AstroGnostic: Quatermass and the Pit (UPDATED)



Before Chariots of the Gods, before The 12th Planet, before Gods of Eden, before The X-Files, before Stargate, before Battlestar Galactica, before Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, before Transformers 2 there was Quatermass and the Pit.

Although popularized in the US with the Hammer version (see video above, retitled Five Million Years to Earth), Quatermass originally aired on the BBC in the late 50s as a serial. Though the Hammer version is certainly worthy, the BBC version (which can be seen in its entirety here) is nothing short of a sci-fi revelation. Brilliantly written and produced, the series would become a monster smash in the UK and a profound influence on a generation of sci-fi fans and writers. From the Independent:
Kneale's greatest achievement as a melder of science fiction and horror was undoubtedly Quatermass and the Pit, which kept people out of the pubs while it was running. He cheerfully threw aliens from Mars, pagan rituals, the "Horned God" and race memory into the mix and scored a huge popular success.
If you looking for evidence of culture's reverse-evolution with the rise of television, Quatermass is your motherlode. Kneale's script puts nearly everything on TV today to shame. In 1958, mind you, he was warning of the militarization of space, racial tensions, government cover-ups of alien contact and pseudo-skeptical denialism. Pretty strong stuff, almost unimaginable in today's highly-charged ideological climate -- outside of sci-fi programs like Battlestar Galactica, that is.

And if you're a regular reader of this blog, the fourth episode of BBC series especially will send chills down your spine. In excruciating detail, Kneale paints a scenario where aliens from a dying planet (Mars, in this case) come to earth and manipulate the genetic structure of proto-hominids in order to act as receptacles for alien consciousness.


Kneale's attention to detail is impeccable- the aliens keep themselves isolated in a sealed compartment on their ship to avoid contamination from Earth microbes. Their primary concern is the expansion of the proto-human neural capacity, as they were attempting to download their own consciousness into these new hybrid creatures.

Did I mention this was written in 1958?

As in The X-Files, communion with the residual alien consciousness manifests itself in psychic phenomena- telepathy and telekinesis, to be exact. Kneale also presents a scenario in which the racial memory of these beings and our ancestral contact with them is encoded in our DNA. Ghosts, demons and the occult are all the byproducts of periodic subconscious eruptions, particularly when humans are exposed to the radiation from the buried spacecraft in Hobb's Lane, Knightsbridge.

I'm going to leave it all there because I think everyone who visits this blog should watch both the BBC and Hammer versions of Quatermass. It is almost certainly the first exposure of AAT to a wide audience - I'm very curious to see if Von Daniken or Sitchin have ever acknowledged it as an influence. Certainly its influence is all over The X-Files, and Stephen King's Tommyknockers is essentially a New English pirating of the concept

We'll be looking at Tommyknockers- and most certainly, the other Quatermass stories- in greater detail in the future.

UPDATE: Emperor (host of The Cabinet of Wonders blog) adds this crucial data download:

It is easy to underestimate the influence of Nigel Kneale these days but back when Quatermass and the Pit were being shown the whole of the country just stopped to watch it (a third of the viewing audience saw it when it was originally broadcast - impressive numbers for any TV show but considering it was sci-fi...). I think the first one I caught was the film of Quatermass and the Pit when I was a kid and I remember being thoroughly unsettled by the whole thing.

They recently released a Quatermass boxset (of the first three, the fourth TV serial is collected separately) along with others for Beasts and Kinvig (also worth checking out, as is Stone Tape if people can find it) and a book was released at the same time: "Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale" and it touches on some of the themes mentioned like this from page 69:

"The central concept of Kneale's serial, that aliens had influenced the development of life on Earth, became a familiar one over time, but in 1959 it was relatively fresh. Some have detected a kinship with Kneale's approach and the writing of H.P. Lovecraft, but Kneale denies any influence, on very simple grounds. "I've never read any Lovecraft!" he insisits. The writing of Erich von Daniken later popularised the notion of extra-terrestrials guiding Mankind, which also greatly inform the 1968 film 2001 Space Odyssey. (Many, Kneale among them, have also remarked on the recurrence of an unearthed alien object in a pit playing a pivotal role in Kubrick's film.) The influence of the serial, as we'll see, was both long-lasting and wide-ranging"


One that is unacknowledged is the end sequence of Indiana Jones which strongly parallels that in the first Quatermas. Dan O'Bannon is happy to admit the influences though, most obvious in Alien, where they find the crashed alien ship. However, the list of where his ideas cropped up and the people his work influenced is impressive.

