Having run out of steam at the end of part 3 of Stephen King's TV series The Stand I have forsaken the Walking Dude for now.
Going on a canny suggestion I got for sick bay cinema I switched to a Hammer horror, one I hadn't seen for a good few years: X The Unknown.
Made in 1956, what a black and white gem it is, a perfect Fifties British Hammer complete in every way.
There is so much good stuff to say about X I don't where to start.
Basically its about a secretive Scottish nuclear facility, which awakens a monstrous blob.
Along with Quatermass, X The Unknown is the daddy of all blob films. It is referenced in at least two later famous American blob films, the almost contemporary The Blob starring a young Steve McQueen and the Eighties blob homage The Stuff starring the frenetic Michael Moriarty.
X The Unknown stars many fine actors, some just starting out and some mid-way through their careers. A fresh-faced Kenneth Cope meets his gloopy demise early on in the film but he would rise to fame in ITC's iconic Randall and Hopkirk [Deceased] 13 years later as the ghost detective.
Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper can always be relied on to play a convincing officer of the army or the law and in X he's the hard-working Sargeant Grimsdyke in the thick of the radio-action.
He was as essential to a successful Hammer as the frantic music and foggy sets and had roles in the seminal Quatermass 2 and the TV version of Quatermass and the Pit during the Fifties making him an important part of blob cinema's heyday.
He held his own in the blood-soaked colour monster flicks at the end of the decade including the pivotal Revenge of Frankenstein and his familiar country voice and trustworthy manner were real assets in the gothic triumphs of the Sixties like The Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile.
Duncan Lamont was another Hammer regular. In X The Unknown he is badly burned by the radioactive ooze early on the film. In Quatermass and the Pit he plays Sladden the driller, in many ways the catalyst for martian carnage in the second half of the film.
Leo McKern appears in X as the inspector from the Atomic Energy Commission, the nuclear police. His belief in the ideas of the resident Prof, Dean Jagger, drives us and the film forward. McKern had a similar role in the later The Day The Earth Caught Fire as the sympathetic press hack who believes in his drunken chum's mad theories, which prove ultimately to be true in one of the finest sci-fi movies ever made.
Last but not least I come to Dean Jagger. In many ways two of his roles form book ends to my cinematic tastes and also to his acting career. Dean appeared in his first film in 1929. X came mid-way really in 1956. His last roles as an old man included two memorable bad bosses in Game of Death, Bruce Lee's final film and Alligator about monsters in New York's sewers, both personal favourites of mine.
I've read that X the Unknown was intended to be a further slice of Quatermass but wrangles with Nigel Kneale , Quatermass creator, stymied it. A shame really as X has Quatermass oozing from its every pore.
The essential ingredients for a successful British sci-fi flick like this included a remote village preferably on the coast of Scotland or Cornwall; a secret Government nuclear facility nearby, where boffins tinker with the fabric of matter itself; an unbending rationalist authoritarian in the form of a Government mandarin or Army Colonel; a friendly journalist or scientist and above all a progressive Maverick Prof, able to see through the veils of fog and slime, test unfathomable theories and save the day.
Oops, I say above all. Above them all and usually all around the cast would be a despicable mass or masses of seething gunk hell-bent on eating all the nuclear waste it could find or at the very least all the calcium and cranial matter it could suck [think Island of Terror!].
There are so many Fifties flicks concerned with remote Government facilities, a prism of the atomic age in which they were made. I'm unsure at what point Government bases became un-hidden enough to be of little interest to British sci-fi movie makers but at least this tradition did produce some high water marks later on as well.
Edge of Darkness is for me its modern peak. Aired in the winter of 1985 on BBC2 the six episodes must have epitomised the growing nuclear dread poisoning the Eighties. I didn't see it then. That would be years later on DVD. A real gem of the genre if you haven't seen the series.
Coming right up to date I can't help thinking that X The Unknown is indeed the MUTO from the 2014 Godzilla, another of my favourites. Like X, the Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism is awakened by Government activity, hidden from public view only to rise from the pit and consume its captors in its search for increased shelf-life. That is until the big G steps in!
X The Unknown spawned very few if any collectables other than those directly linked to its cinema release in 1956 i.e. lobby posters. I'm unsure if there was a press pack or promotional pamphlet.
I can't find reference to a Super 8 film release of X either but I'd be surprised if it wasn't. It did surface as a VHS in 1999 but again I'd be surprised if there wasn't any earlier video release.
Re-enacting X with toys back in the day would have been relatively easy if any kids had managed to sneak into the 'X' rated flick. I'm not sure how hard that would have been in the the winter of 1956. Eventually it will have turned up on one of the UK's three TV channels.
I said easy but I imagine toys were quite a luxury in reconstruction Fifties Britain.
There were plenty of atomic age toys about though in the late Fifties especially die-cast versions of the very kind of government vehicles seen in X The Unknown! Land Rovers, Antenna Vans, you name it! Just check out the Corgi Rocket Age Models gift set from 1959 [picture courtesy of Vectis].
All you needed to add was slime!
Have you seen X the Unknown readers?