Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Film Review: X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES (1963, Roger Corman)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 79 minutes.
Tag-line: "Suddenly, he could see through clothes, flesh, and walls!"
Notable Cast or Crew:  Ray Milland (DIAL M FOR MURDER, FROGS), Diana Van der Vlis (THE SWIMMER, THE INCIDENT), Harold J. Stone (SPARTACUS, THE WRONG MAN), John Hoyt (SPARTACUS, BLACKBOARD JUNGLE), Don Rickles (CASINO, TOY STORY), Dick Miller (THE TERMINATOR, GREMLINS).  Written by Ray Russell (William Castle's ZOTZ! and MR. SARDONICUS) and Robert Dillon (PRIME CUT, 99 AND 44/100% DEAD, Castle's 13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS!).  Produced by Corman, Samuel Z. Arkoff, and James H. Nicholson.
Best One-liner:  "The city... as if it were unborn. Rising into the sky with fingers of metal, limbs without flesh, girders without stone. Signs hanging without support. Wires dipping and swaying without poles. A city unborn. Flesh dissolved in an acid of light. A city of the dead."

A Corman B-Movie with a William Castle pedigree, Lovecraftian sensibilites, and TWILIGHT ZONE-y aspirations...  and it works!   This is legitimately a good movie.  Visually imaginative, incredibly ambitious, and bleakly existential, it fulfills every aspect of a successful lower budget Sci-Fi/Horror flick.  With this small bankroll (and a headlining Ray Milland!) you can't sate those A-List appetites, but, by God, you can show them something different.  And that's precisely what X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES ("X," for short) sets forth to do.  
Pictured: something different.

Much of X's power lies in its ability to surprise, if not shock; therefore, I'd prefer not to spell out or spoil  the wonderful enigmas in its plotting, or even the full dimension of what "X-Ray eyes" means in the context of this film.   Instead, I will share with you my five favorite elements of the picture:

#1. 1960s Doctors Being 1960s Doctors.

MAD MEN– eat yer heart out.  These 60s professionals are chain smoking in the lab (amid volatile chemicals)
and using syringes to measure out 10ccs of dry vermouth while mixing the perfect martini.
This is clearly fantastic.

#2.  Ray Milland Dance Mania.

Ray Milland is as stiff as his starched collars; he's the apotheosis of a "square."  I love this about him.  His character is a Serious man who does Serious things.  He'd wear a suit to the beach.  Is there any doubt that this character voted for Nixon in the '60 election?  None at all.  This is all very well highlighted by his attempts at dancing The Frug during a wild staff party.
I think even Tricky Dick let his hair down a little more convincingly during his appearance on LAUGH-IN.  I wholeheartedly approve.

#3.  When It Becomes a Carny Movie.

I won't divulge the circumstances, but X briefly transforms into a "Carny Movie" about mid-way through, though it doesn't last.  It does, however, grace us with Ray Milland-silk-Zodiac-kimono action:
and nobody can ever take that away from us.  Nobody.

We also have Don Rickles as a shady carnival barker in a non-comedic role:
Don Rickles' face: Huggable or slappable?  You decide.

#4.  Dick Miller.
There can apparently never be enough Dick Miller.  The man pops up everywhere.  Here, he's an uncredited "heckler" and he gives the bit part a little more depth than you'd expect.  He's a three-dimensional heckler, if you will.  His heckling is rooted in lost love and self-hatred and fear.  He's a heckler with a backstory, dammit.

#5.  The bold imagery.
I love these 60s colors, the trippy effects, the madness, the sadness, the kaleidoscope of beauty and pain and forbidden knowledge.  It's a dark and cosmic film, and I stand by it.  Four and a half stars.

–Sean Gill