I'll leave the last words to Grant Morrison (page 99):

"Writer Grant Morrison feels that counter-cultural ideas are peppered throughout Kneale's work, however, unwittingly. "There's a lot of altered states, hive minds and alien intelligences controlling the population in his work," Morrison suggests"

and from page 182:

"Morrison gladly attests to the influence Kneale has had on his own work. "All that stuff was definitely a really big input for me," he says. "The idea that every story had a brilliant concept and started out from something really original was a big inspiration. Every one of them builds off this really simple, brilliant idea: we are descended from Martians, we are food for aliens, every one of them's just a great little concept. It's a mythical quality for me. The stories are so tiny, but I feel they're myths for the age of science. That's what he created. people have been riffing off him for a long time. There's something eternal about Quatermass""


Oh and he had an idea for a final Quatermass story: "Quatermass in the Third Reich", a prequel which say him hanging out in Germany with Nazi rocket scientists and stumbling across their larger plans involving the occult.

Kneale was invited to write an episode of the X-Files but turned it down, a real pity!!

As a child he read a lot of HG Wells and MR James but the third and fourth Quatermass adventures do make me wonder if he somehow came into contact with Charles Fort's work - from The Book of the Damned (1919):

"Would we, if we could, educate and sophisticate pigs, geese, cattle?

Would it be wise to establish diplomatic relation with the hen that now functions, satisfied with mere sense of achievement by way of compensation?

I think we're property.

I should say we belong to something:

That once upon a time, this earth was No-man's Land, that other worlds explored and colonized here, and fought among themselves for possession, but that now it's owned by something:

That something owns this earth -- all others warned off. "

31 comments:

  1. Wow, for the past two weeks I have been trying to remember the title of a movie I saw as a kid that featured a Martian invasion via archeological excavations of an old beetle-like spaceship, etc. This is it! Thanks. And you're right, it touches all the bases.

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  2. Like I said, Michael- watch the BBC version. Astonishing.

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  3. Thank you so, so much for this blog, Christopher. I found you just yesterday and am mining your sites with the tenacity of an overzealous grad student. Synchronicity, indeed.

    I had pledged to myself just a couple of months ago that, if I really wanted to take my ufology seriously, I should make it a point to try and soak up every pop-culture appearance of the subject I could find. Thanks for being my introductory encyclopedia.

    A New Reader,
    doug

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  4. in reference to this article:

    http://secretsun.blogspot.com/2009/04/barackobamun-in-baden-baden.html

    hi Chris,
    hi all,

    finally i got back to the pyramid church to take some pictures. Soon I realized that i got to return again with a better cam and some structured plan how to get all that stuff properly.

    I uploaded pictures involving the altar in the crypt (link see below).

    There is everywhere that "x marks the spot" around. It can be seen on the floor from above and inside the crypt, in the skylight (also a templar cross?) of the crypt and again on the 4 corners and exactly in the middle on top of the altar (seen after pulling off the coverage). Even the satellite view of the pyramid could be interpreted as an "x". ( 48°48'36.03"N, 8°10'46.06"E) Also the octagon surrounding the pyramid seen from above (althogh not perfectly shaped) can be found on both floors: one surrounding the skylight, another surrounding the altar in the crypt.

    I could not recognize what the signs on side 1,2,4 of the altar might be, next time i'll try to get some spot light from the side for some better shapes.

    Password to access / unzip the pics: baden-baden

    http://www.wikifortio.com/806906/crypt.zip

    soon back with more pictures and better quality...

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  5. Holy crap, BAtman.

    A SF series i didnt know about.

    Triple thanks for this little pearl *runs off to watch the show*

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  6. Am I recalling correctly that Knightsbridge is the place-name in the English language with the most consonants in a row? Chris!! I just remembered that all the Archie Comics had UFO-gag covers in '59!! We've gotta ask Scott Shaw if he has 'em archived... In '58 Kirby was doing BLAST-OFF and SKY MASTERS... the sky was thick with 'discos volante' that year...

