The Creeping Unknown (1956)

78 mins | Science fiction | 1956

Director:

Val Guest

Producer:

Anthony Hinds

Cinematographer:

Walter Harvey

Editor:

James Needs

Production Designer:

J. Elder Wills

Production Company:

Hammer Film Productions, Ltd.
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HISTORY

According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the picture was approved for distribution in the United States under the title Shock! , which was the film's working title when it began production. The title on the viewed print, The Quatermass Xperiment , was the film's British release title. The “X” in the title was a marketing device signifying that the content of the film was rated Certificate X, adults only, in Britain. Some of the film's scenes were considered particularly disturbing for the time when it was released. As noted in contemporary and British sources, the British release ran 82 minutes, whereas the American release ran 78 minutes. A written, onscreen acknowledgment by the producers thanks several organizations, among them the BBC Television Service and the British Air Ministry. As the film concludes, a title card reading "The End" is superimposed over footage of a rocket taking off, presumably Quatermass' next experiment.
       The film was based on characters featured in the popular 1953 BBC television series written by Nigel Kneale, directed by Rudolph Cartier and starring Reginald Tate and Isabel Dean. Since the film's release, the term "Quatermass Xperiment" has become a catchphrase for science fiction clubs, magazines and websites. According to an Aug 1956 HR news item, the film was made on a budget of $50,000 by American producer Robert L. Lippert, who had a long-standing financial affiliation with British-based Hammer Film Productions. The picture was then "sold outright" to United Artists for $125,000.
       Much of the film was shot on location in and around London. ... More Less

According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the picture was approved for distribution in the United States under the title Shock! , which was the film's working title when it began production. The title on the viewed print, The Quatermass Xperiment , was the film's British release title. The “X” in the title was a marketing device signifying that the content of the film was rated Certificate X, adults only, in Britain. Some of the film's scenes were considered particularly disturbing for the time when it was released. As noted in contemporary and British sources, the British release ran 82 minutes, whereas the American release ran 78 minutes. A written, onscreen acknowledgment by the producers thanks several organizations, among them the BBC Television Service and the British Air Ministry. As the film concludes, a title card reading "The End" is superimposed over footage of a rocket taking off, presumably Quatermass' next experiment.
       The film was based on characters featured in the popular 1953 BBC television series written by Nigel Kneale, directed by Rudolph Cartier and starring Reginald Tate and Isabel Dean. Since the film's release, the term "Quatermass Xperiment" has become a catchphrase for science fiction clubs, magazines and websites. According to an Aug 1956 HR news item, the film was made on a budget of $50,000 by American producer Robert L. Lippert, who had a long-standing financial affiliation with British-based Hammer Film Productions. The picture was then "sold outright" to United Artists for $125,000.
       Much of the film was shot on location in and around London. Although not identified by name in the film, the London Zoo in Regent's Park was the site of the zoo scenes. Exteriors of London's Westminster Abbey Cathedral were also filmed, although the final scenes set inside the cathedral appear to have been shot on a soundstage. The modern restoration of the Abbey, which is a plot point within the film, began in the late 1940s.
       In the DVD edition of the film, director Val Guest made the following comments about the production: Kneale did not work on the screenplay adaptation of his story because the BBC had sold the rights to Hammer without Kneale's approval; Kneale disliked Brian Donlevy as "Quatermass" and would have preferred an actor who gave a more sensitive portrayal of a scientist who felt responsible for what his experiments had unleashed; the budget for the film was £40,000, and British actor Peter Cushing was considered for the lead.
       Modern sources add the following actors to the cast: Frank Phillips, Arthur Lovegrove, John Stirling, Eric Corrie, Margaret Anderson, Henry Longhurst, Michael Godfrey, Fred Johnson, George Roderick, Ernest Hare, John Kerr, John Wynn, Toke Townley, Bartlett Mullins, Molly Glessing, Mayne Lynton, Harry Brunsing, Barry Lowe, Jane Aird, Arthur Gross, James Drake, Basil Dignam, Edward Dane, Betty Impry, Donald Gray and Marianne Stone. The film's sequel, called Enemy from Space in the U.S. and Quatermass II in Britain (see below) was released in 1957. That film, also directed by Guest and produced by Anthony Hinds, again featured Donlevy as Quatermass and maintained many crew members from the first film. The Quatermass character was also featured in the 1967 British television series and subsequent feature-length theatrical release entitled Quatermass and the Pit . That version was directed by Roy Ward Baker and starred Andrew Keir as Quatermass. A 1978 British television mini-series entitled Quatermass was directed by Piers Haggard and starred John Mills as the title character. That series was also edited into a feature-length theatrical film and was released in 1979. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
14 Apr 1956.
---
Daily Variety
28 Mar 1956.
---
Daily Variety
27 Jun 1956
p. 3.
Film Daily
20 Jun 1956
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Oct 1954
p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Aug 1956
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
28 Jun 1956.
---
MFB
Oct 1955
p. 150.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
23 Jun 1956
p. 945.
Variety
27 Jun 1956
p. 10.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus comp
SOUND
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the television series The Quatermass Experiment by Nigel Kneale (BBC, 18 Jul--22 Aug 1953).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
The Quatermass Xperiment
Shock!
Release Date:
1956
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 27 June 1956
Production Date:
began mid October 1954 at Bray Studios, Windsor, England
Copyright Claimant:
United Artists Corp.
Copyright Date:
28 November 1955
Copyright Number:
LP8686
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
78
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17298
SYNOPSIS

