“X the Unknown” (1956)
For those interested in genre filmmaking, it is important to remember that in monster movies the world seems to be populated by citizens paralyzed with fright so intense it inevitably leads to a hideous demise rather than their simply turning about and fleeing to safety. Nothing benefits a monster’s predilection toward mayhem (nor an unimaginative script) like obligingly stupid humans.
During a routine military radiation detection training exercise, a mysterious fissure opens resulting in both death and injury by way of radiation burns. Atomic research scientist Dr. Adam Royston (Dean Jagger, who makes for a rather dull protagonist with an emotionally disengaged performance) is summoned to assist in investigating, interrupting his secretive experiments which, coincidentally, will later figure significantly in dealing with the menace.
For the better part of “X the Unknown”, director Leslie Norman refrains from any view of the amorphous creature from the Earth’s core which has inconveniently emerged through a surface fissure and is stalking the Scottish countryside in search of radioactive refreshment. This well considered reticence benefits the film immensely as long as the focus of the story is on building mystery, which the director and his able cinematographer Gerald Gibbs handle with a sober, unshowy hand, thought one of their more atmospherically staged sequences- a terrified boy walking through a woodland pregnant with initially imagined danger -is sabotaged by the furious scoring of the usually reliable James Bernard; a musical cue so breathlessly hyperactive it suggests the composer may have been temporarily confused that his assignment was to underscore a “Carry On” parody.
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