Returning to the science fiction genre for the first time since the 1950s, legendary B-movie producer/director Roger Corman is reunited with his star from THE PREMATURE BURIAL for X -THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES, one of his slickest and more highly regarded efforts from the 1960s.
Obsessed with the fact that human vision is limited to less than one tenth of the color spectrum, researcher Dr. James Xavier (Ray Milland, FROGS) is working on a formula which will solve that very problem. First applying the eye drops of his formula on a lab monkey (which dies shortly after), he then lets himself be the guinea pig, and after applying the stuff to his pupils, he’s given the power to see through things. Although fellow doctors Diane Fairfax (Diana Van der Vlis, THE SWIMMER) and Dr. Sam Brant (Harold J. Stone, THE SEVEN MINUTES) are supportive of his advances in science, he is denied the further funding necessary by a stuffy medical board. As someone totally opposed to Xavier's practices, Dr. Willard Benson (John Hoyt, ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE) refuses to acknowledge Xavier's insistence on a misdiagnosis of a young girl's illness and the correct way to operate (being able to see all the way through her chest); Xavier makes his point clear by slicing Benson’s hand with a scalpel (in a scene which is still cringe-worthy), taking on the successful operation on the child, but he is still to be charged with malpractice.
Becoming increasingly obsessive about his formula, Xavier attempts to apply a massive amount of the solution to his eyes, and is held back by the protesting Brant, who crashes through the window and falls to his death during the struggle. Xavier immediately makes his exit, becoming a fugitive from the law, and taking up employment as a mind reader (“The Man Who Sees All”) in an act run by carnival sleazebag Crane (Don Rickles, BIKINI BEACH). Crane believes he can make some really big profits with Xavier’s powers, situating him away from the carnival as a “healer”, surveying the health problems of the elderly for profit. Xavier is eventually reunited with Diane and they take off for Las Vegas where he can easily make the research money he needs at the gambling casinos. Accused of cheating due to the enormous amounts of chips he earned (not to mention the awkward wraparound sunglasses he’s wearing), he rushes out and is pursued by the police, crashing his car and ending up at a tented Bible sermon where the fate of his ongoing unorthodox experiments on himself are fully founded.
The title for X - THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES was devised by AIP co-head James H. Nicholson (a sci-fi lover who was great at coming up with flashy titles) and Corman took it from there, originally intending the main character to be a jazz musician rather than a researcher. The film was a far cry from the atomic monsters and rubbery critters from Corman’s 1950s sci-fi flicks, with an intelligent, more adult script devised by Robert Dillon and Ray Russell (who had also co-scripted Corman’s THE PREMATURE BURIAL). A nice change from the elaborate studio-bound Poe gothics that Corman was churning out for AIP at the time, X was done on a miniscule budget (most of it going to Milland’s salary) but it shows a lot of imagination and scope in its storytelling and though the special effects are limited, they are wonderfully executed. Xavier’s increasingly enhanced (and distorted) eyesight is cause for some far-out and sometimes disturbing imagery (use of an optical effect known as “Spectarama”), and the prosthetic contact lenses Milland wears to represent his mutated pupils are also quite gruesome. The film also has some amusing bits of budgetary ingenuity, and it’s hard to forget Milland envisioning happy dancing partygoers in the raw (and the editing process getting around any exposure of naughty parts), in one Corman’s best composed scenes.
X - THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES was mostly a critical success and it won the Trieste Science Fiction Film Festival award for Best Film of 1963. Milland’s salary may have eaten up most of the budget, but it was well worth it. The actor totally carries the film and is able to convey the right amount of anguish, obsession and ultimately madness to the character, and it’s definitely one of Milland’s best roles of the latter part of his career. This is also the first and best thing Rickles did for AIP (he also showed up in three of the “Beach Party” movies) with his carny barker/con man being pure evil who only sees dollar signs in X as he becomes increasingly suspicious of his mysterious abilities. Rickles also gets to incorporate some of his famous insulting routines as he squares away two obnoxious hecklers played by Corman regulars Dick Miller and Jonathan Haze. Also in the cast are Morris Ankrum (INVADERS FROM MARS), Barboura Morris (THE WASP WOMAN), Cathie Merchant (THE HAUNTED PALACE) and John Dierkes (DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL). AIP’s in-house composer Les Baxter did the eerie score, and the terrific cinematography is by Floyd Crosby, who Corman frequently employed, with good reason.
First available on DVD in 2001 as a Midnite Movies release from MGM, Kino Lorber now utilizes MGM’s current HD transfer for this Blu-ray presentation (the same transfer is also being made available on standard DVD). This Blu-ray is a major improvement over the original DVD release, presenting the film in 1080p HD in the its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors are bold and well saturated, skintones look realistic, grain is managed nicely and black levels are also solid. The elements also appear to have been in excellent condition, as any dirt and debris is practically nowhere to be found. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track has crisp dialogue, with Baxter’s score and the sound effects also handled well. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.
Carried over from the 2001 DVD is the audio commentary with Corman. Corman gives a thorough dialogue about the film, stating that Milland was very enthusiastic about the script, and that he later said this film and THE LOST WEEKEND were the two he was most proud of. He also talks about the film’s 15-day schedule (in a year in which he produced and directed five features), describes which scenes were shot in the studio and which were on location, the screenwriting process, the special optical effects, and he touches upon most of the talent behind and in front of the camera. Corman sums up by describing the film as a “low budget Greek tragedy”. An excellent new audio commentary has Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas, who champions the film as one of Corman’s “signature works”, and goes on to extensively detail the production of the film, including the development of the screenplay, and he describes segments from the original script not found in the final movie. Lucas, who originally saw the film on its initial theatrical release as a young boy, also gives tons of background information about the cast and he scrutinizes the main characters and their motivations. Lucas ends the commentary by mentioning a rumor about a final line of dialogue cut from the finished film (and that now we can certainly watch Roger Corman’s X “a little more clearly” with this Blu-ray). The featurette “Terror Vison! Joe Dante On X-THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES” (6:07) has Dante talking about the film’s profoundness and Corman’s ocular fixation in many of his movies. One of his favorites (he first saw it on a double bill with DEMENTIA 13), Dante describes X as "a very trippy, psychedelic movie for 1963”. The “Rare Prologue” (4:59), which was also found on MGM’s DVD, was material used to expand the television version, incorporating some pretty lame narration and various nature footage and such, as well as some shots taken from the opening of THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (as well as recycled Les Baxter soundtrack music). “Trailers From Hell with Mick Garris” (2:34) has the director commentating over the original trailer (it being his favorite Corman movie), giving some bio information about Milland and calling the film “an extremely intelligent genre film”. The original theatrical trailer rounds out the extras on the Blu-ray. (George R. Reis)
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