After the experimental rocket ship secretly launched by Prof. Bernard Quatermass crashes into a field outside London, the only survivor of the three-man crew is Victor Carroon, who crawls out but can only whisper “Help me” before lapsing into a catatonic state. When the rocket is examined, Quatermass, his aide Marsh, government minister Blake and Dr. Gordon Briscoe are mystified as to what happened to the bodies of the other men and disappointed that a camera logging the rocket’s flight has been destroyed. Some days later, Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lomax and his aide discuss the case, which they are investigating, and Lomax expresses his opinion that something is wrong with Carroon, whose hands feel like ice. Quatermass then arrives at Lomax’s office and chastises him for trying to interrogate “a national hero” and taking the still-catatonic Carroon’s fingerprints. After reluctantly giving Lomax files on Carroon and his crew, Quatermass returns to his laboratory, where Briscoe is attending Carroon. Briscoe is concerned that the structure of Carroon’s blood, muscle and bone seems to be changing and thinks that his patient might get better care in a hospital, but Quatermass assures Briscoe that he knows more about the scientific anomalies of the condition than ordinary physicians. Carroon’s wife Judith grudgingly agrees with Quatermass, so Briscoe decides to give Carroon another blood transfusion. Later, Lomax goes to see Quatermass and demands his solemn word that the fingerprints in Carroon’s file are genuine. With Quatermass' assurance, Lomax shows him that the fingerprints taken after the crash were not only different, but not human. Just then Quatermass receives an urgent call to come to the ... +


