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Critical Mass

November 01, 1987|Patrick Goldstein

Will the real Martin Quatermass please stand up?

He's listed as the screenwriter of "Prince of Darkness," John Carpenter's latest scare-fest. Quatermass even has a generous bio in the film's production notes. But is he really a former physicist and brother of British rocket scientist Bernard Quatermass, as the notes contend (and as many critics wrote in their reviews)? Or is he actually a clever pseudonym invented by Carpenter, a big fan of several '50s British fantasy films that chronicled the adventures of a scientist-hero named . . . Bernard Quatermass?

Numerous veteran reviewers took the production notes literally, including the N.Y. Times' Vincent Canby, who dismissed Quatermass' "first screenplay" as being overloaded with dialogue and "stingy" with surprises. Our own Michael Wilmington cited brother Bernard, the rocket scientist.

(Among critics who spotted the ruse: Her-Ex's Deborah J. Kunk, Chicago Trib's Dave Kehr and Daily News' Michael Healy.)

Carpenter acknowledged that he wrote the sly bio--and that the pseudonym was "meant as an homage to Nigel Kneale," the screenwriter who penned the British films and who has been "an enormous influence" on Carpenter's career.

But: "I can't tell you who really wrote the screenplay. I made a promise to someone that I wouldn't tell anybody. Anyway, I don't want to help you guys."

He implied that he may have collaborated on the script with a scientific heavyweight: "Despite what the critics wrote, all the scientific principles (about quantum physics) in the film are true. In fact, considering who wrote the screenplay, it would be as if Albert Einstein had written a book under a pseudonym--and then all the reviewers said the book's scientific claims were hogwash."

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