‘How do you kill mud?’ is the fascinating existential question posed by this enticingly drab sci-fi movie from 1956; if you enjoy seeing close –ups of 1950’s Geiger counters pointed at large lumps of mud, you’re in for a real treat here, and X-The Unknown features non-stop shots of exactly that. Of course, you can’t make a film from mud alone, so Leslie Norman’s film, partly directed by Joseph Losey, is a straightforward tale of science vs nature, with nature competing under the guise of a large slab of wet earth.
X-The Unknown was written as a sequel to Nigel Kneale’s tv and movie hit Quatermass, but the notoriously curmudgeonly author refused to have his characters used outside of his own story, and Dr Adam Royston (Dean Jagger) was invented as a hasty stopgap. He’s a whizzo scientist who gets called in to investigate when a mysterious being is spotted outside of the fictional town of Lochmouth, Glasgow, Scotland; an ethereal, other-worldly being that is able to pass through air-vents like a gas. Even in Glasgow, this kind of behaviour is seen as surprising, and so Royston decides to science the sh*t out of everyone by figuring out what this spectral being is.
A creation of the Hammer horror studio before they discovered blood, gore, girls and other blandishments to offer the audience, the Unknown creature is discovered by a motely collection of thespian soldiers (Kenneth Cope, Anthony Newley and Michael Ripper) before legging it up the A9 towards Inverness, turning everyone it encounters into melted skeleton candles along the way, including a couple who are daft enough to canoodle in a radiation room. Amongst such lo-fi spectacle, Royston’s laboratory really has to be seen to be believed; a small motorised crane behind a pane of glass, it’s described as a top security facility but looks more like a garden shed, and doesn’t inspire confidence that the authorities will prevail.
Relauched by Amazon Prime just in time to catch a fresh wave of social insecurity during a pandemic, X-The Unknown shares with the Quatermass movies a belief in science rather than the motives of government; not ideal viewing for the anxious. But X-The Unknown is a particularly British kind of horror; with an invisible monster that the professor hopes to combat with invisible radiation waves, there’s quite literally nothing to see here in the climactic but mud, mud, glorious mud, delivered in no parsimonious measures.