Saturday, 28 January 2017

X the Unknown

Leslie Norman, 1956, UK

Hammer Horror drawing on the Quatermass formula, the title even trying to bait the infamous ‘X’ certificate, just like ‘The Quatermass Xperiment’ (Nigel Kneale would not allow them to use his renowned scientist at the time). Something unspeakable is unleashed from the ground during a military training exercise and wrecks mild havoc on a quiet English town. There is a pleasing 1950s old-school black-and-white ambience and an adequate face melting to mitigate some obvious padding as well a smart if conventional script by Jimmy Sangster. The basis is the era’s paranoia that radiation is everywhere – the creature feeds on it like an all-devouring primal fear – and this “even becomes the background to an assignation between a doctor and a nurse in a nearby hospital.” 

Dean Jagger is the somewhat baffled and wildly-conjecturing scientist here, a more amenable personality than Quatermass, an American ingredient for the overseas market: he too is stolid but a routine eccentric. The creature itself is vengeful radioactive mud so the whole adventure does become a kind of “Wot The Blob Did In Scotland” but this pre-dates the more infamous ‘The Blob’ (1958). Unlike that film, ‘X The Unknown’ maintains a eeriness and a mean edge – imperilled children is a motif – and although it remains minor fare, fans of this era’s B-movie shivers are unlikely to be disappointed. 

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