The UK used to have such good classic films, it would require a study to look into why that failed, my suspicion was trying to copy the Americans. So, Let’s look into what happens when Hammer Horror couldn’t get Quatermass again despite the success of the earlier film adaptions.
As said X The Unknown is essentially a Quatermass movie but without being able to use Dr Quatermass. So anyone who has seen the adaption of the first Quatermass experiment for film called The Quatermass Xperiment will get a similar feel from this one. It’s worth noting that just like Xperiment , X the Unknown proudly sports its X rating as part of the title (something different from other studios that would go beyond to try and avoid that).
Set in Lochmouth near Glasgow a group of soldiers using a Geiger counter stumble upon a large fissure in the ground that is giving readings of radioactivity. However, people start dying of radiation exposure including those far away in areas no one could have possible gotten to. What’s more, sources of radiation suddenly become inert after these deaths, this includes the death of a child and a rather gruesome scene of a doctor who gets attacked and you see first his body bulge before his face melts on screen (it does say X rating)
This is where Quatermass would come in.. but since Nigel Kneale said no instead we get the similar but legally distinct Dr. Adam Royston who works at the Atomic Energy Laboratory. He comes to a startling conclusion, that the culprit is a sentient but non solid life form. Basically it’s a sort of radioactive mud creature, formless outside of that the goopy sludge. Just being in close proximity to the organism is fatal due to lethal radiation levels, and honestly its decently pulled off. You don’t see much of it till near the end but the effect is satisfactory.
The film is black and white which is definitely advantageous in showing the entity as I can’t help but imagine the effect would be heavily hampered by it being in colour.
The strength of it however is the suspense and tension that’s built up. The genuine sense of menace presented by the unknown organism and just how dangerous it is thanks to not only the death of a child ( once again X rating) but seeing the doctor die from exposure to its radiation (which is very gruesome) so when they later conclude it would go right through a major city you understand the danger presented.
The film is quite an enjoyable surprise when I first stumbled on it though finding it was originally to have been a Quatermass story made very much sense thinking about what I had seen. A surprise showing for Sci fi horror viewing.