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  7. Thanks for the recommendation. Have you ever seen, and if so, what about The Quatermass Experiment (1953) and Quatermass II (1955) ?

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  8. Simply an astonishing find. Thank you! I wonder about the bio of this Kneale character. Maybe he was involved with UK OTOs or something similar?

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  9. flabbergasted. Enjoyed every minute of it. Fantastic, with so less means so a story..tell me; how you find these things..?

    however it makes me sad because with your knowledge and insight I 'd serve.. ( not finishing this line )

    please keep up the good work, but beg you to understand what all is about: not 'just ' coincidences " and synchretism but a real Life and Death Question

    love

    Lone

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  10. And if you're a regular reader of this blog, the fourth episode of BBC series especially will send chills down your spine. In excruciating detail, Kneale paints a scenario where aliens from a dying planet (Mars, in this case) come to earth and manipulate the genetic structure of proto-hominids in order to act as receptacles for alien consciousness.Damn! I did'nt know about that. I have some deep digging to do.

    Nice work as always, Chris. Thanks.

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  11. Off-topic tip:

    Highly interesting post at DailyKos about a "Blob" discovered in space, and a power station in space that can generate power and "kill hurricaines" by heating the middle and upper layers of the atmosphere above a hurricaine.

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  12. sorry, here's the link-

    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/4/23/723619/-Mysterious-Space-Blob-Discovered-at-Cosmic-Dawn.

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  13. It is easy to underestimate the influence of Nigel Kneale these days but back when Quatermas and the Pit were being shown the whole of the country just stopped to watch it (a third of the viewing audience saw it when it was originally broadcast - impressive numbers for any TV show but considering it was sci-fi...). I think the first one I caught was the film of Quatermas and the Pit when I was a kid and I remember being thoroughly unsettled by the whole thing.

    They recently released a Quatermas boxset (of the first three, the fourth TV serial is collected separately) along with others for Beasts and Kinvig (also worth checking out, as is Stone Tape if people can find it) and a book was released at the same time: "Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale" and it touches on some of the themes mentioned like this from page 69:

    "The central concept of Kneale's serial, that aliens had influenced the development of life on Earth, became a familiar one over time, but in 1959 it was relatively fresh. Some have detected a kinship with Kneale's approach and the writing of H.P. Lovecraft, but Kneale denies any influence, on very simple grounds. "I've never read any Lovecraft!" he insisits. The writing of Erich von Daniken later popularised the notion of extra-terrestrials guiding Mankind, which also greatly inform the 1968 film 2001 Space Odyssey. (Many, Kneale among them, have also remarked on the recurrence of an unearthed alien object in a pit playing a pivotal role in Kubrick's film.) The influence of the serial, as we'll see, was both long-lasting and wide-ranging"

    One that is unacknowledged is the end sequence of Indiana Jones which strongly parallels that in the first Quatermas. Dan O'Bannon is happy to admit the influences though, most obvious in Alien, where they find the crashed alien ship. However, the list of where his ideas cropped up and the people his work influenced is impressive.

    I'll leave the last words to Grant Morrison (page 99):

    "Writer Grant Morrison feels that counter-cultural ideas are peppered throughout Kneale's work, however, unwittingly. "There's a lot of altered states, hive minds and alien intelligences controlling the population in his work," Morrison suggests"

    and from page 182:

    "Morrison gladly attests to the influence Kneale has had on his own work. "All that stuff was definitely a really big input for me," he says. "The idea that every story had a brilliant concept and started out from something really original was a big inspiration. Every one of them builds off this really simple, brilliant idea: we are descended from Martians, we are food for aliens, every one of them's just a great little concept. It's a mythical quality for me. The stories are so tiny, but I feel they're myths for the age of science. That's what he created. people have been riffing off him for a long time. There's something eternal about Quatermas""

    Oh and he had an idea for a final Quatermas story: "Quatermas in the Third Reich", a prequel which say him hanging out in Germany with Nazi rocket scientists and stumbling across their larger plans involving the occult.

    Kneale was invited to write an episode of the X-Files but turned it down, a real pity!!

