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Friday, September 1, 2017

X the Unknown (1956)



Everyone knows about the Hammer horror movies, but most casual fans don’t realize that they did some cool early science fiction movies as well. X the Unknown is one of those movies. Prepare yourself to meet another abomination from the atomic age as the British do battle with X the Unknown!

The action starts with some soldiers practicing with their Geiger counter. Someone buries the “bait” and they have to find it. But suddenly the device goes wild and there is an explosion. No one is killed by it, at least not right away. A scientist, Dr. Royston, is called in to figure out why the men are suffering from radiation burns when there isn’t any radiation. To further complicate things radioactive materials are suddenly becoming inert and more bodies are showing up. Eventually a creature from deep beneath the Earth’s surface is discovered. It feeds on the energy of the atomic materials and is impervious to everything they can throw at it. Thankfully they have some heroic science types that can figure it out!

Be warned spoilers to follow. The British were doing some great Science Fiction movies in the ‘50s, including Hammer Studios. This is an intelligently written flick that does its best to stay realistic. I mean they are fighting a radioactive mud monster so that isn’t easy! The cast does a great job with the material and the writing is top notch. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the screenwriter, Jimmy Sangster, worked on some of their classic horror films and wrote an episode of Kolchak the Nightstalker! You can also count on the British to push the envelope beyond where an American production would take it. They kill a kid! They put him in danger and he dies. That would never happen in an American made production from the ‘50s.

The Mud Monster!
It isn’t just the kid that caught my attention. In addition to the radiation the creature gives off intense heat that melts anyone that gets too close to it. We get to see this happen on screen more than once. The flesh melts off of someone’s face. Put this in the context of a movie that was made in the mid ‘50s and realize that is hard core gore. Remember it was seven years later before H.G. Lewis got up to his fun at the drive-in. I also thought that the creature looks good. It has a definite Blob vibe to it as it oozes along the ground. Of course, the Blob was made two years later so who knows if those filmmakers saw this one. The creature is kept off screen till the last fifteen or twenty minutes of the movie and when it appears it doesn’t look bad.

If you haven’t caught onto the theme of this review yet I’ll lay it out for you. X the Unknown, and British horror/sci-fi was ahead of the curve in many ways. They were doing things even before the well-known Hammer relaunches of the classic Dracula and Frankenstein stories that were beyond what was happening here in the States. It boggles my mind that these movies aren’t better known. Even among hardcore fans they have slipped into obscurity. Do yourself a favor and track down a copy of X the Unknown.



© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer

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