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Sunday, 3 March 2013

In praise of the Low-budget B movie - The Man with the X-Ray Eyes.

The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)

Yes folks, it's another trip down memory lane - but don't worry, this one doesn't involve recollections of an old flame……
As with some of the previous Sci-fi and horror movies that I've mentioned in previous blog entries, this particular movie provides a major part of the rich fabric of the cinematic experience of my life. Again, it's a movie that I can remember vividly where and when I first saw it, and yes it evokes happy memories of that particular time. However it is more than just that, it is for me perhaps the prime example of how good a film from an often much maligned sub-genre can be.

Okay, first some of the history - feel free dear reader to scroll down the page if all you want to read about is this science fiction/horror B-movie classic…..If you don't mind me talking about myself (again) for a few lines or so, then continue. 

I can't remember the exact year I first saw The man with the X-Ray Eyes, my guess is that I was about 9 or 10 years old and probably far too young to have seen it at that age. I was on holiday with my family to spend two weeks in Portsmouth ( don't laugh, this was quite a cosmopolitan undertaking for the Anderson family back in the mid 1970's). It was actually something of a family affair as my mums brother and his family also came, which is relevant for the connection they have to me first seeing this movie. One night, my parents went out for a meal and a few drinks, just leaving my younger brother and I to be looked after by my Aunt. Even as a nine year old, I was something of a night owl, so once it had got to about 10pm and my brother was fast asleep we started looking for something to watch on TV - this being 1970's British television, the choice of channels amounted to 3….yes dear reader, we had to survive on just 3 channels  - dear god, it was the dark ages. By coincidence, right at the time of this mini-channel hopping, an early 1960's movie that I never heard of ( & neither had my aunt) was about to start. As I was already in the early stages of sci-fi and horror nerdome i was intrigued - and boy was not to be disappointed with a piece of cinema that at times humorous, visceral and occasionally wholly disturbing.

  The cinematic Trailer

The man with the X-Ray Eyes was directed by the irrepressible director Roger Corman, who demonstrated with this B-movie classic that horror and science fiction films could be instruments for intelligent and literate storytelling.  Dr. Xavier (played by the always excellent Ray Milland) develops a serum designed to improve the range of human vision. After the funding for his project begins to run out and believing that merely testing on animals will only bring unclear results, he begins testing the serum on himself.

After discovering that he can see though people's clothing, Xavier behaves in a way that most of us would do when suddenly given the power of x-ray vision as he displays an an adolescent delight at his discovery. The scene where, like some pubescent schoolboy, he spends his time observing women's underwear at a dance party was particularly uncomfortable for this nine year old watching it with his Aunt!

Up until this pint, the movie is a slightly over-talky but often humorous take on the ability to see through objects. However, proceedings take a darker turn when after continuing to take the eye serum, he accidentally  causes the death of a colleague and is forced to go on the run. Xavier escapes but he can no longer see the world as we would normally do, instead his brain is unable to fully comprehend the bizarre and surreal take he now has on his visual reality. Even when he shuts his eyes this offers no relief from the his bizarre visions, as he can see through his eyelids. 
Xavier's eyes are altered along with his vision: first they become black and silver, and then completely black. In an effort to mask his strange appearance, he wears dark sunglasses at all times. In an effort to keep in touch with some element of his humanity, he secretly starts treating the sick. Though he garners a reputation as a miracle worker, he starts to fear and despise his patients as by now he can even see the death lurking in their body tissue. 

The movie climaxes with Xavier heading out into the Nevada desert and finds himself at a religious revival where there is a shocking & in some ways, satisfying climax to the story.

The rumour of an alternative ending to the movie has long passed into Science Fiction movie folklore. According to some, the ending imposed by the studio is not the one Corman envisaged and in fact somewhere in a movie vault is the actual footage the Corman wanted. The director himself has confirmed the story by acknowledging filming an alternative ending where Xavier, after pulling his eyes out proclaims " I CAN STILL SEE, I CAN STILL SEE"!! 

The man with the x-ray eyes does have its share of limitations, it had a only a small budget of $300,000 and it has to be said that some of the performances are at best, pale comparisons to Milland's and at worst, distinctly wooden. Indeed Ray Milland's performance of a good and decent man driven beyond insanity by his inability to control what he sees is beyond description. His gradual descent from normality to madness is perfectly judged. In addition, this is an intelligent, compelling and engrossing B-movie that includes thoughtful science fiction and genuine elements of horror. The special effects by modern standards may seem very basic, but Corman's technique of letting the audience see Xavier's increasing hallucagenic-like visions are at times extraordinary - the scene with sight of the skeletons of buildings floating in space has a mystifying beauty of its very own. I would suggest that Roger Corman never did anything better than this.

The man with the X-Ray eyes - the complete movie from youtube

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