After the experimental rocket ship secretly launched by Prof. Bernard Quatermass crashes into a field outside London, the only survivor of the three-man crew is Victor Carroon, who crawls out but can only whisper “Help me” before lapsing into a catatonic state. When the rocket is examined, Quatermass, his aide Marsh, government minister Blake and Dr. Gordon Briscoe are mystified as to what happened to the bodies of the other men and disappointed that a camera logging the rocket’s flight has been destroyed. Some days later, Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lomax and his aide discuss the case, which they are investigating, and Lomax expresses his opinion that something is wrong with Carroon, whose hands feel like ice. Quatermass then arrives at Lomax’s office and chastises him for trying to interrogate “a national hero” and taking the still-catatonic Carroon’s fingerprints. After reluctantly giving Lomax files on Carroon and his crew, Quatermass returns to his laboratory, where Briscoe is attending Carroon. Briscoe is concerned that the structure of Carroon’s blood, muscle and bone seems to be changing and thinks that his patient might get better care in a hospital, but Quatermass assures Briscoe that he knows more about the scientific anomalies of the condition than ordinary physicians. Carroon’s wife Judith grudgingly agrees with Quatermass, so Briscoe decides to give Carroon another blood transfusion. Later, Lomax goes to see Quatermass and demands his solemn word that the fingerprints in Carroon’s file are genuine. With Quatermass' assurance, Lomax shows him that the fingerprints taken after the crash were not only different, but not human. Just then Quatermass receives an urgent call to come to the crash site. Resolving to work together, Quatermass and Lomax head to the site, where Marsh and Briscoe have uncovered an unknown substance. Marsh also tells Quatermass that, although the ship's camera was damaged, the film seems to be intact. Back at the lab, Briscoe examines the substance but cannot determine if the jelly-like organic material is plant or animal matter and speculates that it might be the remains of the other two crewmen. Meanwhile, Carroon awakens, reaches for a vase of flowers and collapses. Judith rushes to inform Briscoe, after which he and Quatermass put Carroon back in bed. When they notice that Carroon’s hand is mutating, Judith lashes out at Quatermass, telling him that her husband would be better off dead. Briscoe then convinces Quatermass to have Carroon taken to a hospital. Later that day, Quatermass, Lomax and Blake look at the film that has been salvaged from the rocket. It shows two crewmen collapsing as temperature gauges on the instrument panal rise. When the third crewman, whom they deduce is Carroon, starts to collapse, the film suddenly stops. That night, when Judith goes to see her husband, she is told that there can be no visitors, but a sympathetic night porter suggests that she sneak in to see him between the nursing shifts. She then goes to her car and summons Christie, a man who has promised to help her. Pretending to be the night nurse, Christie relieves the other nurse then dresses Carroon. While Christie is briefly outside the room checking their escape route, Carroon sees a cactus plant and smashes it. As they are riding down in the elevator, Christie senses that Carroon is hiding something and grabs his arm, causing Carroon to strike him violently. Carroon emerges from the hospital alone and is greeted by Judith, who puts him into the car and drives away, happily talking to him as if he will be fine. However, when she sees his now horribly mutated hand, she becomes agitated. He then smashes the car window and runs off, leaving his wife screaming in terror. Meanwhile, after a nurse has discovered Christie’s badly deformed dead body, Quatermass, Lomax and Briscoe arrive at the hospital. A policeman tells them that Carroon must be on the other side of London, where Judith and the car were discovered. After revealing that Judith’s mental state is dire, the policeman says that she was able to relate that Carroon’s hand was gray, with cactus-like thorns. While Carroon eludes police searching for him throughout London, Briscoe performs an autopsy on Christie and wonders whether or not the strange mutations represent forms of life drifting through space that have taken over Carroon and are using him as a carrier. He further speculates that the life form is a combination of plant and animal that now needs food. A short time later, Carroon enters a chemist’s shop and frantically looks through the store shelves. When Carroon starts to cry, the kind-hearted chemist sees that his arm is injured and tries to examine it, but Carroon kills him. Quatermass is soon informed of the break-in at the chemist’s shop and rushes there with Briscoe, who concludes that Carroon might have been trying to kill himself but could not find the right combination of drugs. Carroon continues to wander through London and eventually enters the London Zoo. The next morning, Quatermass, Lomax and Briscoe are summoned to the zoo where many animals have been killed. In the nearby bushes, Briscoe finds a pulsating mass and Quatermass uses tongs to place it into a sealed box. Meanwhile, at a London police station, Rosie Rigley makes a report about seeing something large crawling beside a brick wall. When the police investigate, they conclude that Carroon had been there and order the area evacuated. Back at Briscoe’s lab, the pulsating mass breaks out of its glass case and eats all of the caged mice. When Briscoe and Quatermass return to the lab, the mass has mutated into an octopus-like creature that Briscoe fears will continue to mutate and grow. Lomax now has the government call out the army and civil defense units to scour London for Carroon. That night, as the BBC is airing a live special program about the restoration of Westminster Abbey, a body appears on the floor. The producer rushes inside the Abbey from the television van outside. Soon Lomax arrives and orders the area cleared. The producer does not wish to stop the program, but when the camera pans to some scaffolding, a huge beast is shown onscreen. Just then Briscoe and Quatermass arrive, and in the van watch the television monitor as the beast mutates and grows before the cameras. Quatermass theorizes that a huge electrical shock might kill the beast and orders all of London’s electrical power diverted to the Abbey. At 11:00 p.m., after the lights of London go dark, an electrician attaches a cable to the scaffolding holding the beast, then runs out of the Abbey. After the current is switched on, the beast is electrocuted as the BBC cameras record the event. When Lomax, Quatermass and Briscoe re-enter the Abbey and see the dead beast, Lomax grudgingly tells Quatermass that this time he has won. As Quatermass walks away, Marsh asks if there is anything more to do and Quatermass answers that they will be trying the experiment again soon. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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