X the Unknown (1956) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A radioactive, mud-like creature terrorizes a Scottish village.

  • British Army radiation drills at a remote Scottish base attract a subterranean, radioactive entity of unknown nature that vanishes, leaving two severely radiation-burned soldiers... and a "bottomless" crack in the earth. Others who meet the thing in the night suffer likewise, and with increasing severity; it seems to be able to "absorb" radiation from any source, growing bigger and bigger. What is it?? How do you destroy a thing that "feeds" on energy?


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • While going through some routine practice training in Scotland for mine detection, a group of soldiers detects a large radioactive signal just before the ground opens up in an explosive eruption. They summon plutonium scientist Dr. Adam Royston (Dean Jagger) for advice as to what to do. When Royston's own lab is destroyed, he surmises that the culprit was un-human; when two soldiers guarding the large crevasse disappear where the ground erupted, he understands that there is some chemical force at work. The Army decides to block up the with concrete, but Royston knows that the force will come out for more radioactive material and prepares for it. When it is revealed by Dr. Royston that the monster is actually a mass of energy, he gets ample resistance from the voice of reason, the Army generals at hand who decide to bomb the thing back to the center of the earth where it came from. In a final showdown with the force taking a horrible new form, Royston and the Army fight for their lives. ============================================================================= This is a more detailed synopsis. The movie opens with the credits and title over an open muddy field in Scotland. A soldier, in a radiation suit, holds a Geiger counter and walks searching for a buried sample. This is a military training exercise. The soldier, "Spider" Webb (Anthony Newley), finds the cylinder in a bit over a minute. As the soldiers are about to pack things in for the day, Lancing (Kenneth Cope) asks for a turn. As Sgt. Grimsdyke (Michael Ripper) buries the sample, buddy soldiers Haggis (Ian MacNaughton) and Webb gripe about the cold, the food and the delay. Lancing begins his search. Webb tries to help, but Landing has picked up a stronger radioactive source. Lt. Bannerman (Peter Hammond) takes the counter and tells Sgt. Grimsdyke to fetch Major Cartright. Major Cartright (John Harvey) pulls up in his Jeep and is escorted to the site of the strong radioactive reading. Lancing marks the location with a stick. Grimsdyke, Bannerman, and Cartright walk over to where the sample was buried. Lancing notices the water starting to bubble where he placed the stick. The ground begins to open and the surface water disappears. The other soldiers walk over to Lancing but are ordered back, yet Lancing, fascinated, remains behind. The Sergeant orders a soldier (Edwin Richfield) to fetch him, but the earth splits open, a fireball shoots up, and Lancing falls to the ground. In nearby Lochmouth, Scotland, an Atomic Energy Facility is processing nuclear materials - Cobalt. A Public Address announcement is made for Dr. Adam Royston. The director's son, Peter Elliott (William Lucas), is substituting for Dr. Royston, working on cobalt sample readings while Royston is down in his workshop some distance from the facility. The director, John Elliott (Edward Chapman) comes looking for Royston in person when Royston fails to respond to pages. Father and son have a philosophical difference as to the son's role at the facility. Dr. Adam Royston (Dean Jagger) tunes in a classical radio station behind a shield. He's conducting an experiment, using radio waves to rapidly counteract radioactive decay in certain chemical elements. Static on the radio indicates the chemical element is highly radioactive. A guard, Russell (Neil Wilson), comes to collect Royston. Royston walks back to the facility. The director makes it clear Royston is only to work on his assigned tasks and not his own pet projects. He also reiterates that his son is to concentrate on administrative duties, not play scientist. He tells Royston the Army contacted them about "a radiation reaction." He sends Royston to check it out, much to Royston's annoyance. Royston drives down to the War Department test site and takes Geiger readings. They are all negative. He tells the Major he wants to see the injured soldiers. Lancing is the most seriously burned. Royston immediately recognizes the type of burn. Next he examines the other soldier. His back is seriously blistered and the skin is peeling away. The unburned area corresponds to his rifle slung over his shoulder. These are radiation burns (yet without residual radiation). That night the Army returns with equipment Royston requested, including lights. Lancing has since died of his wounds. Royston requests the presence of the Major. He tells the Major, "There's nothing more we can do out here. I suggest you leave a couple of men on guard." Royston and Peter drive back to the atomic facility and discuss the clues. Two boys out for the evening are planning a little frolic. One dares the other to go to an old keep or tower and see "Old Tom." Willie Harding (Michael Brooke) sets off for the tower. He slowly and furtively creeps through the underbrush. He spots the tower and approaches but then sees something. His eyes widen in horror and he backs away, then runs back to his friend, Ian Osborn (Frazer Hines). Willie was severely burned and is now in hospital. Royston, called in by Dr. Kelly (Robert Bruce) to examine the suspected radiation burns, confirms the diagnosis. Kelly and Royston talk to the parents, asking Jack Harding (Jameson Clark) and his wife Vi (Jane Aird) of the boy's circumstances. They direct Royston to talk to their boy's friend, Ian. Royston stops at the church after services to question Ian. Ian is reluctant at first to discuss their little adventure, but finally tells him exactly where it happened. Royston drives out to the tower. An old moonshiner occupies the place. Royston brings his Geiger counter. He notices a soot-like substance on the floor and a liquid dripping through the ceiling. He finds a still and Old Tom (Norman Macowan) sleeping. Royston spots a radioactive sample bottle on the shelf. It is from his workshop. He tests it and discovers it is now inexplicably inert. Back at Royston's lab the place shows signs of burglary. Glass is broken and equipment is damaged with a strange