3 March 2005 | darkdayforanime
The end of Quatermass, from the man who sets his scares on slow-burn
You have to hand it to Nigel Kneale.... Even after all these years, his works still have the power to leave you feeling just a bit disturbed. Not in the out and out conventions of most horror/sci-fi titles, but with the underlying neuroses and paranoias that afflict all societies, regardless of culture.
All of the Quatermass serials contained these elements, so much so that they were practically strip-mined by The X Files. And so, regardless of the quaint anachronisms that they contain, they still, somehow, manage to retain something for the modern viewer.
The 1970's Quatermass series is the most anachronistic of all, because it is so unlike the earlier serials (produced in the 50's and 60's, as were the film versions of said series). This makes the aesthetic of the series so much more nihilistic. Made under the backdrop of the (then) rising punk scene, the random violence and criminal behaviour that is portrayed must have seemed entirely topical. Even the relative cheapness of the production adds to this aesthetic: so very 70's Brit sci-fi.
But the series was written back in the late 60's, originally intended to be the 4th film in the movie series (especially with the relative success of the "Quatermass and the Pit" film). This is why we have the strange interbreeding of hippy culture and guns....
As such, you have to say that Kneale was certainly visionary in that oh-so grim British way.... And the concept that human beings might be hardwired to seek out destructive (even genocidal) religious ideals (by unseen, advanced intelligences), capable of being intensified remotely for "harvesting" (for reasons unknown), certainly has a lot of resonance in today's world.
The acting in the series was variable (understandable for a TV series). John Mills is capable as the aging and (initially) confused Quatermass, desperately seeking his granddaughter in a world that seems to be falling apart. Once the threat is recognised, the scientist in him takes over, leading to a slow and tragic conclusion.
Simon McCorkindale, an actor who seemed to be on top of his game at this time, ably plays Quatermass's sidekick, Joe Kapp. Never the safest thing to be in any Quatermass serial, Kapp is taken through the emotional wringer in ways too horrible for a husband and father to bear, before facing the fate of sidekicks before him.
Bruce Purchase and David Yip provide temporary interest (never destined to be long-lived in a Quatermass serial).
On the flipside, Ralph Arliss is quite painful as the murderous (and annoying) Kickalong, whose fate is far too kind (and long in waiting). There is an earlier scene where a group of the planet people are massacred whilst walking between rival gangs having a shootout. Something like that would have been more appropriate for Kickalong, but it was, sadly, not to be....
The effects are of a pretty low standard, but given everything else, this doesn't really seem to matter. Given the cheap, 70's budget the producers had to work with (we certainly aren't looking at a Space: 1999 cashflow here), they managed to perform miracles.
I remember first watching this some time in the 80's (I'm not sure when precisely) on late-night TV. The darkly-nihilistic atmosphere of the series attracted me to it, then, because it was so different to other sci-fi shows going around. Years later I still find it strangely appealing, even with the faults of its age.