In this day and age of Marvel movies and super hero films, my mind sometimes sees those story mechanics in other older films too. X: THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES certainly has the basics of a comic book origin story. Ray Milland (named Dr. Xavier by the way) is a scientist fixated on his research dealing with eyes and the fact that humans can only see less than one tenth of the visual spectrum. When he develops a drug (eyedrops) that can allow the eyes to see more, he can only see himself as the proper test subject. Sound familiar? A dedicated scientist isa bit too overzealous and experiments on himself. In this case he's given the "super power" of x-ray vision. He becomes sort of a "super doctor". What's interesting about the movie is that it examines the wonder and discovery phase of such heightened abilities, but it also examines the potential horror and torture that might come with them. That sort of pathos is unexpected from an A.I.P. picture, but Corman often found ways to smuggle such things into his movies. I respect that about him as a filmmaker. I also respect his casting choices, especially here. Ray Milland is an excellent choice for such a role as this as he can play a believable scientist and also bring the weight of sympathy when things go awry. But Corman knows that pathos doesn't sell as well as titillation, so he can't help but be more "commercial" and throw in exploitative elements here and there (Milland sees a whole party full of naked people at one point). Corman also makes some interesting choices when it comes to special effects as far as what Milland's character can see with his x-ray vision. The effects themselves, though somewhat rudimentary, get the job done and hint just enough at what the character is experiencing whilst also providing a psychedelic visual display for us the audience. Joe Dante says in an interview on this disc that he believes this film was something of a dry run for Corman's later work in THE TRIP and he would seem to be correct.
Ray Milland is great in the film, but so is Don Rickles in an early sleazy role and that is a nice surprise. I've always liked seeing Rickles in films, but this is a bit more dramatic than he usually goes and he does it well. Dick Miller has a scene too and I love to see him in bit parts in Corman films. One of the credited writers (Ray Russell) was also responsible for Corman's PREMATURE BURIAL (see below) and William Castle's MR. SARDONICUS among others. X: THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES is one of Corman's best and most ambitious efforts and it's great to finally have it on Blu-ray.
This Disc has a nice collection of supplements:
-"Terror Vision! - Joe Dante on X: THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES"(6 mins) - Director Dante recalls his first viewing of X and discusses the profound nature of the movie and its themes. He also talks about the special effects and expresses a curiosity for what this trippy film might have looked like if it had been made today. Dante is one of my favorite people to listen to when it comes to film discussions so this interview (though short) is a pleasure to watch.
-An Audio Commentary by Director Roger Corman. Corman is an intelligent, well-spoken man and he has lots of insights into choices that he made with regards to all aspects of the filmmaking and it's a very enjoyable track which I liked a lot.
-An Audio Commentary by Film Historian Tim Lucas. Lucas is a remarkable commentary essayist and his tracks are always packed with information and function as master classes in whatever film and or filmmaker he happens to be discussing. This one is no exception. Great stuff.
-"Trailers From Hell" with Mick Garris sharing his thoughts on the film (his favorite Corman film).
THE PREMATURE BURIAL (1962; Roger Corman)
This movie also stars Ray Milland and was of course directed by Corman and was the one that preceded X: THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES. This film was the third in Corman's Edgar Allan Poe cycle as he had previously made HOUSE OF USHER (1960) and PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961). Because the other Poe films star Vincent Price and this one doesn't, I think it is often forgotten as a part of that series. It's very interesting to look at this film in the context of the others just to see the difference between the way Vincent Price and Ray Milland approach this sort of period character. Just the presence of one or the other of these two actors shifts the feel and tone of the film that they are in. While I personally think Vincent Price was pretty much born to play in the Poe universe, Milland does a good job here and it makes for an interesting movie. Both actors can be quite charming, but in contrasting ways. Milland had played lead parts in films before whilst Vincent Price was more of a supporting character actor for a good portion of his career. Milland might be seen as the more conventionally handsome of the two men and so therefore had some romantic lead roles which were rare for Price. PREMATURE BURIAL was before Milland took on his numerous "grumpy old man" roles for which he may be quite well-remembered. That grumpiness crept through in a lot of his films and can be seen a quite a bit here too. Milland's character here (Guy Carrell) is death-obsessed and has a fear of being buried alive. He even builds himself the most morbid man-cave ever and an escape-hatch coffin complete with digging tools inside to help burrow his way out if the unthinkable should happen. He's kinda nutty, but I must give him credit for some seriously thorough preparation. His wife (to whom he is a huge grump) is a bit more concerned about him and understandably so. As with X: THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES, this film also contains a few rather psychedelic scenes (a dream sequence with lots of kaleidoscopic color overlays occurs about half way through). I like that Corman would take such a period movie and add these hallucinatory bits to it. I sometimes wonder if he was playing to a habitually drug -using audience or if he was just fascinated with stylistic variations like these in movies. Oh and PREMATURE BURIAL also makes nice use of some creepy whistling, which I am always a fan of as a tool for generating unease. Plus it has a gnarly-toothed Dick Miller which is fantastic. And it might be obvious to say, but this film may have been an influence on Wes Craven in the making of his film THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW.
-On-camera interview with Roger Corman (10 mins). In this interview, Corman gives the backstory behind PREMATURE BURIAL. He talks about working with Pathe (who were interested in starting a distribution company) on the film and that being part of why he cast Ray Milland (Vincent Price was under contract to AIP). The film ended up being an AIP picture and Roger talks about how that happens. He recalls the differences between working with Milland versus Vincent Price as well as his cinematographer Floyd Crosby and how he used a lot of the same techniques on this movie as he did on the other Poe films.
"Buried Alive! Joe Dante on THE PREMATURE BURIAL" (10 mins) - Dante talks about the Milland/Vincent Price situation and his memories of being excited to see the third Poe film (as he had seen and liked the previous two). Other topics include the films composer Ronald Stein, regular cast members and the odd popularity of these period pictures with youngsters of the time.
-"Trailers Fom Hell" with Roger Corman talking about PREMATURE BURIAL.