    As a child he read a lot of HG Wells and MR James but the third and fourth Quatermas adventures do make me wonder if he somehow came into contact with Charles Fort's work - from The Book of the Damned (1919):

    "Would we, if we could, educate and sophisticate pigs, geese, cattle?

    Would it be wise to establish diplomatic relation with the hen that now functions, satisfied with mere sense of achievement by way of compensation?

    I think we're property.

    I should say we belong to something:

    That once upon a time, this earth was No-man's Land, that other worlds explored and colonized here, and fought among themselves for possession, but that now it's owned by something:

    That something owns this earth -- all others warned off. "

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  14. Awesome, kids- I'm glad you dig this post. One thing, though- WATCH THE BBC SERIES!!!! The Hammer version is truncated in the extreme.

    Right now I am working on a presentation on The X-Files- Quatermass had a HUGE influence there. I also ordered the 79 QM movie which looks as interesting thematically as The Pit.

    I'm also beginning to believe more and more that conscious intent is only a small part in all of this. Why? Because in the truly interesting stuff like this and XF and Michael Clayton one might interpret that there is a continuity in symbolism, but not in message. In other words there may a continuity in subtext but not in text.

    The alien movies we're seeing this year are a perfect example- there seems to be no obvious connective themes between them, other than they are about aliens.

    Whereas as much as I love Star Trek (TOS, mostly, but also TNG) there's no mistaking the agenda behind it- the writers have always been very clear that they see ST as prescriptive- in other words, a kind of dramatic model for the future. Which, of course, is elitist, highly regimented and militarized (One thing you will notice in ST as a thru-line is that civilians are troublemakers, or just plain trouble). It will be interesting to see how much of that carries over into the new movie (which I am counting the seconds to!) The same holds true with BSG. That doesn't mean you dismiss them (ALL art is propaganda) but that you engage with them- not passively accept the messages being conveyed.

    But you don't see these thru-lines in Spielberg's work, where aliens are either our cuddly pals (CE3K, ET) or our deadly enemies (WotW) or somewhere in between (Taken). Very hard to discern predictive programming patterns in those films.

    Well, that's my rant for today- back to the grindstone!

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  15. Empie- I'm going to paste your comment into the body of the post, if you don't mind...

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  16. Sure, go for it. I might have put a bit more time into it if I'd thought it might get bumped to the main area but then perhaps it is better as spur of the moment musings ;)

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  17. Of course, spur of the moment musings are no excuse for consistently misspelling Quatermass throughout, even in the quotes from the book!! Ah well.

    The book is well worth looking up if anyone wants to dig further - the ISBN is 1900486504. The interesting thing is not just a solid biography but also all the interviews with other creators about Kneale's influence on them.

    I'd also second the recommendation to try to watch the TV serials - I did have a nose around Amazon.com and couldn't find an R1 version, if you have a multiregional DVD player know someone in the UK the British DVD set (two episodes of the first serial and the full second and third ones) is only a bit over a tenner so you could twist their arm to send you a copy - the films can often be caught on late night TV (I'm pretty sure that is where I first saw them). And if you are looking for the fourth one avoid the Quatermass Conclusion (a New Age cult gets young people to congregate at stone circles where they are harvested by some kind of energy being), which is a trimmed down movie length version.

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  18. Absolutely astonishing Christopher-and to think -1958!! Thanks so much for this valuable information and the hard work you do-for your blog and other projects! best to you as always!!

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  19. Chris,

    This indeed is a path I have taken before, so I enjoyed seeing this.

    In the 1967 movie Five Million Years to Earth, a new subway excavation in the Hobbs End section of London unearths an apparent extraterrestrial craft. The scientists involved in the unraveling of this drama soon discover this part of London on Hobbs Lane has a long history of poltergeist, haunting and apparition activities. One keen young researcher discovers an old street sign near the diggings, and she notes the spelling is “Hob’s Lane,” not “Hobbs Lane.” “Hob,” it turns out, is another name for “devil,” or the “Devil,” if you prefer.

