Arguably Britains biggest export to the world of cinema has been the Hammer Horror films. They gave us Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and plenty of blood and guts in their X-rated films which gave us all nightmares at some point. It's strange to think then, that the first Hammer film wasn't about Dracula or Frankenstein. It was a black and white 50's flick about an astronaut that turns into a killer vegetable.Stop giggling at the back though, because despite it's obvious small budget it works. A space rocket that was in flight has crashed back to Earth with one astronaut inside. The trouble is, there were three inside when they sent up. Where are the other three? The sole survivor Victor Caroon (Richard Wordsworth) may be able to help, but he's unable to talk and has a strange growth on his arm. Professor Bernard Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) is called in to help, but is too late to stop an infected Victor breaking out of hospital and unleashing his changing form upon London.
So as opposed to most Hammer films there's very little blood and guts here. We see little of Victor changing into the space fungus that he's been infected with, and when we finally see him transformed into a walking killing mushroom, it may look silly now but probably highly effective at the time.
'The Quatermass Xperiment' proves however that you should always work with your strengths, and the strengths here are conjuring up a sinister atmosphere. London, still recovering from the blitz, is a superb location and the scenes of the anguished Victor stumbling across ruined streets and canals gain an almost documentary-like realism with the superb black and white photography.
The opening scene of opening up the rocket has an eerie atmosphere as does a midnight visit to a zoo where Victor spooks and kills some animals. The creature he becomes may not look particularly scary, but the corpses he leaves behind are still unsettling.
There's committed performances across the board too with Donlevy a forceful Quatermass, combining a rugged machismo and keen intelligence, although Wordsworth steals the show as the doomed Victor. Although he has next to no dialogue, he's very affecting and sympathetic as the tortured astronaut unable to comprehend what's happening to him. These performances and Val Guest's zippy direction make 'The Quatermass Xperiment' an unusually stern and adult sci-fi/horror.I'm not going to kid anyone about this, this is no forgotten classic. It is entertaining and still spooky however and stands as an interesting document of Britain at the time and how Hammer started out. Good sequels too.