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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Sci-Fi Coming Through Back Doors


Black-and-White Hammers Make Stealth Entry

Landmark Sci-Fi Buried Beneath Sexploitation
X --- The Unknown is recently out on Blu-Ray to join The Creeping Unknown (The Quatermass Xperiment) and Enemy From Space (Quatermass II).  Each were meant to follow up on science-fiction that had been popular on British television, feature treatments by Hammer so far well received in the home market, and getting US released through United Artists. The Creeping Unknown was widely seen in the states thanks to its placement behind popular The Black Sleep on 1956 double bills. Unknown got 8,302 bookings in the United States. Domestic rentals were $275,000, better than if the film went out as a single.  The Creeping Unknown had been called The Quatermass Xperiment in England, but “Quatermass” was a meaningless word, or name, in our parlance, and emphasis on “X” over Experiment was more an inside gag on UK censorship that again meant nothing to stateside patronage. Another Quatermass, retitled Enemy From Space, appeared on Fall ’57 schedules, 5,473 dates the limit, and way below The Creeping Unknown, but Enemy From Space, despite a luck-of-timing Sputnik tie-up, had not the advantage of combo placement with another genre title, this by ’57 a sour note for admissions. Crowds wanted their sci-fi two for one, or not at all. Even color Hammers or high profilers like The Fly came in pairs. X --- The Unknown arrived to US markets, first via RKO exchanges, these closing one-by-one as the company was dissolving, thus X saw limited exposure as co-feature to whatever was left of RKO inventory. There was a pressbook prepared that doubled X --- The Unknown with The Cyclops, a suggested ad shown below, but there weren’t many bookings, few enough, in fact, so as to enable Warner Bros. to take over X as an extra to their release of The Curse Of Frankenstein for schools-out 1957.




X --- The Unknown had a large advantage for back-seating with The Curse Of Frankenstein, a monster hit to shade Hammer output right to the mid-60’s when sexed up product from them demonstrated far bigger demand for Ursula Andress or Raquel Welch than vampires or wolf men. X was keyed to thinking man sensibility, a calm before or after storm that was Frankenstein with his eyeballs and brain insertions. I’d like knowing if X commanded focus from ‘57 viewership, a sort it clearly deserved for being well thought-through. Did souped-up teens and moppets pause their popcorn to hear Dean Jagger explain theories of energy let loose that no one could stop? You had to ponder X’s theme to be frightened by it, which raises a question of how conducive jammed first-runs houses were to such level of concentration. Were there walkouts after Curse jolt that lured them in, or did X --- The Unknown hold attention for all of its 81 minutes in black-and-white? Our Liberty played the combo for Halloween 1957, months after Summer openings elsewhere, not unusual for back-of-line small towns, and note from the ad at right that The Curse Of Frankenstein ran alone for October 30’s Wednesday evening warm-up, X --- The Unknown joining the following day, and one more day after that. The Liberty ran The Curse Of Frankenstein again the following year, but did not invite back X --- The Unknown. Point is, Frankenstein scoring so large meant that, for most engagements, X --- The Unknown did too, a lot of folks seeing the latter that might have ignored it otherwise. X benefited, then, from the company it kept.

7 Comments:

Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Tried to post this on some Hammer and Horror facebook pages but learned Greenbriar Picture Shows violates Facebook's community standards. Who woulda thunk?

I saw BLACK SLEEP on its own in my small (large to me then) movie theater in Chipman, New Brunswick. First Hammer I saw was CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF. Second was EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN.

Saw CURSE ON A DOUBLE BILL with HORROR OF DRACULA when my dad moved us to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Remember lots of kids (I was one but not one of them) yapping through both.

Have yet to see X which, thanks to you, I will see this week. Another great post.

8:13 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Maybe because Greenbriar doesn't maintain its own Facebook page? Yet another reason I avoid social media.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Perhaps now and then nudity. I posted a pressbook from a Hammer Film (TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER) that had nudity on it. Got banned from FACEBOOK for a night and a day.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Reg,

That reminds me of the fabled female British censor who banned THE INVISIBLE MAN because he was naked.... Had no one told her that everyone is naked under his/her clothes?

12:52 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

In the fifties Warners favored a select number of solid scifi/horror bills for the summer trade. THEM was produced inhouse, most of the others relatively inexpensive independent or foreign pick-ups allowing, I imagine, for hefty advertising budgets. 1957 must have been the peak year, with CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and X THE UNKNOWN coming along in early summer then THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN and THE BLACK SCORPION in the fall.

Of the three early Hammer 'X' outings, I'm afraid I've always preferred X THE UNKNOWN. Saw it when I was very young and vividly remember the shot of the swelling hand of a victim roasting in radioactivity. Creeped me out big time!

3:25 PM  
Blogger b piper said...

"That reminds me of the fabled female British censor who banned THE INVISIBLE MAN because he was naked.... Had no one told her that everyone is naked under his/her clothes?"

As kids my brothers and I were forced to go to the Saturday matinee every week, like it or not, so our mother could have the house to herself. The one exception was when GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI played. She reasoned that if the bikini was invisible the ghost must be naked. If only...

8:14 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Mothers...I went to see a horror film the name of which is long forgotten. With it was a short film that dramatically showed the flood in all of its detail. The narrator told us God promised never to do that again. Just as I said, "Yay, God," the narrator said, "Next time it will be FIRE!" Then we got the fire.

That was the moment I realized we die.

That night as I lay in bed thinking about death for the first time in my life I reflected that I might not be with my mother when she died. I went downstairs and gave her a hug.

As a result she cut me off horror films. Horror films had nothing to do with it.

I was probably 8 at the time.

As it turned out when my mother died I was not with her.

Good thing I gave her that hug when I did.

7:55 AM  

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