GORE IN THE STORE
THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES ****
Directed by Roger Corman.
Starring Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vlis, Harold J. Stone, John Hoyt, Don Rickles, Dick Miller.
Horror/Sci-Fi, USA, 79 mins, Cert PG.
Released in the UK on Limited Edition Blu-ray by Second Sight Films on 4th May 2020.
Originally released in 1963, THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES (the original ‘X’ precursor to the title has been dropped for this release) comes from probably the most prolific period in filmmaker Roger Corman’s career as a director as one of five movies he directed that year. Given the man’s output and the cheap n’ cheerful (in a good way) nature of his style you would be hard pressed to pick a single movie to be given a high definition makeover - let alone be packaged into a glorious special edition – but the wizards at Second Sight have chosen wisely as THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES, despite its 1950s sci-fi title, is one of Corman’s most disturbing and nastiest movies.
Doctor James Xavier (Ray Milland – DIAL M FOR MURDER) is working on a formula to create x-ray vision but his financial backers have lost faith in his work and pull their funding, although not before Xavier has tested his eye drops on himself. Now reduced to working back in surgery Xavier begins to use his new powers to overrule the operating surgeon as he can see through his patients’ skin and isolate their problems but after an accident that involves the death of a colleague Xavier goes on the run, with fellow doctor and love interest Diane Fairfax (Diana Van der Vlis) not far behind and suspicious carnival worker Crane (Don Rickles – CASINO) threatening to blow his cover as his new powers begin to take over his mind.
With comparisons to THE FLY (both versions), THE INVISIBLE MAN and THE INCREDIBLE HULK, the sci-fi element of THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES is a little hokey but the conviction with which Ray Milland underplays James Xavier sells the story convincingly enough so that when the film does place one foot into camp territory it doesn't undo anything that has gone before. The only time it really threatens to do so is when Dr. Xavier goes to a party full of people considerably younger than him drinking and dancing, during which time he is able to see through all of their clothes, which sees Ray Milland successfully keep a straight face whilst seeing what the camera hints at but never shows; just imagine the same scene played out with, say, Adam West or Roger Moore in Milland's place and the end result would have been entirely different.
One of Roger Corman’s recurring themes, especially during this period of his career, was the embracing of youth culture and rebellion against authority. Coming out of the rock n’ roll and beatnik eras of the 1950s, Corman’s work was full of brash, youthful exuberance and THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES is no different, despite the fact that Ray Milland was in his late 50s at the time. Corman peppers the movie with psychedelic touches that would become a lot more popular - and by consequence, less effective - later on in the decade but here it feels more natural, complimenting the themes of what our minds can see and what our eyes actually see blurring together. The special effects that help pull a lot of these ideas off are fairly well done for the time, using various colour blending techniques to create a sense of disorientation that also suggests there is more going on inside Xavier’s physical and mental self than just what his eyes can see.
For a movie that is relatively low-key Second Sight have gone to town on the package as a whole, the disc coming housed in a rigid slipcase featuring new artwork from the legendary Graham Humphreys, which you also get on a double-sided poster with the original artwork. There is also a book with writing on the film by Jon Towlson and Allan Bryce but the disc itself contains a superb print of the film, bursting with colour and looking decidedly fresh considering its age, and two commentaries, one by Tim Lucas and one by Roger Corman himself, who also provides a brand new interview about the film. There are also featurettes on the film featuring writer Kat Ellinger and filmmaker Joe Dante, plus a TRAILERS FROM HELL section on the film hosted by filmmaker Mick Garris.
So as well as the love shown for the film by the interviewees in the special features, Second Sight have pulled out all the stops to give this early 1960s B-movie a suitable HD makeover and it is worth it as THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES is a movie that gives a little more with every viewing, so deep are its themes and subtexts, but also for a bit of fun it still delivers, resulting in one of Roger Corman's most interesting and disturbing movies, despite the lack of sex and violence. Joe Dante suggests in the special features that the movie has so much going on in it that a modern remake could be a good idea, and that is probably true, but would a no doubt gorier or more violent take be as startling or as scary as a terrified and desperate Ray Milland talking to God whilst wearing black contact lenses and losing his mind? Perhaps not.