ABCs of Horror 2: “X” Is for X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes (1963)
Paste’s ABCs of Horror 2 is a 26-day project that highlights some of our favorite horror movies from every letter of the alphabet. Only criterion: The films chosen cannot have been used in Century of Terror of 2019, a 100-day project to choose the best horror film of each year from 1920 to 2019, nor the first ABCs of Horror project of the last year. With many big hitters on the sidelines, which movies will we pick?
When horror geeks hear the name “Roger Corman”, it’s understandable that their first thought was characteristics of low-budget creatures of the 1950s and 1960s, trifles like Attack of the crab monsters Where Haunted sea creature, with his tennis ball-eyed monster joke. Their thoughts might also turn to the prolific director-producer’s so-called “Poe Cycle”, which has seen Corman adapt Edgar Allan Poe classics like The pit and the pendulum Where The Fall of House Usher throughout the 1960s, with the great Vincent Price as a muse. They might even remember his return in 1990 to Frankenstein unrelated, or underrated social dramas like the one with William Shatner The intruder in 1962. The point is that Roger Corman has always been a more versatile artist than many have believed over the decades, and there really isn’t a genre that he hasn’t turned into a profitable business. at one time or another.
This is certainly true of sci-fi, a genre Corman dabbled in often, regularly infusing his sci-fi feature films with all of the themes popular in horror films of the time. X: The Man with X-ray Eyes is a prime example, and a case where it feels like Corman may have decided to embrace a more heady concept than usual after being inspired by his previous film. Barely out of the movie says “Poe” The haunted palace in 1963, which was actually an adaptation of HP Lovecraft The case of Charles Dexter Ward, one has to wonder if Corman absorbed more of the legendary horror author’s cosmic horror sensibilities than he thought. How else to explain the clear sequence of Lovecraftian horror that runs through X: The Man with X-ray Eyes? His main character is exactly the kind of explorer of the unknown who crosses borders and is always most likely to suffer a terrible fate in a Lovecraft horror story, precisely because he is hungry for the kind of knowledge. prohibited which is prohibited for a reason.
That man is Dr. James Xavier (Ray Milland), a trained surgeon whose real obsession is with research surrounding the human eye and our limited ability to perceive only the narrow spectrum of what we call “visible light.” Xavier desperately wants to probe beyond this spectrum, in order to see things that no human has ever seen before. When a coworker asks him why this is such an important goal, Xavier casually replies, “Well, why do you want to keep breathing? Stay alive. ”For this man, anything that is not a full commitment to his research is tantamount to suicide.
It’s no surprise that Corman conceives of the character this way – the premise of the film was one of his own ideas – as the story demands that Dr. Xavier be free from any burdens of self-preservation. This is about a man experimenting with eye drops on a monkey that immediately drops scared to death, and his response is “Well I guess I better test them on myself if I really want to.” to learn something. Ignoring the pleas of his associates, he transforms into a guinea pig like a classic sci-fi magazine, continually increasing the dose after he is “just” able to see through walls and solid flesh. Soon the sights swimming through Dr. Xavier’s vision begin to include the frayed edges of our own universe.
The result is an eclectic mishmash of genre influences, with star Milland (two decades after starring in the classic 1944 ghost story The unwanted) essentially replacing Claude Rains in The invisible Man, at first delighted with his success and finally driven to madness by the unintended consequences of his new abilities. There are some near-exploitation moments, which surely would have ended up being more graphic if this movie had been shot a decade later (think of all the nudity that could have been chased away), but the movie still keeps an air a bit fishy despite the more serious connotations of cosmic horror. Milland is surrounded at all times by sleazeballs who want to take advantage of his abilities – there’s even a non-comedic appearance of Don Rickles as an oily carnival profiteer who tries to blackmail Dr. Xavier into essentially becoming his super. mighty indentured servant. It certainly feels like a more Corman-esque touch, marring the lofty intention of ’50s sci-fi protagonists such as the titular Amazing shrinking man with a touch of grimy and cynical ’60s counter-culturalism.
Like so many Corman films, however, this is ultimately the ideas of X: The Man with X-ray Eyes that linger with the viewer, rather than one of the events literally represented on the screen. He offers an anxious glimpse of what it might be like to look deeper into the void than anyone else … On second thought, maybe it’s better to turn away?
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident horror guru. You can follow him on twitter for more writing for film and television.