In a Scottish quarry British soldiers are running drills on using a Geiger Counter unaware that from deep down in the Earth's crust a shapeless mass of mud has risen which destroys anything in its past. Unable to work out what this mass of mud is doing American Dr. Adam Royston (Dean Jagger) is sent for to help get to the bottom of things. He comes up with a theory that this mass of mud is feeding off of radio active material and has a plan, all but a dangerous one, to destroy it.
Not often but sometimes I wish I was older and so that I could have experienced certain movies for the first time when they came out. That feeling of wishing I was older came again when I was watching "X: The Unknown" as in a technical way I enjoyed every part of it but was not blown away by it as I never really got the whole 50s Sci-Fi thing having not been born till the 70s. But trust me when I say for a low budget Hammer production "X: The Unknown" constantly impresses with its look and creativity as well as effects.
Now the basic storyline is simple; a mud monster is found, scientist fathoms out what is going on and then comes up with a risky plan to destroy it. It is the same formula used in dozens of old sci-fi movies and it works even if it means you can pretty much guess how it will play out. But "X: The Unknown" works thanks to the detail, from the convincing way that a fissure forms in the quarry to Dr. Royston noticing that a soldiers gun protected his back from what appear to be radiation burns, leaving a gun shaped patch of undamaged skin. I could go on but it is all these little details which keep you involved.
What also keeps you involved is the atmosphere and once again I find myself saying that familiar tricks are used to create the atmosphere. A young kid playing in the woods and as he moves towards something we haven't yet seen the score gets more frantic and then we have him standing there with fear etched into his face. I can think of countless movies which have done the same thing and done it better but the combination of the unseen, the frantic music and the kids horrified face still works to create atmosphere. And there are more tricks as well and variations on the one mentioned which all combine to draw you in.
The most surprising thing for me was whilst "X: The Unknown" featured some familiar names and faces such as Dean Jagger and Leo McKern the acting did nothing for me. In fact if I think about it the acting is okay but the characters are not commanding enough. It is a criticism I have of many of these Sci-Fi movies from the 1950s as they constantly fail to give us a character with charisma to connect with.
What this all boils down to is that "X: The Unknown" is a good Sci-Fi movie from the 1950s and whilst this sort of movie has never been my sort of thing it managed to keep me involved thanks to the directors creating some genuinely good atmosphere. But the lack of a really interesting character again ends up being my road block to more than just enjoying the movie.