Sunday, September 12, 2010

X THE UNKNOWN (Leslie Norman, 1956)

The Earth belches forth a parasite that feeds upon the fission of the Atomic Age, its amorphous symmetry laying radioactive waste to the surface world in its endless quest for sustenance. Hammer Films mimics the American zeitgeist of Cold War fiction, adventuring into this hybrid genre of science and horror that actually spawns it’s own grotesque cinematic bastard child: THE BLOB.

The film begins with restless soldiers during a training exercise, their Geiger counter clicking away in search of a harmlessly radioactive ingot. Suddenly, the ground erupts with fire and brimstone as a crack in the world opens into a grinning chasm, and a soldier’s flesh blisters with radiation burns. The bottomless hole vomit’s a sentient protoplasm that searches for nourishment, plentiful in the modern world of nuclear armament, this food of the gods. The roiling weapon of mass destruction consumes everything in its path, and one lone scientist has a theory that can render the charged creature neutral, as the army is impotent to stop its day of wrath.

Director Leslie Norman evokes a chilling suspense with bleak black and white photography, as landscapes of shadow and fog become the hunting grounds for this unknown evil. The story progresses logically and thrums with tension, as Dr. Royston’s erector set laboratory becomes the nexus of the investigation. Stunned into silence when a dead boy’s parents hold him morally culpable for the child’s gruesome demise, Dr. Royston must perfect his experiment quickly in order to save the world. American science fiction of the Cold War era is ripe with conflict between science and the military, but here the two work together to solve this violent equation.

The final act seems too rushed, as belief is suspended between two trucks that must have been built in a few hours (at most), utilizing Dr. Royston’s esoteric experiment. But they race to capture the malignant mass between two sonic disruptors and blast it to oblivion. As the film fades to black, we wonder if other denizens of this underground labyrinth will someday surface to feed again.

Final grade: (B)


  1. Sounds like it could be cool in an awesomely bad way. Nice site, btw! Love that you called it the Korova Theatre. I always enjoy a good Clockwork Orange. (Even though I'm not one for the Korova Milk Bar myself, being lactose intolerant.)

  2. I think you'll be surprised that this is cool in avery good way! A nice little horror/science fiction flick that isn't campy like its American counterpart THE BLOB. Don't get me wrong, I love THE BLOB and think it's a lot of fun (McQueen was so cool, even then!) but X has some truly creepy moments and has a mind under that amorphous mass.

  3. I've read that this was originally envisioned as a sequel to THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT, until Nigel Kneale forbade the use of his character, and Bernard Quatermass magically became Adam Royston.

  4. I have the original Quatermass trilogy on import DVD but have yet to watch them. I'll find time soon (but have to work through OZU first) and compare the two.