As you may have read on Acidemic's sister blog, Divinorum Psychonautics, I'm fascinated by ancient astronaut theory, and light bulbs are going off in my DNA over Hammer's 1967 mind-bender, FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH, because it fits the paranormal theories of our times --it could be true! It's got everything: crystals used as computers and projectors of remote viewing, antennae mistaken for horns resulting in our modern conception of the devil; ghosts, telekinesis, thought and dream video projection, the origin of man as an alien DNA-spiked primitive ape, mind control early Catholicism, it's all right there! It's the most comprehensive paranoid-but-true ingeniously low budget vision since PLAN NINE.
And you can sympathize with the British ministry of science as well, with Qatermass' alarmism showing no purpose except to shatter public order with hysteria. "People don't believe nothin' til they see it on the telly" -- why wasn't America this hip on what was happening in their sci-fi of the era? No coincidence that this (and the BBC 1958-9 series original) predates Erich Von Daniken's groundbreaking Chariots of the Gods by a few years, or that HORROR EXPRESS and THE CREEPING FLESH came out in the early 70s, all dealing with similar evolutionary 'whoa' epiphanies about the origin of the species and our concept of the Devil. It's like the shit was in the wind, the Akashic record was opened and left on the British library reading desk for any daydreaming sci-fi screenwriter or gutsy archeologist to tap into.
But this came first by over a decade: A giant metallic capsule is found buried in the earth during an East London tube dig, a moody Brit named Dr. Quatermass (Andrew Keir) tangles with by-the-book Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) over whether it's a military threat (a leftover German propaganda device) or a science project. They find dead grasshopper-ish aliens in the ship, but after five million years they're down to their papier mâché exoskeletons, and then all hell breaks loose, literally, as the biblical vision of Hell turns out to be based on our Martian ancestor's memories of fleeing their dying fireball planet projected into our deepest collective unconscious memories. Space Locusts from Mars! Peter Graves knew what to do about giant grasshoppers in BEGINNING OF THE END (1957), but these are Martian ghost grasshoppers, and they've been dead for millions of years while still ghosting it up in the region in the form of wild local populace hallucinations (Spring-Heeled Jack's jumping was the spring of grasshopper legs). The Martian antennae might have been mistaken for horns and that's how the devil was born.
I dig that truth and belief have nothing to do with each other and yet create each other. I dig that the human ego is extraordinarily narrow-minded when it comes to consensual reality and maybe for good reason. Few of us want to connect the dots that lead us to the unpleasant possible truths such as the possibility that our difference from other life on earth is the result of some long-dead biotechnically advanced alien's mad scientist dabbling, especially since it's hard to prove it in any 'scientific' manner and it's scary to think about. We scoff but it's partly that we don't want to be considered 'nuts.' But those who would hear the horrible truth can't help but go nuts, unless it's told to us as fiction.
FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967) has been unavailable on DVD in this country for some time, and used DVDs go for upwards of $70 and I suspect it's because it's too close to the truth. It fills in all the missing dots between ancient astronauts and demons, such as: the 'missing link' in human evolution; how the true story of our creation is encoded in our 'junk' DNA is ready to be projected back as soon as we evolve enough to access it, as if our brain is a video game and we've only mastered the first level but there a thousand more levels still encoded on our grey matter DVD-ROM waiting for us to access, etc.
This idea that sensory impressions of alien contact is buried in our DNA connects with the theories held by scientists like Rick Strassman, who suggests alien abduction-hallucination experiences might actually be interactive DNA code playbacks, which can arise naturally through neuron misfires or be triggered by DMT. The idea that the film's spaceships precede our known civilization enhances the "we are them" aspect. Dude, I'm totally tripping thinking about it all. The crystalline structures in the craft are totally storage for combined alien knowledge and codices for DNA, more intricate and powerful than human consciousness can grasp, vaster than the entirety of the internet all within just one crystal rendered in 'web'-ish sheet plastic that makes it look cheaper than the flimsiest carnival haunted house tableaux.
Like PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE, QUATERMASS is as marred (or enhanced depending on your Brechtian tastes) by lame special effects as it is alive with post-Roswell "truth" (as I write about here). The spaceship looks like two uninstalled hot tubs taped together and the grasshoppers look like beatnik sculptures that would be right at home with Dick Miller's "Dead Cat" in BUCKET OF BLOOD (1956) if not for their shoddy sickly white-green wet paint jobs; the visions of life on Mars looks suspiciously like a fussball table with grasshopper heads stuck onto the little wooden soccer players. Explosions are indicated by the wave of a sparkler in front of the camera. But I actually love this kind of cheap sideshow flimflam as it credits the audience with having a child's imagination enough to fill in all the blanks (with their own DNA-encoded projection memories). With the help of imagination we can be literally hallucinate better effects for the story --we can literally 'see' details that aren't there. When we're adults these details are dismissed as 'hallucinations.' Oh the fools!!
I vividly remember being told the story of this film by an excited, terrified kid late at night when I was around seven years old during a slumber party. He was agog with this tale of frozen insect demons on a spaceship that come alive as ghosts and then the whole world is destroyed and everyone turns evil... and... and... I thought the film sounded impressive and since he was scared talking about it I got scared too. He made it seem like the scariest thing ever made. It sounded so fantastical, I was sure he made it up, for no movie could be that cool and me not know about it. The way he made it sound I figured if I ever saw it I'd just drop dead from fear. But then decades later I finally see FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (AKA QUATERMASS AND THE PIT) and, whoa! This is what that kid was telling me about... and it's still cool, but much cheaper looking than I 'remembered!'
I had imagined all sorts of shocking images: giant blue grasshopper-like monsters glistening and gleaming in their icy chambers, huge pillars of flame cracking the earth in half.... Seeing it now is to laugh heartily and also to wonder if there's not even a purpose to the almost surreal level of cheapness, a kiddie sugar-coating over a core truth too shocking to consider as fact without the accompanying option that it's fake. The official cover story about the crashed craft is that it's a German V2 left over from the Blitz. That's a good alternative truth for the panicked people, and a parallel with the theory that UFOs are experimental Nazi craft brought to the States via Operation Paperclip. People need a story like that to deflect their anxiety. If we ever saw a real flying saucer we might remember it only as a hubcap; we might remember a 'grey' as a white owl; a mantis alien as a grasshopper art project, and that's how it should be. The aliens are too horrible to imagine straight on; we need to believe it might be fake to even consider it might be real. Think of the hardcore fundamentalist conservative who dismisses global warming as liberal brainwashing! God bless their horned little heads! How much like that fiery vision of Hell on Mars will their blindness will reap!
My point: without an out, an alternate "what if," people really would panic, and the first place they'd demand answers would be the science and the military, which would then have to admit they're powerless. As they say in AA, who wants to admit complete defeat? Not us! we hide in the sand of the hourglass even as our every move is under a microscope we will never see, except FIVE MILLION YEARS from now, long after this civilization is dust in some other planet's wind... and lo, people will look to finally see the lord's big TV eye looking down from the microscope of cosmic law, but there will be no bible to remind us how to handle the grasshopper mantis devil soaking up our psychic energy, because everything will be on kindle, and thus long gone, gone as a cloud, and the lord will send Denzel, to bring the bible to us, so it is written in THE BOOK OF ELI (2010)... in CGI.