    Some words do not appear to be what they so calmly convey. “Hob,” for example, is an alteration of Robin or Robert, as in Robin Goodfellow, a rustic, a clown (lest we get too far from the phantom clowns). Robin Goodfellow, sometimes called Puck, was/is a tricksy house sprite or elf in popular English fairy lore. And Puck is sometimes called hobgoblin. Even the descriptive verb “hobble” refers to the word’s origins, as the classic view of the Devil shows cloven hooves.
    ~ "The Name Game," Mysterious America (1983, 1989, 2001, 2006), page 275.

    Five Million Years to Earth or under its original name, The Quatermass Experiment is a film that clearly had some hidden messages, as I saw it, noted above.

    Tom Kneale (better known as Nigel Kneale), who died on Sunday 29 October 2006, at the age of 84, was appreciated by me for a long time.

    I wrote an obituary when he died, because I felt we were losing an insightful writer of books, plays, and scripts. See here.Of course, within cryptozoology, his work has taken on classic dimensions.

    Kneale adapted his own BBC serial The Creature for Hammer Films as The Abominable Snowman, also known as The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas in 1957. It is one of those remarkable films that captures so many levels of the cryptozoological pursuit of the Yeti.

    http://www.cryptomundo.com/wp-content/kneale.jpg

    Here is an image of Nigel Kneale, from the 1950s.

    ~ Loren

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  20. Thanks Loren. I have two more posts on Kneale coming up in short order so I will link to your pieces there.

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  21. Indeed - nearly all of his output is worth a look. He was clearly interested in Forteana (interestingly he wasn't a fan of sci-fi so the influence) and the book suggested this partly dates back to his childhood in the Isle of Man (pages 10-11, in particular), according to him:

    "the island community held fast to age-old superstitions and myths. "They've always gone in for superstition in a big way, " Kneale says. "it was very easy for them to believe in practically anything. If you're surrounded by sea, it naturally comes with all sorts of sea-monsters, starting with mermaids and wring their way up to things about a hundred feet high. There's a deep belief in ghostly things, fairies, and witches of a sort, and every kind of sea misfortune, that you can get into by going the wrong way at the wrong time, or turning corners, or going to sea in the wrong sort of weather."

    ...

    The Manx belief system rather appealed to the young Kneale. "They had a home made religion, purely superstition - which I'm not sure I don't entirely prefer," he admits. "We all know about these ghostly creatures, and they made better sense to me than any established church"
    "

    It goes on to suggest his Manx grandmother had dabbled with white magic and he had an odd spooky experience, one of those sudden panics that people sometimes describe, often when walking in woods (which some put down to Pan himself!!). Actually that mention of Pan made me think about Arthur Machen and some have suggested influence/similarities:

    "On TV Nigel Kneale's Quatermass and the Pit has considerable elements of Machen, albeit translated into the genre of science-fiction, with a race of gnomish people and investigations into the psychological presence of Satan. Kneale's TV series Beasts is occasionally reminiscent of Machen's The Terror, where the natural world rises up against humankind."

    Machen influenced Lovecraft, so it may be the Lovecraftian themes people see (enough for there to be a screening of Quatermas and the Pit at MecronoiCon) might be that Kneale and Lovecraft had similar influences. Again getting a more detailed peek at his reading matter would be very interesting.

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  22. If anyone is other early British sci-fi (BW - Before Who) with similar themes then A for Andromeda might be a start. The odd thing is that it was written by astronomer Fred Hoyle (perhaps best know these days for his theories on panspermia, which led to the suitable Kirbyesque sounding cosmic ancestry and Crick's ideas of directed panspermia) and the story comes off as a more sinister example of the ideas toyed with in Carl Sagan's Contact (astronomers indulging in a little wish fulfillment about contact with aliens?). Hoyle also wrote the novel The Black Cloud about a sentient gas cloud that imperials Earth - the interesting thing is recent research which suggests such inorganic dust clouds could have properties which fit the definition of "life".

    Just note that the Beeb threw away all the tape of the show so only one installment remains and the DVD release contains this one episode and a bunch of still images, along with the sequel The Andromeda Breakthrough. The original was remade recently but the less said about that the better.

    I met Hoyle briefly in 1998 - nice chap and he was kind enough to sing my copy of his autobiography "Home Is Where the Wind Blows". I'll have to root through it and see if it says anything about his literary influences, he was looking at themes that Stanislav Lem also dealt with (truly alien aliens) but The Black Cloud predates books like Solaris, so I'd assume he was either just developing his own ideas in a fictional setting and possibly drawing on earlier Golden Age Sci-fi.

