Ray Milland is a doctor whose curiosity leads to fascinating, then disturbing visions, as X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes (1963) comes to UK Blu-ray. RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES puts on his dark glasses and takes a look.
THE FILM: As we strive to highlight the horror work of British performers, it’s pleasing to be able to focus on this vehicle for Wales’ very own Ray Milland, whose Hollywood career had already taken him through a 20-year run as a Paramount contract player and an Oscar win for The Long Weekend (1945). After that, Milland focused mainly on directing in television for a while, and actually appeared in very few theatrical films during the early 1960’s, but a three-picture stint with American International saw him direct and star in the post-apocalyptic thriller Panic In Year Zero (1962), as well as headlining two films for director Roger Corman.
The first of these was another of Corman’s Poe adaptations, The Premature Burial (the saga of why Vincent Price didn’t appear in that one is a story for another time), but the second was a more resolutely contemporary sci-fi affair. Originally titled simply X on the title card, AIP released it as X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes in September of 1963.
Milland is Dr. Xavier, developing eyedrops which will expand the vision of humans to see beyond conventional layers and effectively see through manifest objects. This involves much talk of ultraviolet and x-ray wavelengths.
Like legion film scientists before and since, Xavier makes the grave error of using himself as a human guinea pig, dissatisfied with the results of experimentation on animal subjects. As soon as the drops go in, the audience knows this isn’t going to pan out well.
Peter Fuller looked at the film for Spooky Isles back in 2014. My own observation on watching the film for the first time in many a year is that the film plays out more as a series of tragic episodes than a typical narrative, with set pieces involving an unfortunate altercation with a colleague, the doctor hiding out in a funfair sideshow, his exploitation by an unscrupulous carney and a last-ditch attempt to gather research funds in Las Vegas.
With each twist and turn Xavier becomes more and more disturbed by what he sees until an abrupt, still shocking conclusion. Milland’s lead performance, particularly in the film’s closing half hour is pitch perfect.
EXTRAS: Roger Corman’s commentary is carried over from the MGM DVD release of 2001, whilst an additional commentary by Tim Lucas, an appreciation by director Joe Dante (who got his start under Corman) and a short Trailers From Hell segment with Mick Garris are ported from Kino’s US bluray of 2015.
Second Sight boost their edition with a new Roger Corman interview, and it’s interesting to contrast the current observations of Corman (showing no signs of retiring from the movie business at the age of 93) with those on his earlier commentary track. There’s also a new in-depth appreciation by Kat Ellinger (Diabolique Magazine).
An interesting curio is an additional 10-minute segment, marked as Original Prologue. My gut feeling is that this was more likely produced to pad the film out for television screenings later, but regardless of its provenance it’s a fascinating example of the kind of superfluous (and indeed dull) material which was tacked onto films to increase their length for various reasons.
HOW DOES IT LOOK?: AIP’s films of the period are characterised visually by the cheaper Pathécolor process they employed, which somehow managed to look muted yet garish at the same time. Some later DVD releases of these films ramped up the colour levels in an effort to compensate, rendering the image in a somewhat oversaturated manner.
This release gives a good representation of how Corman and regular cinematographer Floyd (father of David) Crosby worked with the process. The interior sets are mostly very minimalist (likely through budgetary constraints), allowing one primary paint colour on the walls to dominate, and the slightly off-kilter palette of Pathécolor to add to the generally disorientating look of the film.
Grain levels are high, but again that is fully commensurate with the film process. The transfer captures Xavier’s proto-psychedelic visions in all their tripped-out glory.
SHOULD I GET THIS?: Another strong release from Second Sight, this thoughtful film is a highpoint in US horror/sci-fi of the period and this edition gives it some well-deserved love. Undoubtedly of its time, and yet strangely contemporary as well, X – The Man With The X-Ray Eyes may not be the most lauded of Corman’s horror films, but certainly deserves serious consideration alongside his Poe cycle, and a place in your collection.
X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes is released on UK Blu-ray by Second Sight on May the 4th 2020.