Friday, May 1, 2020

X the Unknown

X the Unknown
Leslie Norman and Joseph Losey

An explosion from a fissure claims the life of a soldier and badly burns another. The burns appear to be from radiation. Dr. Adam Royston (Dean Jagger) is called in to investigate. Strange deaths continue to occur, but always in the presence of containers of radioactive material. Dr. Royston begins to believe that something from deep in the fissure is emerging to consume radioactive substances, but first, he must convince his boss and the army of his theory.

X the Unknown began life as a Quatermass movie, a sequel to The Quatermass Xperiment (1956). Creator Nigel Kneale did not allow for the use of the character, but the film carried on regardless. Bernard Quatermass wouldn’t have felt out of place in this story at all. Much like those films, the story centers around a scientist with a small team using what they have to investigate a series of bizarre events that lead to a titanic horror that borders on the cosmic. Like the Quatermass movies, there is a rich sense of gravitas and doom throughout the story.

Things get out of control at the novelty fake vomit factory.
The main character of X the Unknown is Dr. Adam Royston, a mild-mannered physicist who is the opposite of the loud and aggressive Bernard Quartermass is every way. Nothing ever seems to get a rise of Dr. Royston, his overbearing boss, a stubborn military, or even some angry grieving parents who attack him. With a lesser script and actor Royston could come across as pathetic or uninteresting but he invests himself with the audience using his infinite patience and dry wit. The downside is that there isn’t much beyond what we see of the character, we get no idea of why he is the way he is. There is a sense that the proliferation of nuclear weapons has caused him to become something of an anti-nuclear activist, but we know little beyond that.

"I've encountered a vein of delicious nougat."
X the Unknown continues the early Hammer studio tradition of bridging horror and science-fiction with a film that not only tries to put speculative thought into its threat and solution but mixes some truly graphic deaths for a film made in the 1950s. The most notable gore scene is the death of a doctor that provides us with not only a grotesque swelling hand but also a delightful melting face effect that still packs a punch. The X itself is realized with some very good miniature and rear projection work. While the thing lacks the memorability of The Blob (1958) despite predating it, it is still an interesting faceless horror that feels like a force of nature.

X the Unknown is a relatively fast-paced, smartly written, and enjoyable work of SF-Horror. Its British origins free it from some of the more jingoistic elements that often plagued atomic horror films. The black and white cinematography is beautiful and the acting great all around. This is a film that seems to get passed over in discussions about the horror of the 1950s and it is a shame, X the Unknown should be better known.

No comments:

Post a Comment