Friday, July 8, 2011

Attack of the Scottish Blob


X, The Unknown, written by Jimmy Sangster, directed by Leslie Norman, starring Dean Jagger (Dr. Royston) and Leo McKern (Inspector McGill) (1956): Tight little Hammer science-fiction horror film from the mid-1950's, seemingly consciously constructed to resemble the proto-Doctor-Who Quatermass tv serials and movies (the title recalls the title of the then-recent Hammer Quatermass picture, The Creeping Unknown).

Atomic scientist Royston ultimately becomes the only thing standing between an intelligent radioactive blob and global armageddon. The blob, which apparently lives somewhere in the Earth's molten mantle or core, surfaces in Scotland and starts heading for every available radiation source, which it then slurps up.

This would be fine if it didn't kill any human being in its way. The blob is pretty much a big, radioactive brother to the Horta in the original Star Trek episode "The Devil in the Dark": even its malevolence is in question, as its mere proximity to a human being kills that person due to heat and radioactivity. For all we know, it's just on vacation.

There's an enjoyable ruthlessness to this movie that probably wouldn't exist now, at least if it were a studio picture -- a young boy actually dies of radiation poisoning, foregrounding the menace. The filmmakers wisely keep the blobby thing off-screen as long as possible, and when we do see it, we don't see it much (a scene of the blob destroying power lines shows us just how limited a budget the filmmakers were working with). There's also a shocking level of violence for the time period -- two victims melt pretty convincingly before our eyes.

The science is hooey, delivered quickly and with conviction. The performances by Jagger and McKern are solid and professional, lending verisimilitude to what is, after all, a Shaggy Blob story. The film ends with a tiny lack of closure, in keeping with its overarching story concern with the gaps in human knowledge when it comes to the fundamental atomic forces of the universe. A fun 80 minutes. Recommended.

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