X The Unknown (1956) [31 Days of Hammer Horror Review]

With Halloween looming large at the end of the month, and Hammer Horror recently making its return to the world of comics courtesy of the fine folks at Titan Comics, we figured now was the perfect time to take a look some of the the fantastic Hammer back catalogue.

So this month, Jules is planning to watch every single Hammer Horror movie and share his thoughts with you fine, horror loving people.

You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of Hammer” by CLICKING HERE.

Released: 1956
Starring: Dean Jagger, Leo McKern
Director: Leslie Norman

With the coffers still overflowing from the unexpected hit that was The Quatermass Xperiment, Hammer were quick off the mark to abandon several projects and go straight to fast-tracking a sequel.

With the soon-to-be legendary Jimmy Sangster writing his first script for the studio and public interest at a high, it wasn’t long before the wheels came off when author Nigel Kneale refused permission to use his character and a swift re-think was in order.

A Quatermass film in all but name, X The Unknown is an oft-overlooked but worthwhile early entry in the Hammer horror vaults.

An army unit training in the wilds of rural Scotland with buried uranium material discovers something much more dangerous has been disturbed from the depths of the earth – a living, growing mud that feeds on radioactivity, hideously burning or even melting anyone in its vicinity.

Standing in for the morally ambiguous Quatermass and having to deal with the monster that he’s partly responsible for is atomic scientist Dr Royston, played by no small amount of warmth by Dean Jagger.

With the nature of the initial deaths a mystery to begin with, its Royston who first puts the pieces together and it’s a credit to how likeable Jagger pitches him that what is, let’s be honest, a ludicrous idea even for a sci-fi horror, he makes it almost plausible.

Add in Leo McKern on brilliant form as a friendly military policeman who forms a sort of double act with Jagger’s scientist as well as a delightful cameo from Doctor Who’s Jamie MacCrimmon himself, then-child actor Frazer Hines and you have a strong cast to unleash hellish mud upon.

The plot moves as slow and steady as it’s eponymous blob, involving a lot of talking and investigation while keeping the revelation of the creature back as long as possible. It’s more than acceptable when it does appear, but the real effects highlights are on what it does to people.

As the mud creature grows in size, the victims are less slowly killed by radiation burns and more melted to nothing in seconds. Flesh melts off the skull of a doctor, a security guard’s hand swells and blisters before we see his smoking carcass slumped on the floor. This is a film you can be glad is in black and white as there’s no way such graphically-realised death would ever have made it past the censor’s scissors.

Released a full two years before The Blob, X The Unknown is a smart take on the old atomic monster trope, with the solution to its defeat coming from Royston’s own research into removing the threat of atomic weapons forever.

It’s not a classic, but it’s thoroughly entertaining all the same. You could have forgiven Hammer for sticking to the formula for a few more films, but they had other ideas, as they were already eyeing up a much older idea than atomic horror. Instead, they had an appointment at Castle Frankenstein…

Rating: 3/5.

JULESAV The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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