X the Unknown (1956)

X the Unknown (1956)


A bizarre spate of horrific burns in a Scottish village prompt scientists to think that it’s the work of a radioactive creature which has come from the Earth’s core and broken through the crust.


When The Quatermass Experiment, proved to be such a commercial success, a follow up was inevitable and Hammer set about trying to make this happen. However writer Nigel Kneale wouldn’t let them use the character of Professor Quatermass due to what he felt had been a weak adaptation of his BBC serial for the big screen in their original smash hit. Not being put off by his decision, Hammer went ahead and made this Quatermass-style science fiction film anyway and just changed the main character’s name. X the Unkown follows the Quatermass blueprint almost to a tee and so much so that anyone who had missed the title could easily mistake this for Quatermass.

Like the Quatermass films, the plot is believable and the science is plausible and this makes it all the more interesting to watch. Screen writer Jimmy Sangster, who would go on to pen some of Hammer’s most famous films, makes his Hammer debut here and although the plot isn’t as tight without Kneale’s involvement, Sangster makes the best he can of literally being saddled with the task of recapturing the essence of what made The Quatermass Experiment as successful as it was.

X the Unknown has a good mood and, with it being set mostly at night, there is a distinct sense of ‘what is really lurking out there?’ especially since we don’t see the radioactive creature for a long period in the film. There’s also a real attempt to make this more disturbing and horrific than anything Hammer had done before it as we see a man get dissolved in grisly detail. It would look revolting even in today’s film market but for 1957, this is really X-rated stuff.

One aspect of the film which it manages to nail perfectly is the monster. This pre-dates The Blob by a few years and but the glowing, jelly-like monster looks more realistic and definitely scarier because it’s been filmed in black and white. There are some dodgy-looking scenes involving miniatures but the monster is used sparingly and is effective enough when it’s used. It’s hardly a memorable screen monster but infinitely better than the cheesy 50s science fiction monsters that America was churning out around this time in the 50s. Composer James Bernard is back to give us another creepy score to add to the mood of the film and it’s amazing just how much atmosphere and mood is built through Bernard’s use of sound. He’s an unsung hero of the Hammer days.

Dean Jagger makes for a convincing scientist in the same mould as Professor Quatermass, just not as brash or arrogant. However I liked those traits about Quatermass being the pompus scientist and the cold way in which he would treat his colleagues with contempt. You knew he could make tough decisions for the benefit of his work and that is not the case with Dean Jagger’s Dr Royston. He’s a solid replacement but just not memorable in the role and his unemotional, rather bland performance gives us no one to really root for. Michael Ripper makes his Hammer debut in this one. Ripper would be a mainstay of the Hammer films for over twenty-five years, usually in minor roles such as innkeepers or gravediggers.


X the Unknown is still a good science fiction film from Hammer, proving that when they did sci-fi well, they did it excellently. Those people, like me, looking for a regular fix of a Quatermass-style film can be rest assured this is as close as you’ll get to the real thing.





One single comment

  1. Jeff says:

    This movie scared me to death as a kid. Especially the melting scene.

Post a comment