Obsessed with expanding the powers of human sight, renowned scientist Dr James Xavier aims to develop a formula that will allow the user to see beyond the visible spectrum. Experimenting on himself, he finally perfects a serum that gives him the power to see through solid objects. As he continues experimenting his ambition turns to obsession. No longer able to control the effects, his vision extends beyond the realms of human comprehension until he finally sees more than he can bear.
Featuring a wonderful restoration and seeing its first-ever UK release on BluRay, Roger Corman’s 1963 science fiction horror film has an interesting take on one of the powers that many of us probably wished we had as a child and from the outset, it’s designed to unsettle with an eyeball filling the screen before being revealed to be bubbling in a chemical jar, though it does avoid anything too disturbing – it is, after all, rated PG by the BBFC.
It’s an attractive work with an intelligent script that explores the ramifications of scientific curiosity and ambition, The Man With the X-Ray Eyes (or X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes) has many well-executed moments of tension and drama. This isn’t to say it is a dour piece, there’s an element of humour at times (seeing through people’s clothes is treated in a non-salacious, almost silly, way), but as Xavier begins to take advantage, it does become a touch darker, though never too dark.
With Ray Milland (best known for Dial M For Murder) in the lead role of Dr. James Xavier, we get a surprisingly thoughtful performance of a scientist intent on pushing the boundaries of human ability, buoyed by the admiration and support of his two colleagues, Diane Fairfax (Diana Van Der Vlis) and Dr. Brandt (Harold J Stone). It’s a powerful, if somewhat short at 79 minutes, exploration of what it means to “play god” and the toll it has upon someone as they realise the limitless extent of their ability and the lengths others would go to in order to try to exploit that ability.
Optical visual effects, as the x-ray powers develop, are largely composite shots with various levels of fade and with a touch of psychedelic colours or visual distortions occasionally mixed. Given their age, they are still remarkably effective considering that this wasn’t an, even in its time, big-budget studio film. Outside of the VFX, Floyd Crosby’s cinematography presents a largely conventional style for its time. This restoration, by Second Sight Films, is colourful and bright, with plenty of grain left in the film, and it draws out the warmth of the film stock on which the film was produced.
Roger Corman isn’t a mainstream filmmaker and continues to make films today, including sequels to Death Race and his many entries in the monster beast from the sea films such as Sharktopus, but that should not take away from the genius of an independent filmmaker, especially in The Man With the X-Ray Eyes. It remains a film that holds up today and should be a must-see film for classic and current science fiction fans.
The BluRay has a range of special features:
The ‘X’ Effect is a new interview with Director Roger Corman and runs for just over 14 minutes and has Corman talking about his history in film and of The Man With X-Ray Eyes in particular. Some of the content is covered in the audio commentary, though not word-for-word, and this makes a very good addition to the commentary and to hear that Corman would like to remake the film gives us hope we might see a modern take on this classic.
American Gothic is an interview with Kat Ellinger, Author and Editor of Diabolique runs for 23 minutes and is a new feature that explores the film and its enduring legacy, its themes and what makes it a cult classic.
Audio commentary by Roger Corman, who produced the film, along with writing it. It doesn’t appear to be a new commentary. He doesn’t speak for the sake of filling time and when he speaks it is with intelligent insight and reflection on a film that was early in his career. Listening to Corman discuss the optical effects is a particular highlight of the commentary.
Audio commentary by the film historian Tim Lucas is equally entertaining and educational, places a lot of what we see in the context of the time and genre. It’s a great exploration of the work with equal weight to Corman’s.
The original prologue is a very interesting, five minute, inclusion on the BluRay and it would have been nice to see this as in an “alternative version” of the film. It has a voiceover that sets the theme of the film – man’s quest to dominate limitations, in particular, the senses – backed by a filming style that is what you’d see in an of-its-time educational film, with footage backing up each of the narrator’s points before taking us to the hint of what’s to come.
Terror Vision! Joe Dante on The Man With X-Ray Eyes is only six minutes long, but it serves as something of a love letter to the film, as does Trailers from Hell with Mick Garris.
The film trailer is also included.
Dir: Roger Corman
Scr: Robert Dillon and Ray Russell
Cast: Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vlis, Harold J. Stone
Prd: Roger Corman
DOP: Floyd Crosby
Runtime: 79 mins
The Man with the X-Ray Eyes is available on limited edition Blu-ray from 4th May 2020.