soot-like substance everywhere. Peter arrives to find Royston going through the damage. Royston explains the container contains tritium with a half-life of 28 years, but the sample is now inert. Inspector McGill (Leo McKern) meets with the director, John Elliott. Because a crime involves radiation, McGill is required to investigate. He meets with Royston in the cafeteria. McGill asks about the child who was burned. He already talked to Old Tom and confirmed the child never touched the container. McGill asks Royston to help him investigate. Willie Harding dies shortly after admission to hospital. Dr. Kelly pronounces and consoles the parents. Royston and McGill arrive, and as they talk to Dr. Kelly, Jack Harding confronts Royston. He tells him, "You meddle with things that kill, like they killed my boy in there. You should be locked up. You're not safe, you're a murderer." A lab technician, Harry Unwin (Neil Hallett) exits the radiation treatment room and calls an obliging nurse for a little assignation, noticing static on the phone line. Willie's body is removed from his room. The nurse, Zena (Marianne Brauns), arrives, and the two retreat into the radiation treatment room where they kiss. Equipment in an inner room starts up on its own. Harry enters alone to investigate, hears a strong static sound, spots something on the floor, and retreats, cowering against the wall. Zena, safe in the outer room, sees it through the glass shielding and screams as the fingers on Harry's hand swell and blister and his face melts away like hot wax, revealing his teeth. The hospital director (Max Brimmell) shows Royston and McGill the lab. The storage vault is melted and covered in the same soot-like substance. "Obviously the radium was the target" reasons Royston, and concludes that the intruder can assume any shape, passing under a door or through a ventilation grill. McGill tells Royston that the Major posted soldiers at the origin point - the fissure. At the fissure, Haggis and Webb stand guard. Haggis hears something, sees a glow out by the fissure, and ventures to have a look. From the dark, he calls to Webb, then screams. Webb heads out to aid his friend and finds only his discarded rifle, covered with soot. He hears the buzzing / static sound and turns, fires his machine gun at it, screams, falls down, and is never heard nor seen again. Shortly thereafter, Royston, McGill, and the Major drive up <to discover the site unmanned. The major finds a torn cap. At the atomic facility, Royston calls a meeting to brainstorm. He proposes that the creature lives underground and is intelligent. About every fifty years, a particular planetary alignment exerts a greater pull on the Earth and the creature beaks out. To live it needs energy. Fifty years ago there was nothing on the surface to eat, but now there is - radiation, with radioactive isotopes in Royston's lab and at the hospital. The director is not convinced and calls the hypothesis "absolute rubbish." McGill wants to see the thing at the fissure. With arrangements and equipment provided by the military, Peter volunteers to go down into the fissure. On a ledge he discovers the uniform and skeletal remains of one of the soldiers. He continues down, but now his Geiger reacts. He sees "it" and demands to be pulled out fast. They get him to the car and McGill asks, "Peter, what did you see down there?" Peter breathlessly replies, "I don't know what it was. It is something out of a nightmare. It was horrible." The Major tells Royston his orders: kill the thing then concrete over the fissure. They employ napalm then detonate explosives and cover it in concrete. Royston is back in his lab working. McGill stops in for a chat and tells him what the Army did. Royston is dubious that that will stop the thing. He asks, "How do you kill mud?" McGill, under orders, is leaving for London. Royston tells McGill of his pet project, namely, the ability to disintegrate atomic structure without the explosion. McGill leaves, parting as friends. At the fissure, the concrete cap explodes and a mud-like creature flows out. The atomic pile at the facility is now inactive. They are removing the cobalt to be transported elsewhere. McGill calls headquarters and requests a delay in his return to London. The phone line is bad and he has trouble hearing his boss. As he leaves he hears a police report about "people melting." He stops cold, takes the report and rushes to the scene. A car is burned and has the same soot-like substance on it. McGill calls Royston at the facility and tells him four people were melted. Royston, the director, and Peter go to the director's office to consult a map of the area. Royston tells John and Peter the thing senses radiation and moves in a straight line. After noting the first two incidents on the chart, Royston plots a third line from the fissure to where they are - the Atomic Energy Establishment. "It's on its way for the biggest meal of its life." McGill arrives at the facility as the cobalt is loaded onto a truck. The creature arrives at one of the guard posts and, before the affected guard melts, an alarm is sounded. The creature rolls over a building and absorbs the cobalt. They suggest clearing its path when it returns to the fissure. McGill explains to the director they need to take action tonight. The next target is an even larger nuclear facility, and to get there it must pass through Inverness. Royston and Peter are in his workshop working on his experiment. The Director and McGill arrive to see another test. As a new sample is bombarded with radio waves, the Geiger counter shows less and less radioactivity until it shows zero, but the container starts to glow, then it explodes. Royston is concerned it won't work, but everything they need is at the fissure to scale up this experiment and try it on the creature. Royston proposes to use a radioactive "bait" on a Jeep to lure the creature out of the fissure and between the radio transmitters. He coordinates synchronizing the transmitters. He calls for the Jeep to go to the fissure, but the driver has trouble keeping the vehicle running. He is sick, so Peter takes over. Against orders, he pulls the Jeep closer to the fissure to lure it out. It chases the Jeep between the radio transmitters and begins to glow and writhe. It explodes into flames and disappears. Royston calls for Geiger counters for a reading. They approach the fissure to an even larger explosion that knocks everyone off their feet. We close with Royston walking up to and peering into the fissure.

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