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X The Unknown (1956)
Director: Leslie Norman

review by Octavio Ramos Jr

One of Hammer's successful forays into science fiction laced with dark fantasy (much like the Quatermass series), X The Unknown attempts to create not so much horror (a guttural response to something frightening) but rather terror (a paralysing response to the unknown). It is therefore easy to surmise that the inspiration for such a film would be H.P. Lovecraft, who redefined horror and terror in his piece Supernatural Horror in Literature.
   Indeed, the creature in the film, a radioactive 'blob' able to assume any shape or transparency, with origins beneath the earth, existing perhaps even before the dinosaurs, hints at Lovecraft's abomination known as a 'shoggoth.' In Lovecraft's literature (particularly his novella At The Mountains Of Madness), the shoggoths were slaves to other creatures known as the Old Ones. There came a time when the shoggoths rose up against their masters, and in that 'great war' some shoggoths escaped deep into the earth, where they wait to once again surface and take their place as Earth's dominant race.
   X The Unknown presents such a creature, and even though it is never named, it resembles and acts like a shoggoth. The creature is unearthed when British commandos detonate several explosives during manoeuvres. These explosions trigger an earthquake, which in turn causes a huge rupture deep in the earth. It is from this fissure that the creature emerges. The creature is heavily radioactive, literally melting anyone whom comes within its proximity. Only Dr Rayston (Dean Jagger), an atomic scientist specialising in radiation, can stop it. Working with the military, Rayston sets a trap for the creature before it has an opportunity to cause even more damage.
   The dialogue, writing, and directing are excellent. Because special effects were minimal at the time, films relied more on acting, writing, and editing to create a sense of menace and dread. The creature itself is not very frightening, but its ability to become invisible and kill with radiation more than make up for this. If Hammer could have used today's special effects, the menace would have been remarkable.
   Very few Lovecraft scholars have ever drawn a parallel between this film and Lovecraft's fiction (even the recent book The Lurker In The Lobby fails to do this). If you are a Lovecraft fanatic, you must watch this film - it is, perhaps, the only time you will ever see a shoggoth on the movie screen. Moreover, anyone who enjoys solid storytelling and direction will enjoy this film.
X The Unknown
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