A solid X-rated sci-fi/horror picture from Hammer Studios with a good script and acting. DD-Video R2 DVD.
the late 1940s and early 1950s, Hammer Films had carved out a
niché producing low budget B-pictures based on popular radio
serials. When the BBC first broadcast The Quatermass Experiment (1953-TV serial), Hammer quickly grabbed the rights and shot their first X rated horror themed picture, The Quatermass Xperiment
(1955). The film was very popular, and Hammer quickly went to produce a
sequel. Again an X-rated horror/sci-fi picture with a similar theme,
only a rights issue stopped them using the Quatermass character.
in Scotland, an army unit on maneuvers is exposed to deadly radiation
after a flaming chasm opens up in moorland. Later a young boy
suffers radiation burns after encountering something moving in a forest
and an atomic scientist finds that some radioactive material has gone
missing from his lab. Dr. Adam Royston (Dean Jagger) from the atomic
energy institute sets out to find out what causing all the problems and
discovers a deadly and dangerous creature, unknown to science...
X the Unknown was the first feature length film written by Jimmy
Sangster, who would later go on to write many of the big gothic horror
films. The story typical of your monster B-movie - a weird
creature comes from
somewhere, kills a few people, a scientist tries to stop it.
Fortunately, Sangster avoids most of the B-movie clichés such as
the teens who see the monster but no-one believes, or the head
scientist having a sexy young daughter who flirts with the police man.
Instead, the film is rather effective, with a variety of interesting
characters, some very tense scenes and even a relatively plausible
explanation for the monster. The climax is strong, although the
very ending seems rather rushed.
The film had a rather confused production, originally it was being directed by American Joseph
Losey who had been forced out of the States by the anti-communist
witch-hunts of the early 1950s. However, when American leading man Dean
Jagger arrived, he refused to work with Losey and so Leslie Norman was
brought in who was relatively uninterested in the project and who many
of the crew found awkward to work with. Fortunately, this turmoil
doesn't show on screen and the picture's direction is solid and simple,
in the style of Val Guest or Terence Fisher. The special effects are
impressive, including some very gory melting faces with some good model
work and matte paintings. The monster itself is not seen until late on
in the film and does look unavoidably cheesy. James Bernard provides a
typically string-based orchestral score that builds the tension well.
Hammer's big British stars become marquee names, they were often sent a
big name actor by the American distributors to help promote the film
and sell it overseas. Dean Jagger was more accustomed to Westerns or
war films, but actually fits in quite well here as the relatively
mild-mannered scientist. The rest of the cast are decent enough, with
Hammer regular Michael Ripper popping up as an army sergeant. Ultimately, X the Unknown
is a decent little B-picture with some very tense scenes and good
characters - enjoyable but not life changing. Decent acting and special
effects combined with strong direction set this film above the average
for the genre. Recommended to fans of B sci-fi pictures, and of
interest to Hammer fans.
Anyone famous in it?
Dean Jagger - American character actor, starred in Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) and Firecreek (1968)
Directed by anyone interesting?
Little known British director Leslie Norman.
Is it scary?
There several good, tense scenes.
Several off-camera deaths, with some rather graphic melting people.
Who is it for?
Fans of B-picture sci-fi/horror films should enjoy this solid entry.
A strong, mood enhancing soundtrack from Hammer regular James Bernard.
Original Aspect Ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Black and White. The print is strong, with good detail and a little print damage. Quite grainy.
English language mono. Mostly fine.
Feature: 1hr 16m 34s (PAL)
The disc includes:
Commentary with James Sangster and Hammer Film historian Marcus Hearn
- an interesting track with little dead air, and some good set
and general Hammer discussion.
On camera interview with James Sangster - a broad overview of his Hammer career. (20m 36s)
Original cinema trailer with a ludicrous oversell, lots of print damage and packed with spoilers. (1m 41s)
World of Hammer Episode
- 'Sci-fi' - a rather dull series from the 1980s that is little more
than a Hammer clip show and full of spoilers. (24m 33s)
A detailed 24 page booklet about the film and its background.
Available as a single-disc release or in the Hammer Horror: The Early Classics boxset. Both include the booklet. Was also available in a dual-pack with The Abominable Snowman.
Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Anchor Bay US DVD and E-M-S German R2 DVD (title XX Unbekannt), neither includes audio commentary or interview.
A solid sci-fi/horror B-picture with a good cast, decent effects and strong direction.
A good looking print and audio combined with interesting features and a booklet. A near-definitive DVD release.