Roger Corman is the king of B-Movies, and he has a trailer (and dust bin) worth of titles to prove it. While many of these films are low in quality as well as budget, it is undeniable that Corman has also made some good movies. In fact, there are some real gems in the bunch. How good can he be? Well, as a director he has given us classics like The Raven (1963) and The Masque of the Red Death (1964) not to mention the subject of this very review. As producer, he has helped to launch the careers of protégés like James Cameron, Ron Howard, Joe Dante, Francis Ford Coppola and even Martin Scorsese.
But back to X – The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, which is most assuredly a B-Movie horror/sci-fi flick that fits comfortably into the Corman library to be sure. Yet this film was made with the same care and fascination that Corman put into many of his best films. Furthermore, he took the film seriously and helped to make the strange tale believable.
And a “strange tale” it is. X – The Man with the X-Ray Eyes might have fit perfectly in any given 1950s horror comic from Tales from the Crypt to Weird Fantasy to, well, Strange Tales. Still, the story, supposedly conceived by Corman but actually written by Robert Dillon and Ray Russell, was high quality enough to attract Oscar-Winner Ray Milland (1945’s The Lost Weekend). True, Milland’s career wasn’t quite at its height, but he gives a command performance here and surely must have felt that the script deserved his best.
Milland portrays Dr. James Xavier, a dedicated physician with a big idea to improve vision for the better diagnosis of patients. To this end he creates a special eye drop that enhances eyes to give a sort of comic book advertised “X-Ray Specs” power. At first Xavier can control this talent and uses it for fun (such as seeing through ladies’ clothes at parties, like an 11 year old might) as well as science (like performing surgery while seeing every ailment he can eliminate with one procedure). However soon Xavier’s powers become erratic, as does his behavior, and he is forced to wear special glasses to block his visions and he works as a sideshow performer while on the run.
Yes, Xavier somehow manages to transition easily from intended hero to villain and rubs elbows with sleazy carnival owner Don Rickles. While the plot can be somewhat disjointed and episodic, the story and acting (although somewhat dated, admittedly) do manage to hold viewer interest throughout. The action progresses to a disturbing but fitting end as Xavier’s power and personality both become out of control, also hearkening back to the classic horror/sci-fi comics.
Unlike the lion’s share of DVDs and Blu-rays of today, this Kino Lorber 2015 release actually has some quality bonus features to shed light on and enhance the viewing experience. Director Joe Dante appears in a short called “Terror Vision!” while Mick Garris comments on the trailer in his “Trailers from Hell” segment. The original trailer can also be viewed without commentary. The feature itself has two commentaries, one from film historian Tim Lucas and one from Roger Corman himself in that distinct, calm voice he sports. The extras round out nicely with the rarely seen deleted opening sequence.
Kino Lorber should be applauded for opposing the recent trend of not only leaving out new extras but also deleting existing and readily available bonuses from previous releases.
As for X – The Man with the X-Ray Eyes itself, there is no question that the film is dated. The title alone practically screams “B-movie!” as loudly as It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958). While films like this might not be popular in today’s movie market, it is surprising how well the film stands up after this many decades. Even the bizarre ending has a resonating factor that helps enhance the film’s enjoyment quotient. The underlying question is all about how much one can desire to see before one sees far too much for any human to bear. This metaphor for the search for knowledge has helped X – The Man with the X-Ray Eyes to find its audience and fans (including author Stephen King) decade after decade. Luckily, the distributor cares enough about the film to lay on some good quality extras to make the disc worth the asking price. Do you “Dare to Look Into the Eyes of Madness?”