It’s not synthetic food in those giant domes, but nobody believes Prof. Quatermass…
Following up on my review of The Quatermass Xperiment, I decided to move right along and get to the sequels. In Quatermass 2 (1957) we again have Val Guest directing Brian Donlevy as the Professor, this time upset that his ambitious moon colony project, represented by a neat tabletop scale model, is getting neither respect nor any further funding from the government. One night Donlevy’s driving home and is nearly run off the road by a young couple. They’re panicked because the man has strange burn marks on his face, caused by a rock, his companion says. Donlevy goes back to investigate since it all reminds him of his own research into space debris that’s been falling in great quantities lately. Snooping around the abandoned countryside with an associate (Bryan Forbes) , they find A) no trespassing signs, B) barbed wire fencing C) weirdly helmeted and gas masked guards and D) an exact life sized recreation of his moon colony model.
When his associate lifts one of many of those space rocks to his ear (bad idea, lifting mystery space podlets to your ear like a seashell! remember that, female minor character who does the same thing later) it pops, giving him one of those nasty face burns. The guards descend and abduct Forbes into the colony and shoo Donlevy away. He stops at the nearest town to call for help, but it turns out to be a bedroom community of labourers who works at that “plant” but will neither listen to nor talk about anything to do with it.
From there I won’t outline all the happenings, because they are just too many and all arranged for the utmost suspense, including Donlevy figuring out that his colony meant to acclimatize beings to their new planet’s atmosphere is being used in a way he didn’t intend, Donlevy getting aid from the Inspector (John Longden), and a crusading politician (Tom Chatto) who manages to get them into a “tour” of the “plant” which has been explained as research into “synthetic food.” Unfortunately Chatto’s curiosity is rewarded with a gruesome and deadly corrosive bath, while other visitors (save Donlevy) are infected and thereby brainwashed. Top government and law officials are among the growing number of infected, who become zombie followers of whatever is in those domes, and bear the same mark: burn scars with a V shaped crack. There’s the uprising of the village of labourers, the brutal shooting of a reporter (Sid James) who gets too interested, lots of screaming, shooting, car chases, and an armed standoff inside the plant while Donlevy tries to herd his mob and figure out how to kill the things in the dome.
As you can gather I liked this one a lot, more than the first movie. It’s certainly more of a gripping action thriller, with the colony scenes set in a real Shell refinery, providing miles of alleyways between piping, great rooms of knobs, wheels and ladders, and tanks and towers with spiral staircases. The scene where Chatto, covered in the black ammonia cocktail, wobbles in agony all the way down the neverending spiral steps, while leaving a hand smeared trail behind him is one you won’t soon forget. Equally memorable is the realization of what the zombies have done with the villagers who fall for the “let’s make a deal” approach.
I found it interesting that the actual monsters/aliens almost take a back seat to the frightening conspiracy, the zombies, and the investigation, and that’s just fine, because it all works. When, quite late into the movie, Donlevy sneaks into the plant disguised as a guard, and looks through the porthole window at the thing in the dome, it’s a teasing intro to the creature, as it’s too dark to see exactly what it might be but it’s massive and definitely organic, pulsing and groaning like a boiling pot of moss covered polenta. The cheese comes when the blobs burst their domes and are seen from a distance, rising, as not too much more than a kid playing ghost under a leafy camo bedsheet. What they lose in design they make up for with the blob’s disturbing size and speed, but really the monster takes up so little screen time that it hardly matters; all the creeping is masterfully done by the story and by suggestion.
Donlevy is even more cranky here than he was in the first movie and I still find him miscast, but I’d say the story was better set up to make up for it, giving him a lot to do, which seems realistically taxing and tiring for a character of that age and profession, like running everywhere (poor guy) and being constantly told he’s loony for believing there’s anything but food in that plant. Also this time got more role to play, since he has to be scared and paranoid as well as tough, and a persistent pain to get anywhere against this huge conspiracy. Excellent follow up and I haven’t even got to the one everyone tells me is the best (Quatermass & the Pit).