A doctor uses special eye drops to give himself x-ray vision, but the new power has disastrous consequences.
'X: The Man with X-ray Eyes' was released by American International Pictures as part of a double feature of Roger Corman productions along with Francis Ford Coppola's mainstream debut, 'Dementia 13', because of their mutual short run times. The fifth of five movies Corman directed that were released in 1963, 'X' finds the filmmaker transcending his usual low-budget exploitative fare with a story dealing with serious themes that remain applicable today.
The man who will become the titular character is Dr. James Xavier (Ray Milliand), a well-respected scientist. As the film opens, he is researching ways to expand the eye's ability to see more of what appears on the wavelength spectrum in the hopes of learning more about the workings of the universe. A test of a solution conducted on a monkey allowed the animal to see colored pieces of paper behind a white screen.
Soon after, the monkey dies of heart failure. Fellow scientist Dr. Diane Fairfax (Diana van der Vlis) asks if its death was a result of shock at what it saw, but Xavier drills deeper, claiming the monkey died because it couldn't comprehend what it saw. Ignoring that bit of foreshadowing like many a movie scientist, Xavier moves ahead and conducts the experiments on himself, assuming his more evolved brain can handle what's in store.
When Xavier first uses the drops, Corman makes a great directing choice by having the camera roll behind the actor and zoom into the back of his head. The special effects then take over to show Xavier's new vision. The viewer is shown that he can see through a manila folder to read a paper inside it and through another doctor's clothes. However, when he looks around his lab, some beakers look as if they disappear, so it's not clear how this new ability works. The lack of an explanation is a major failing in the script as his vision seems to ultimately be based around pushing the story along. It gets worse later as his powers increase and somehow give him the ability to see through a man's clothes and wallet and read his driver's license.
At first, Xavier does good with his new vision, such as discovering the true nature of a patient's illness and saving her life. Feeling he is on the right course, Xavier wants to further expand his capabilities and takes more of the solution. Unfortunately, like many a tragic hero, Xavier is punished for expanding his limitation and trying to become a god. He takes a life and goes into hiding rather than taking the time to explain to others what is happening. He begins posing as a mentallist at a carnival sideshow and with the help of a barker named Crane (Don Rickles) makes money giving the elderly and the poor health advice. As his vision intensifies, he holds on as best he can, but for how long?
Even though the script takes some shortcuts, Corman's 'X: The Man with X-ray Eyes' is an impressive endeavor, especially for a film made over three weeks for less than $300,000. And yet the script is its great strength. This story of a man dealing with an expanded consciousness seems related to the use of LSD, which was being advocated at the time by people like Timothy Leary, yet it works just as easily in the modern world where people are overstimulated and distracted by technology.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber 'X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes' presents on a 25 GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a standard blue case. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1. The movie opens with a freeze frame of an eyeball. The image is grainy and there are faint marks running through the frame. Otherwise, the majority of the picture looks clean and has a more natural film grain appearance. The main trouble spots are during some of the visual-effects shots, which are dirtier than the rest of the movie.
'X; is filled with bold, vibrant hues across the spectrum. Right from the opening credits, there is a bright purple swirl. The colored light bulbs that the monkey uses stand out like a frozen Bomb Pop, as does Xavier's orange coat when he appears at the carnival. Another great example are the colorful shots showing Xavier's vision in which light is being refracted. Blacks are rich and stable, and contribute to a great contrast.
Vision as good as Xavier's isn't required to notice the depth and details of the objects on screen. The movie appears free of noticeable digital artifacts and manipulation.
The original mono audio is available as a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track, but is essentially a mono track. During the opening credits, Les Baxter's score gets slightly distorted from being too loud. Thankfully, the music for the remainder of the movie doesn't suffer from the same issue and comes through with good fidelity. The dialogue is consistently clear. The track has better than expected ambiance coming from mono. For example, in Xavier's lab heated liquids can be heard softly bubbling in the background. The bass is limited and the dynamic range is narrow, due in large part to the audio being predominantly dialogue.
If Roger Corman had made more pictures like this, he might have been taken more seriously as a filmmaker a lot sooner than he was. In addition to the smart script and intriguing direction, 'X' also boasts performances better than expected in a low budget movie, and Ray Milland's talents lead the way in that regard.
Kino Lorber has delivered a Blu-ray with captivating visuals, adequate audio, and enough extras to keep fans engaged for a few hours. Recommended for everyone and highly recommended for science fiction fans.