Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Five Million Years to Earth

US release poster

A long time ago (before Doctor Who took off on journeys through time and space), the definitive British sci-fi program were the three mini-series of Quatermass. Written by Nigel Neale, the Quatermass TV shows provided some of the finest and most thought-provoking science-fiction of the 1950s.

They also resulted in two very so-so movies with American actor Brian Donlevy inexplicably cast as the determined leader of the British rocket program. Aside from the odd casting, the two movies (Quatermass Experiment aka The Creeping Unknown and Quatermass II aka Enemies From Space) were half decent but severely hindered by their attempt to reduce a three hour plus storyline into 80 minutes of film. Lots of major points kept getting left out of the movies.

But the movie version of Quatermass and the Pit (US title Five Million Years to Earth) is different. Neale wrote the condensed version himself, carefully stripping the original TV storyline to its most basic and major points. With Andrew Keir as Prof. Quatermass, the film came much closer to capturing the very intense (and intensely English) drive of the character. It also had a surprisingly strong directorial approach from Roy Ward Baker and this is the single finest job of the man's otherwise lackluster career.

The result is a spooky, extremely intense and utterly crazed drive into a modern apocalypse about to be unleashed by ancient alien forces.Influenced by such thinkers as H. G. Wells and Carl Jung, Quatermass and the Pit remains of the single most unique alien invasion movies ever made and has been a major influence on many later films and novels. It is the closest thing you will find to a cerebral roller-coaster ride with an ending that lingers long afterwards in the memory.

Link to free version on YouTube

Assault on Precinct 13

In 2005, somebody got the really dumb idea of remaking this movie as a serious political statement flick about police corruption. God what fools these mortals be.

The original 1976 production of Assault on Precinct 13 is B movie making the way it was meant to be. Lean, tight, and straight to its own weird and wild point. This early low budget indie production by John Carpenter (made between Dark Star and Halloween) takes the basic premise of Rio Bravo and Night of the Living Dead (just replace zombies with the Blood and the Crips) and then throws the whole mix into a Los Angeles ghetto with lots of guns and ammo.

Add in some surprisingly solid performances by Austin Stoker as a straight-laced cop fresh out of the academy and Darwin Joston (doing a strong impersonation of Robert Mitchum) as a condemned prisoner with a thing for existential statements (as well as bits of dialogue freely lifted from Once Upon a Time in the West) and you have a drive-in movie that is almost too good for the drive-in.

It is also one of Carpenter's finest movies. Just don't expect to go anywhere near an ice cream truck after seeing this sucker.

And yes, there is the major trivia point. It is actually Precinct 9, Distinct 13. But Precinct 13 looked a lot better on the poster.

Assault on Precinct 13 on YouTube for free