So far this series of Film Club articles has briefly surveyed the past events of several British film studios and significant moments in British film history including Ealing Studios, Free Cinema and the first utterance of the word homosexual on film. This week we take a look at a British production company who became renowned for a very specific filmic output.
Hammer Films are best known for their distinctively camp horror films, which have earned a significant cult following, particularly ones including Christopher Lee’s several starring roles as Dracula. The name ‘Hammer’ has become ubiquitous within British horror filmmaking – no doubt because at its most successful Hammer FIlms dominated the British horror market and achieved considerably wide distribution worldwide. Contrary to their reputation however, Hammer produced films within a variety of genres including comedies, thrillers and science fiction, somewhat evidenced by this week’s Reel Ale film, Quatermass and The Pit, which is a hybrid science fiction-horror.
Hammer’s wave of highly successful releases, and their reputation as a horror producer, began in 1955 with the release of The Quatermass Xperiment. As Peter Hutchings notes in Hammer and Beyond: The British Horror Film, due to the nature of British film censorship very few horror films were made or released in Britain from the 1930s until after WWII; Hammer’s first forays into horror production followed a ‘virtual absence’ of horror from the British market. The Quatermass Xperiment and its sequels Quatermass II (1955) and Quatermass and the Pit are adapted from BBC television serials of the same names that aired in the early 1950s – all penned by screenwriter Nigel Kneale. What links these serials and films is their eponymous character Professor Bernard Quatermass, played by various actors, who is each time embroiled in solving something science-related and frightening. All three of these films are set in London, but Quatermass and The Pit is noteworthy for taking its terrors down to the tube.
As Hutchings discusses in another book, this time on British Science Fiction Cinema, the Quatermass films are characterised by a collision between “the fantastic regime of science fiction and the ‘realism’ of British everyday life.” This combination sees classic science fiction tropes “located in relation to a reasonably accurate approximation of the real, even humdrum, world.” The London underground is apt as an everyday setting altered by science and scares.
Quatermass and The Pit is set primarily in Knightsbridge, in the fictional Hobbs End underground station. When skeletal remains are unearthed by construction workers, tube extension works become an excavation site. It soon transpires that this is not a straightforward archaeological find as scientists also uncover what appears to be a WWII missile. Professor Quatermass becomes involved in a dangerous investigation to uncover the mysterious link between these two finds; perhaps neither the bones nor the warhead are what they seem. The trailer suggests that there might be some significance to the amount ‘5 million’…
Due to unforeseen circumstance, this week’s Reel Ale Film Club is cancelled but happily you can catch Quatermass and The Pit in cinemas from 3 July, rereleased by The Independent Cinema Office as part of their Made in Britainseries.
Reel Ale Film Club at The Railway Tavern Ale House returns next week with Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy. To fill the hole left by Quatermass and the Pit, Reel Ale features more fossils on 11th July with One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing and more horror on 25th of July with An American Werewolf in London.
London on Film – 25th April – 19th September:
25/4 - Silent London - Piccadilly (E.A. Dupont, 1929)
2/5 - Wartime London: Part 1 - Waterloo Bridge (Mervyn LeRoy, 1940)
9/5 - Wartime London: Part 2 - I Was a Fireman (Humphrey Jennings, 1943) + London Can Take It (Humphrey Jennings, 1940)
16/5 - Larceny in London: Part 1 - The Ladykillers (Alexander McKendrick, 1955)
23/5 - British New Wave - We Are The Lambeth Boys (Karel Reisz, 1959) + Momma Don’t Allow (Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson, 1956)
30/5 – ‘Its’s Wonderful to be Young’ - The Young Ones (Sidney J. Furie, 1961)
6/6 - Queer London: Part 1 - Victim (Basil Dearden, 1961)
13/6 - British Bands: Part 1 - A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1965)
20/6 - Art House -
Blow Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)
27/6 - Terror on the Tube - Quartermass and The Pit (Roy Ward Baker, 1967)
4/7 - Hitchcock’s London - Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock, 1972)
11/7 - DINOSAURS in London - One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (Robert Stevenson, 1975)
18/7 - Gangster’s Paradise: Part 1 - The Long Good Friday (John Mackenzie, 1980)
25/7 - Horror - An American Werewolf in London (John Landis, 1981)
1/8 - Queer London: Part 2 - Prick Up Your Ears (Stephen Frears, 1987)
8/8 - Larceny in London: Part 2 - A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton & John Cleese, 1988)
15/8 - Romantic Comedy - The Tall Guy (Mel Smith & Richard Curtis, 1989)
22/8 - Gangster’s Paradise: Part 2 - The Krays (Peter Medak, 1990)
29/8 - London Soul - Young Soul Rebels (Issac Julien, 1991)
5/9 - British Bands: Part 2 - SpiceWorld (Bob Spiers, 1997)
12/9 - Big Guns in the Big Smoke - Harry Brown (Daniel Barber, 2009)
19/9- Docu-dreams - Dreams of a Life (Carol Morley, 2012)