X the Unknown (1956)

Director: Leslie Norman, Joseph Losey
Starring: Dean Jagger, Edward Chapman. UK. 1h 21m

There are a lot of familiarity about this 50’s Hammer Horror sci fi mystery film. Being from the classic horror company there are quite a few familiar faces especially the young round face of Michael Ripper who masquerades with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in a lot of Dracula and other Hammer monster projects.

Sadly Nigel Keale refused to give permission for his beloved character Bernard Quatermass to be used in this pseudo third chapter, but the similarities are there, and this contains the relevant allegorical threads revealing Cold War anxieties.

Starting out in Lochmouth, a remote region of Glasgow a group of soldiers are using a Geiger counter to detect small harmless hidden source o radioactivity, unfortunately a private stumbled on a strange reading, and the ground starts to boil, there’s a massive explosion and a crack appears in the ground, while treating the men for radiation burns Dr Royston (Jagger) and his assistant Mr “Mac” McGill (McKern) are called to investigate the mystery.

Later that night a pair of boys dare each other to go on to the marshlands where the earthquake/explosion was felt. One boys sees a horrific sights off screen and begins to run, his friend tries to keep up but being totally unaware he stops to check on what they are running from and is killed by the unknown entity, later on one of the doctors treating the radiation patients stops to have a little intimate time with a nurse when a un seen creature breaks into the hospital turning him into a charred corpse and leaving his sexy nurse screaming and jabbering incoherently.

Dr Royston hypothesizes that while the earth was in it’s molten stage millions of years ago, there were beings who survived on the surface, but as the earth cooled they began to live further into the Earths core but every 50 years when the planet goes through certain shifts, these changes causes them to come up to the surface to seek out food from radioactive sources.

It’s a long shot but for most of the movie he’s ignored, but when the creatures start to make their presence known and are finally seen the powers that be are very happy to adopt this theory in order to fight the creatures before they destroy the world as we know it.

From what we know about Quatermass (1955) and Night Caller from outer Space (1966) these scientists just exist with unlimited budgets and always save the day with their brilliant ideas. But with the Hammer Horror team these is a Science based horror movie and has to have a culpable monster, at first it’s quite atmospheric and you don’t see it but the curious and devastating effects, which makes it much more cereal and atmospheric.

At times the movie can be quite technical, but it remains surprisingly entertaining that won’t kill off any brain cells and has some decent effects, but unlike other sci fi movies at the time there isn’t an intelligence that the audience can understand or engage with but the unique plan hatched to despatch the creature is quite thrilling for the highlands of Scotland. Once the creature makes itself seen, the film then has some links with the Blob just set in Scotland
A pretty satisfying science fiction movie which makes you wonder why Hammer didn’t make many many more.

Rating 5/10

Related: Quatermass (1955), Quatermass 2 (1957), Night Caller from outer Space (1966), The Blob (1958/1988)
Lists: 10 of my favourite Hammer Horror Movies
Spotlight: Michael Ripper

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