 2, he was established as a brilliant television writer, so he wrote the first draft himself, before I was even brought into the project. His script was sent to me. I agreed to direct it, provided I was allowed to make certain changes, to which Hammer agreed. As the director who put it on the screen, I revised Nigel’s script when he became too verbose.”
Bleaker and more thematically complex than its predecessor. Quatermass 2 functions as both a gripping suspense thriller and a powerful political allegory about the loss of human identity through alien infiltration of the social order. “That was inherent in Nigel’s script,” Guest acknowledges. “He is a hell of a good writer, and has great ideas. I tried to put those ideas across in the picture, without boring the audience. I wanted them to absorb his ideas with as much impact as possible.”
Regardless of Guest’s intentions, Kneale has made no secret of his extreme dislike for both Quatermass films, especially 2. “I wasn’t aware of that,” Guest admits. “I’m sorry he feels that way, but, frankly, I couldn’t care less what he thinks.
“I’ve only met Nigel twice in my life. I remember meeting him once at Hammer on Experiment. He certainly never came on the set while I was making 2. It’s a terrible thing to say, but I wouldn’t even know what he looks like. That’s how little I know Nigel Kneale.”
Among Kneale’s complaints about Quatermass 2 is what he regards as Brian Donlevy’s incompetent and disinterested performance in reprising Professor Q. “That shows you how little Nigel knows about what went on with that picture.” 1 Guest states. “Brian wasn’t a young man anymore, so he wasn’t keen about having to run around so much. He also had terrible trouble remembering his lines, presumably caused by his having ‘one too many’ every now and then.
“He used to have his little nips of brandy in his coffee, but at no time was Brian incapable. There were times when he would say, “Give me the story up until now.’ I would tell him, and he would say, “Oh yes, I remember now.
“Brian was having problems. But, he was always there. He was never late. He knew his dialogue. I shouldn’t think he understood what all the scientific bits meant, but I didn’t, either. I only knew what they were meant to suggest.”
Rumors have abounded for years that Donlevy’s drinking created such problems that he was often unintelligible, and had to be physically supported at the end of scenes to avoid injuring himself. “That is completely untrue,” Guest emphasizes. “Brian never fell down. He never had to be held up. My biggest problem wasn’t with his drinking. We had an awful lot of tough shooting to do. We had gales blowing up at the tops of hills. When the hurricanes started, I had to make sure Brian was facing the wind machines. Otherwise, his toupee would come flying off.”
Although Quatermass 2 was financially successful, its box office performance was eclipsed by the massive success of another Hammer film, The Curse of Frankenstein, which was to be the first of their many Gothic horror films. As a result it would be ten years before Hammer adapted the next Quatermass serial for the cinema with Quatermass and the Pit in 1967. Quatermass 2 was, however, the first film for which Hammer pre-sold the distribution rights in the United States, a financial model that would quickly become the norm for subsequent Hammer productions.
Val Guest, who had directed The Quatermass Xperiment, returned for Quatermass 2. Guest once again sought to create a film that felt as real as possible, using many cinema vérité techniques such as hand-held cameras. He was assisted in this respect by the moody, overcast cinematography of director of photography Gerald Gibbs, who also made extensive use of day for night photography for the film’s climactic scenes. Guest planned each day’s shooting carefully, creating meticulous storyboards detailing all the shots he wanted to make that day.
Filming took place between 28 May and 13 July 1956. The film’s budget, at £92,000, was much larger than that of The Quatermass Xperiment. The bigger budget was achieved by the advance sale of the distribution rights in the United States to United Artists. United Artists contributed some £64,000 towards the production of the film, as well as Brian Donlevy’s $25,000 fee and his airfare to London from the US. The larger budget allowed for greater use of location filming in the making of the film than had been possible for its predecessor. The key location used was the oil refinery at Shell Haven in Stanford-le-Hope, Essex, on the Thames Estuary, which represented the secret Winnerden Flats complex. This was exactly the same location as used in the BBC television production of the story. Despite its size, the plant was run by a relatively small number of personnel, which made Guest’s job of making the plant appear eerily deserted easier. Guest was also surprised at how relaxed the plant’s management were about allowing him to stage the climactic gun battle at such a potentially flammable location. Focus puller Harry Oakes recalled, however, that a Newman-Sinclair clockwork camera had to be used for some scenes because of the danger posed by sparks from electrical equipment.
The scenes of Vincent Broadhead emerging from one of the domes covered in the noxious black slime were particularly difficult to realize, necessitating many retakes. Tom Chatto, playing Broadhead, whose wife was a leading casting director, joked after the scene was finally completed, “Remind me to talk to my wife about casting me in this”. The Shell Haven location was further enhanced by the use of matte paintings created by special effects designer Les Bowie to add the giant domes within which the aliens were incubated.
Other locations used included the real-life new town of Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, which was under construction at the time and doubled for the fictional new town of Winnerden Flats. Other scenes were shot in London including Trafalgar Square, where the police agreed to hold up the traffic for just two minutes to allow Guest to take shots of trucks ferrying equipment through London to Winnerden Flats, and in the foyer of the House of Lords for the scene where Quatermass first meets Vincent Broadhead. The climactic scenes of the hurricane caused by the explosion of the Winnerden Flats complex were shot on the South Downs near Brighton. A minor mishap occurred during the filming of this scene when the wind machines blew Brian Donlevy’s toupée off his head and the crew had to chase after it. As well as shooting on location, Guest and his crew made use of Stages 2 and 5 of the New Elstree Studios, the first Hammer production to shoot there. This was production designer Bernard Robinson’s first film for Hammer; he went on to become their regular set designer, working on many Hammer films.
Quatermass II was photographed in black and white by Gerald Gibbs who carefully planned out each scene with Guest. Some great cinematic moments from the cinematographer’s point of view are found in this film. His excellence can be seen in the murky exterior shots, photographed in what seems to be winter twilight, carrying in it an awesome, pervasive atmosphere of impending doom. Gibb’s camera work was and still is a tour de force pictorially in the disturbingly expressionist film treatment of the subject.
Leakey registers a little surprise when asked about Hammer’s followup to The Quatermass Experiment, known in the U.S. as Enemy From Space but entitled Simply Quatermass II in its homeland. It takes some prodding, and mention of Quatermass II’s storyline involving extraterrestrial creatures growing in huge domes at an oil refinery, before he allows, “That’s right; I did apply a substance to Tom Chatto, to make him appear burned in his death scene. He came out of one of the domes. As I recall, that was filmed at the Shell Refining Plant. I used a mixture of industrial soap and oil for the food that burns.
Retitled Enemy from Space for its American release by United Artists, Quatermass 2 confirmed Guest’s credentials as an expert adapter of Kneale’s work. Consequently, he was the natural choice to direct Hammer’s film version of Kneale’s BBC-TV serial The Creature, which they rechristened The Abominable Snowman. This time, Kneale received sole screenplay credit, sympathetically portraying the legendary Yeti as wise and gentle creatures hiding from the corruption of mankind.
“That is a credit to Nigel,” Guest comments. “He had a lot to say, and he said it very well. It was a well-written script. I didn’t want to make any changes in it, except, perhaps, for an odd line here or there I may have added during shooting.