X THE UNKNOWN (1956) Reviews and overview

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‘Nothing can stop it!’

X the Unknown is a 1956 British science fiction horror directed by Leslie Norman from a screenplay by Jimmy Sangster (The Curse of Frankenstein; Dracula; The Mummy, etc). It was also promoted as X… the Unknown.


Following on from The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), their hit adaptation of the BBC TV series, Hammer Films continued to mine the same vein of 1950s paranoia induced by post-war scientific developments and radioactivity in particular.


The original director of the film was Joseph Losey (The Damned), an American director who had moved to the UK after being placed on the Hollywood Communist blacklist. Although Losey began shooting the film and some of his footage is included in the final cut, he was replaced by Leslie Norman due to either illness or Dean Jagger’s objections (accounts vary).

Caltiki: The Immortal Monster (1956) and The Blob (1958) are clearly influenced by X the Unknown.


Main cast: 

Dean Jagger (Revolt of the ZombiesEvil Town; Alligator), Edward Chapman (The Man Who Haunted Himself ), Leo McKern (The Omen [1976]), Anthony Newley, Jameson Clark. The supporting cast includes Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper.

Half the film’s budget, $30,000, was provided by RKO Pictures. which went towards the fee for imported American ‘star’ Dean Jagger. Despite this, an American distribution deal between Hammer and RKO fell through, and the film was distributed in the U.S. by Warner Bros.

Lochmouth, Scotland, near Glasgow: A group of soldiers find a small and seemingly harmless hidden source of radioactivity in a wide pit area. But their is an explosion and Private Lansing, who was closest, dies of radiation burns.

Doctor Royston (Dean Jagger), from a nearby Atomic Energy Laboratory, is called in to investigate, along with Inspector McGill (Leo McKern), from the UK Atomic Energy Commission.

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That night, a local boy goes to a tower on the marshes, where he sees a horrific off-camera sight…


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” … highly imaginative and fanciful … There’s little letup in the action, and suspense angles are kept constantly to the forefront.” Variety

“There is a good build-up of suspense with shadowy and remote Scottish settings used to good advantage, and the monster itself is kept out of sight until fairly late (when it does appear it doesn’t disappoint on the technical level, thanks to fine special effects by Les Bowie, Vic Margutti and Jack Curtis), but overall it lacks the memorable quality of the first Quatermass…” John Brosnan, Future Tense: The Cinema of Science Fiction, St. Martin’s Press, 1978

” … little more than a competent 50’s monster-rampage flick. It is hampered by some unusually desperate pseudoscience, which somehow manages to sound even less credible than it normally would for being spelled out by Dean Jagger’s otherwise thoroughly reasonable and down-to-earth Doctor Royston.” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting

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“… photographed in shadowy monochrome by Gerald Gibbs, with a sense of muted hysteria and despair underlying the stalwart attempts to defeat a radioactive thing which erupts in the Scottish highlands. Trash to people who don’t like sci-fi or horror movies, but in a lot of ways it communicates the atmosphere of Britain in the late ’50s more effectively than the most earnest social document.” Time Out


“Pacy monster-on-the-loose science fiction, Sangster’s first script… keeps the movie moving. Only dismal special effects and a monster that looks like tepid tapioca spoil the general effort.” Alan Frank, The Science Fiction and Fantasy Handbook 

Cast and characters:

Dean Jagger … Doctor Adam Royston
Edward Chapman … John Elliott
Leo McKern … Insp. ‘Mac’ McGill
Anthony Newley … LCpl. ‘Spider’ Webb
Jameson Clark … Jack Harding
William Lucas … Peter Elliott
Peter Hammond … Lt. Bannerman
Marianne Brauns … Zena, the Nurse
Ian MacNaughton … Haggis (as Ian McNaughton)
Michael Ripper … Sgt. Harry Grimsdyke
John Harvey … Maj. Cartwright
Edwin Richfield … Soldier Burned on Back
Jane Aird … Vi Harding
Norman MacOwan … Old Tom (as Norman Macowan)
Neil Hallett … Unwin (as Neil Hallet)
Kenneth Cope … Sapper Lansing
Michael Brooke … Willie Harding (as Michael Brook)
Frazer Hines … Ian Osborn (as Fraser Hines)
Max Brimmell … Hospital Director (uncredited)
Robert Bruce … Doctor Kelly (uncredited)
Brown Derby … Vicar (uncredited)
Raymond Dudley … Bit Part (uncredited)
Archie Duncan … Sgt. Yeardye (uncredited)
Patrick Halpin … Hospital Porter (uncredited)
Arthur Howell … Jeep Driver (uncredited)
Lawrence James … Gerard (uncredited)
Edward Judd … 2nd Soldier (uncredited)
Brian Peck … 1st Soldier (uncredited)

Choice dialogue:

Doctor Adam Royston [Dean Jagger]: “For the time being, let’s not conjure up visions of nameless horrors creeping around in the night.”

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Peter Elliott [William Lucas]: “It was like something out of a nightmare, it was horrible!”

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Major Cartwright [John Harvey]: “The trouble was some of 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.”


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