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X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES

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Review by Alex Haberstroh

Stars:  Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vlis, Harold Stone, Don Rickles
Director:  Roger Corman
Audio:  Dolby 1.0
Video:  1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Subtitles:  Spanish, French
Studio:  MGM
Features:  See Review
Length:  79 Minutes
Release Date:  June 5, 2001

“We’re blind to all but a tenth of the universe.”
"My dear friend, only the gods see everything.”
“My dear, Doctor, I’m closing in on the gods!”

Film **1/2

A fan of The Twilight Zone, I was immediately intrigued by the title of X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes.  Popping in MGM’s “Midnite Movie” special, my expectations were high, as I anticipated a classic sixties science fiction story.  This was not quite the case.

In all fairness, the film has a few things going for it.   For one, it has good performances from its star, Ray Milland, as well as from other members of the cast.  Second, it begins with an interesting premise: Dr. James Xavier (Milland), obsessed with seeing beyond what any mortal man can see, tests a chemical serum called “X” on himself, hoping that it’ll help him make incalculable breakthroughs in the world of medicine (he uses the serum on himself after his original test subject, a rhesus monkey he tries it on first, suffers from a heart attack, “most likely due to the things he has seen,” Dr. Xavier suggests, rushing to subject himself to the same serum, clever, no?).

Unfortunately, after the first couple of minutes, the story doesn’t seem to follow through with its concept, instead degenerating into something neither thought provoking nor terrifying, but rather campy. 

Director Corman made a few worthwhile points worth exploring in the included director’s commentary.   As he himself has stated publicly (as well as it being printed on the back of the DVD), X was made in fifteen days for only $300,000 (even in 1963 this was a paltry sum for a film).  This low budget likely cost the film, as many of the special effects appear quite dated not only by the standards of today’s audience, but also by those of 1963.  Thus, Milland’s reactions, such as wide-eyed horror, and later cries of madness, no matter how powerful, become ridiculous to the viewer when shown what Milland looks at in horror, and it’s nothing more than a couple of multicolored lights.  Moreover, the ending of this film seems forced and altogether disconnected with the rest of the story, which I discovered later to be the fault of American International, which allegedly forced the ending upon the director.  If the director revisited the film today (as he even suggests wanting to do himself), the film might gain the extra leverage it needs in the special effects and editing departments, resulting in a more thoroughly engaging product.  

X isn’t horrible; it’s just not that great.  There are many themes in the film, the most important being the ramifications of trying to take science into matters that perhaps were best left alone.   Nothing too new is suggested here, as most of the questions the film raises have been discussed ad nauseam since Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein.  

Video **

While anamorphic, the transfer ranges from decent to very mediocre.  Flesh tones in some scenes look very natural, while others come across looking slightly purple.  Occasionally the film suffers from grain and other small specks that pass momentarily on the screen.  I haven’t looked at the original transfer (I shudder to imagine what that looks like), so it’s hard to say how badly MGM has missed the boat.  Considering this film was made on a very tight budget in 1963, I’d say they didn’t miss by much.

Audio **

The disc’s Dolby Monaural track isn’t the most impressive in the world (due to many factors including the film’s age and cheap production cost).  As with the video transfer, the audio transfer has moments where things work well, and others where the transfer disappoints.  In the case of the audio transfer, the center channel generally picks up the dialogue, and most of the effects (which would have been preferable in at least the two front surrounds), with little or no problem.  Yet with some scenes, the sound became so quiet that I was relegated to turning up the sound on the receiver to hear both dialogue and sound effects, which resulted in a slight distortion.

Supplements **1/2

The film supplements start with a commentary by director Roger Corman.  While Corman appears to enjoy making X, most of his commentary focuses on the earlier part of the film, as he seems to take a less active role later in the film.  Included as well were two trailers.  While the second trailer is slightly more conventional, the first one, entitled a “rare prologue,” is an incredibly long trailer that plays to audiences like they’re in an elementary school science class (leaving me with the feeling that a “Duck and Cover” film was coming up next), outlining all the primary purposes of why man has the senses he does.  The first trailer was so dumbed down that I felt like I had lost precious brain cells by viewing it.   

Summary:

While I certainly was expecting more from the film, MGM should receive credit for their offering of an old horror/sci-fi film more likely able to be associated with a studio like Anchor Bay.   For those who grew up with “Midnight horror films,” this recent offering might be something worth checking out.  Otherwise, with sparse supplements, and a mediocre audio and video transfer, I wouldn’t be crushed leaving this one on the shelf.