X the Unknown

Dir: Leslie Norman
Star: Dean Jagger, Edward Chapman, Leo McKern, Anthony Newley

"The trouble with these scientific types is they can't see the easy way out of anything. It's got to be complicated if it's going to work." So says an Army officer here, just before resorting to the "easy way out" - which, as you can imagine, involves trying to blow up the radioactivity munching, animated ooze which has seeped up from the Earth's core in Scotland. No prizes for guessing how that solution goes. This was originally intended as a Quatermass movie, but creator Nigel Kneale wouldn't let them use the character - not that it makes much difference. Here, Dr. Adam Royston (Jagger) is the Quatermassalike, charged with stopping the ooze from burning up everything it touches - which, incidentally, includes future Monty Python producer Ian Macnaughton, here playing a Scottish soldier called Haggis.

This clearly dates from a kindler gentler era, when scientists were allowed to potter casually, with dangerous, radioactive materials, in what appears to be a garden-shed. After all, who'd want to steal dangerous, radioactive materials? Putting sarcasm aside (if we must), this is entertaining hard-SF, which I note pre-dates The Blob by two years. I expected the creature, when finally seen - after many "Blob-o-vision" shots of people looking at it and screaming - to be really badly-executed. If no great shakes, I've seen worse from the era, and a couple of "melt" effects are both decent and surprisingly graphic. The scientists are also refreshingly fallible: "I don't know, but it shouldn't have happened," says Royston after an unexpected explosion. While there's plenty here that's dated or worthy of gentle mockery, it remains more than watchable, containing interesting characters and events which unfold at a brisk pace, that combined to hold my attention without much effort.

[November 2010]

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