It’s Hammer Time!: X The Unknown (1956)

Time to be frightened. As we saw a couple of weeks ago, Hammer Films had great success in 1955 with its adaptation of the BBC’s The Quatermass Experiment. Desperate for more X-rated Quatermass gold – and to tap into the success of US monster movies – Hammer turned to Quatermass’s creator Nigel Kneale and asked him nicely if they could use the character of Quatermass in another movie, albeit one he wouldn’t be writing. Whether he said it politely or not, Kneale gave a definite ‘No’ to that idea.

So Hammer instead went ahead with a movie that can only be described as “Quatermass with the serial numbers filed off”: X The Unknown. Incorporating elements of The Quatermass Experiment with (ironically) the still-just-a-glimmer-in-Nigel-Kneale’s-eye Quatermass and the Pit, this sees nuclear scientist Bernard Quatermass Dr Adam Royston (American actor Dean Jagger) and Inspector ‘Mac’ McGill (Leo McKern) investigating a mysterious source of radiation in the Lochmouth area of Scotland that killed a soldier. What is it that killed him and is currently killing others? Well, that’s ‘The Unknown’.

Featuring a cast of future stars, including Anthony Newley, Kenneth Cope, Edward Chapman, William Lucas and Frazer Hines, and television directors/producers (Peter Hammond and Ian MacNaughton), the movie was never never as popular as The Quatermass Xperiment but has proved influential enough that horror writer Shaun Hutson this year published a novel that updates it to the present day. Notably, the film was supposed to be directed by Joseph Losey, one of many Americans who had came to the UK to work after having been placed on the Hollywood blacklist of supposed Communist sympathisers. However, when Jagger arrived on set, he refused to work with Losey and Leslie Norman replaced the director.

Enjoy the film, which is preceded by an introduction from Hammer historian Marcus Hearn