Sunday, June 27, 2010

X: The Unknown (1956)

Director: Leslie Norman

Starring: Dean Jagger, Edward Chapman, Leo McKern & Edward Chapman

More Info: IMDB


Plot: A squad of British commandos returns from a covert mission suffering from mysterious symptoms and horrific burns. Dr. Adam Royston (Jagger), an atomic scientist, suspects lethal radiation and tracks down the source of this menace to a desolate area of Scotland. It's there that the threat morphs into a giant radioactive blob of mud that arises from the depths of the Earth to consume everything in its path.

My Rating: 7/10

Would I watch it again? Oh, yeah.

#3 on Hammer Horror (1957-1976)

Man, what a neat little picture! It just reinforces my feelings for QUATERMASS & QUATERMASS 2 that the problem with those films was the casting of Brian Donlevy. Dean Jagger as the scientist in this one does a great job as well as the rest of the cast which is what we've come to expect in a Hammer film.

For the longest time we don't get to see the "monster". When we do, it's effective and the special effects are handled pretty well. Yeah, it's basically The Blob, but it works, even if it is a little hokey. The story isn't unlike a lot of the sci-fi horror films of this time but it's the pacing, the music and the acting that set it apart from most. It's not a shining example of the genre but it's certainly better than a lot I've seen. Maybe it's the British accents.

This cat (below on the left, Jagger on the right) gave me that Leo McKern vibe a couple of times and, sure as shit, IT'S HIM! He's been in tons of shit. I love this guy. It's always neat seeing people in their early work. Look for future Hammer regular, Michael Ripper, as the gruff Army Sergeant.

There's a great scene toward the end where a little girl is in danger of being killed by the monster. I really thought they were going to actually kill her. I knew better as that sort of thing wouldn't have happened in a film of this kind in the 50s. Too bad. Cute kid. It would have been awesome seeing her end up like this other bloke who was melted by the monster. THAT was seriously awesome! The melting effect was super cool and I couldn't help but be reminded of the end of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981). Me thinks there was some inspiration found in this picture by Spielberg.

Literally, from the first half dozen notes of the opening theme I could tell it was written by James Bernard. As a film score buff (hence my moniker) since I was a little kid, there have been many films I've watched solely because of who wrote the music. Bernard Herrmann, John Williams, John Barry, Alex North, James Bernard - anything with their name attached is a guaranteed viewing at some point. I've yet to see a film of theirs that wasn't elevated by their music. Bernard's score for this one is no exception.

X:tU is a lot of fun in the vein of the first two QUATERMASS pictures and it's a great example of 50s sci-fi/horror and also of scientists in a positive role (for a change). Hammer really had a grasp on how to tell a good, if simple, story.

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