The 1955 British science fiction thriller The Quatermas Xperiment is a landmark film for a number of reasons. It was adapted from a live TV serial The Quatermas Experiment (1953) by Nigel Kneale, which is still considered one of the most important and influential British TV productions of all time. It was the most ambitious British science fiction film since Things to Come and the most intelligent and adventurous to date. And it became the biggest hit that Hammer Films ever had to that point, setting them on a new course of science fiction and, eventually, horror films that would define the studio.
For the big screen version, Hammer brought in Val Guest to direct and co-script the adaptation and imported American actor Brian Donlevy to play Professor Bernard Quatermas. The film opens with the crash landing of the first manned spaceflight out of Earth’s atmosphere, a mission that went awry. The ship (which sticks out of the ground of a rural British farm like an arrow, looking like a Flash Gordon rocket excavated in an archeological dig) has returned without explanation, still burning up from the reentry heat, too hot to open with killing the men inside. As the military cordons off the area, Professor Quatermas arrives, takes charge and finally orders the ship open, where he finds two astronauts inexplicably missing and the third (Richard Wordsworth) in shock, with a look of fear frozen on his face and an unidentified fungus-like growth on his arm. The scene takes place at night, with military spotlights cutting through the mist and casting hard shadows across the ground, and the sense of mystery and the unknown builds from there.