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  23. Thank you Chris, I remember years back we had conversations about Mr. Kneale. I have the '79 film, The Quartermass Conclusion, highly recommended. I still really enjoy Quartermass and the Pit, I remember those productions from Hammer films well. Mr. Kneale had some incredible insight, it's a shame people don't follow his work nowadays.

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  24. You might want to check out http://www.the11thhour.com/archives/091999/features/muldermass1.html for a theory about how much of Quatermass was..."adapted"...into The X-Files

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  25. Hi there. I follow you on Twitter (hey_leia) and I think you follow me back. :-)

    A few minutes ago I stumbled on your April 23, 2009 blog entry mentioning Fred Hoyle's book, The Black Cloud. You may find the following of interest (if you didn't already know of it):

    Fred Hoyle (from his non-fiction book Home is where the wind blows: chapters from a cosmologist's life):

    "(Wolfgang) Pauli told me he had studied The Black Cloud in some detail, together with the psychologist Jung, and, indeed, that Jung had written a critical essay on it."

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  26. Yes, everything (you've said) is true regarding this masterpiece, when Hammer was still a great little studio!

    Have always looked forward to this one whenever it was run initially in the NYC area in on FREE TV in the early 1970s on "The CBS Friday Night Movie" when they were running Hammer & AIP movies to do ratings battle with Johnny Carson on NBC, & ABC's "In Concert", then the last time I caught it was in the late '80s at at a Saturday 1:30 am (actually Sunday) until no more...that is until the Elite Laserdisc in the late '90s.

    Thought the '85 Tobe Hooper "Lifeforce" was an attempt at it too- Horror/Sci-Fi -with Frank Finlay's (Dr.) Falada a decent Quatermass stand-in.

    Especially too thought the cheezy US trailer for the Stateside version, "Five Million Years To Earth" was a major hoot, man:
    (Insert, with Narrator)

    "The Scenes
    You Are About To See
    Are More Incredible
    Than Anything
    Today's Science Or Fiction
    Ever Imagined."

    (Voiceover- but not Don LaFontaine)

    "Sometime, in the near future when we least expect it, THEY will come...cities will burn...Mankind will panic...how a world will tremble...when the invasion from another time and another place begins, disbelief will be shattered, and the truth of an ancient past will be revealed...when it occurs you will see men turned killers by mysterous power..."I wanted to kill you." "Why? "Because you're...different."...Women will be DEFILED by the invaders from outer space!" "It's Barbara, she's the one!"...scientists will vainly attempt to save civilization..."My duty now is to quiet public alarm, and you tokeep your damn paws out of things!"...It could happen in your lifetime...SEE IT...before it's too late!"

    Defiled?! I wonder what version the Narrator saw;)

    This movie is especially of interest to me now as I live near the Hoboken, NJ PATH trains and the stop is designated as "HOB" on both the trains and map.

    Hope life doesn't imitate art imitate life imitate art...∞

    All the best!
    "Mr. On"

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  27. What I don't understand is I have a childhood memory that still haunts me about a man on a Fire Truck ladder that steers the truck ladder into a float demon head.

    Sounds like Quatermass right? But the way I remember it is it is daylight the demon head is different and he uses a chain and a fire truck ladder instead of a construction tower. Did my brain mashup another movie or is there another one out there similar?

    I re-watched the End of Quartermass just to be sure and it just doesn't fit...

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  28. In Quatermass and the Pit, Roney climbs to the top of a construction crane hoping to swing it around to the "demon head" manifestation of the Martian ship's energy, "grounding" it and forcing it to discharge into the soil.
    Unfortunately, it comes loose during an earth tremor, and connects with the "demon head" while Roney is still on it!
    The plan works, but Roney is killed.

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  29. Maybe I should have been specific "Quatermass and the Pit" doesn't sink with what I remember.

    Like it is from an Alt universe lol

    I remember a Firetruck ladder, daylight a chain and a blondish guy like from the Prisoner...

    I watched the last 15 minutes of "Quatermass and the Pit before I posted just to be sure and I am either mashing up another memory or I am from the Fringe earth... lol

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