Saturday, January 30, 2016

X the Unknown, Scotland Beware

When Alfred Hitchcock was looking for a screenwriter for "The Birds," he interviewed Richard Matheson.  Matheson wrote lots of scifi and several "Twilight Zone" episodes during his illustrious career.  This interview, however, would be a total failure for the would-be screenwriter. Matheson explained to Hitchcock that the birds should not be shown on camera, thereby making them a more ominous horror to a mindful viewer.  Hitchock responded, "No, No." Hitchcock wanted the birds shown a lot, and "The Birds" became one of the most famous horror films of all time. Today we look at 1956's "X the Unknown." This film is one that Matheson would have loved and Hitchcock would have turned off before the second half.
While the army is testing Geiger counters in rural Scotland, an earthquake opens a fissure in a muddy field. The fissure is giving off radiation and some soldiers suffer bad radiation burns. The high radiation levels come and go, and Dr. Adam Royston (Dean Jagger) is called in. The renown nuclear scientist is baffled.  Uh oh....places where radioactive sources are kept are invaded by an unknown force and the material is stolen.  No witnesses except some poor schmucks who melted after being close to whatever stole the dangerous elements. Royston theorizes, correctly, that some weird life form is coming out of the fissure and making it's way to the nearest radiation source, then returning to the fissure.
After a few more mysterious thefts, including from Royston's own lab, the army and our good scientist are able to predict the future path of this thing.  Through most of this film we do not see the monster, but are privy to views of the victims just before their demises. In one classic scene, the beautiful Nurse Zena (Marianne Brauns), fresh from a make-out session with a doctor, gives off a blood curdling scream as she witnesses the melting of that same doctor. Zena, very sadly, is then reduced to a drooling idiot. Oh no!  Royston figures out the monster's next path will take it through Inverness, thereby killing thousands, and now he must come up with a way to stop it.
Will the good Scots of Inverness be microwaved? Does our genius Royston have a plan? Is Nurse Zena's fate a morality statement from Hammer? Made by Hammer, this low budget film is big on moody acting and a stiff British upper lip. Lots of great screaming and looks of horror fill much of the 90 minutes. Perhaps a minor horror film, but a very enjoyable one.  "X the Unknown" is available on YouTube.

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