PRESCIENT? PERCEPTIVE? OR JUST PLAIN LUCKY?
Later, I'll talk about the possibility of an updated version
of X!, and it turns out I was right, with none other
than Tim Burton set to helm.
Thanks to Tom Leonardo, and to Scott Hamilton of StompTokyo,
who also sent along this
Corman again? Within a month? Ah, well, these things happen.
What truly amazes me is that, considering that your dedicated crapmeisters
somehow make movie after movie after movie ...
we haven't repeated directors within the last year. Ted V. Mikels has
10 movies to his credit, the late Al Adamson had an astounding 26, and
we haven't even begun to address the subject of Ray Dennis Steckler
(14, in case you were wondering)... well, if StompTokyo can declare
September (and part of October) as the "Month of Z", I can
declare October (and none of September) as "The Month of Corman".
nothing else, X! (which is the actual, on-screen title of the
movie) has long stood as a gem in Corman's crown, and with good reason
- it proves itself to be a minor masterpiece in terms of low-budget
filmmaking, as well as being good science-fiction.
James Xavier (heh) (played by Ray Milland), is a medical doctor obsessed
with the concept of vision - the human eye sees only one-tenth
of the total waveband of radiation, so he considers himself, and the
rest of mankind, functionally blind. To alleviate this, he has developed
what he refers to as his "X solution" - a fluid of altered
hormones, enzymes, and other scientific folderol. Up crops
Dr. Diane Fairfax (Diana van der Vlis), the scientific liaison between
Xavier and his bankrolling Foundation. Yep, it's funding review time,
and the Foundation wants to know where its money is going.
obligingly drops some X solution in a spider monkey's eyes, with the
result that it can see colored cards through several layers of panels
- then the monkey shrieks and drops dead of heart failure. "What
did it see?" breathes Diane. Don't worry, by the end of
the movie, we'll have a pretty good idea.
X now feels it a good time to step up to human experimentation and drops
the solution in his own eyes. To his delight, he can now see through
pieces of paper and lab coats. Carried away, he drops more into
his eyes and is shocked into unconciousness by the sudden ultra-clarity
beancounters at the Foundation see no practical use for the experiments
and cut off Xavier's funding. Returning to his hospital, Xavier also
carries with him his X-drops and continues his experiments. Diane, attempting
to cheer him up, takes him to a go-go party held by youthful doctors,
apparently at Dick van Dyke's house. To Xavier's amazement (and delight),
he finds that the
effects of the drops seem to be cumulative, as his vision sharpens to
the point that he can see through clothing, rendering everyone
in the room naked, just like in the comic book ads (put your eyes back
in your head, fanboy. It is 1963, and all you are going to see of nekkid
women is their backs).
next day, Xavier hijacks a heart operation, as his improved x-ray vision
reveals that the chief surgeon has misdiagnosed the case utterly and
might actually kill the patient. This, of course, pisses off the chief
surgeon. Xavier himself is acting fairly irrational at this point, too
- he has much of the air of the zealot about him. When his best friend
Sam (Harold Stone) tries to sedate him, Xavier accidentally pushes him
out a window, killing his friend .
on the run from the law, Xavier holes up at a seaside amusement park
as "Mentallo - The Man Who
Sees All" (probably just down the way from Dr.
Duryea's House of Horrors). His barker, Crane (the too good
at being unlikable Don Rickles), an unscrupulous carny type, figures
out Mentallo is the real thing and sets him up in a seedy storefront
as a "healer" - Xavier is able to see into people's bodies
and diagnose their illnesses. Faced with a flood of patients who know
exactly what is wrong with themselves, Diane puts two and two together
and comes up Xavier. She tracks down the mysterious Healer and frees
him from the grasp of the greedy Crane.
is near the end of his rope. He wears thick black goggles to cut down
on the effects of the X-drops, but all he sees is a skeletal world.
Since his eyelids offer no barrier to his improved vision,
he can't even sleep, and is near to physical collapse. His efforts now
must go toward control, and possibly even curing, of his self-afflicted
condition, but for that he needs a place to hide, and money. So off
he and Diane go to Las Vegas, where, after another dose of the X-drops,
Xavier can see the inner workings of slot machines, and the dealer's
deck at the blackjack table. He has soon won enough money to raise the
suspicions of the casino management. There is a scuffle, and Xavier's
glasses are knocked off, revealing his eyes to be monstrous negative
images: white irises floating in a sea of black.
steals a car and hotfoots it out, leading to the question, how do
you drive a car when you can see through everything? Like, for instance,
lane dividers, warning signs, and other cars. Pursued by a police helicopter,
Xavier finally runs off the road. Bloodied and exhausted, he stumbles
into a huge tent where a fire-and-brimstone revival meeting is taking
place. Xavier, his eyes now a glossy black, tries to tell them what
he is seeing: he has seen beyond the bounds of physical space, through
bodies and buildings and terrestrial matter, right through to the center
of the universe - and something there is looking right back at him.
preacher, sensing something he does not understand, immediately sets
his dogma to barking, intoning, "What you see is sin and
the devil! If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out!"
This sets the congregation to chanting "Pluck it out! Pluck
it out! Pluck it out!" With predictable results.
King, in Danse Macabre, reports a legend about the ending of
X!: that the final line of the movie is cut out - Xavier's anguished
cry of "I CAN STILL SEE!!!". The movie does appear
to end quite abruptly, and the end credits, running over unused footage
of Xavier's POV special effects (dubbed 'Spectarama') seems to bear
this out. (Spectarama, incidentally, looks like 3-D images without benefit
of red-and-blue glasses) Even if not true, it's a good story - and that
final freeze-frame, of Milland with his empty, bloody sockets, though
brief, still drills itself right into your memory.
Ed Naha's The Films of Roger Corman, Corman says, "We had
no money and a lot of special effects. This one should be filed under
'miracle'." Indeed. Corman apparently was unwilling to even attempt
such an undertaking, but was talked into it by producer James H. Nicholson,
and through sheer inventiveness, he pulls it off. Oh, every now and
then, the budget peeks through - when Xavier is looking into people's
guts, it's pretty obviously anatomical drawings - but audaciousness
counts for something, and X! has it aplenty.
cast is uniformly good - and hey, look! It's Dick Miller and Jonathan
Haze as the two guys heckling Mentallo! Oddly, the first thing I noticed
about anything was Milland's age - he was in his mid-50's at
this point - and I guess it is media's insidious youth-oriented effect
upon my sensibilities that I feel that Dr. Fairfax's attraction to Xavier
rings a bit hollow, or that the role calls for a slightly younger man.
fact, given the recent vogue to remake the earlier Corman cheapies,
it's quite odd that X! hasn't yet
received a nod. Some young turk from Friends
Creek would play Xavier, and the nekkid go-go party would be
just the thing for the Dream On set.
You read it here first. The only thing holding back such a project would
again be the special effects - the bar has been raised significantly
on audience expectations in that realm, and would prove quite daunting,
even with the current state of computer-generated imagery.
major part of X!'s fame is probably due to its story, crafted
by Robert (Prime Cut) Dillon and
Ray (Mr. Sardonicus) Russell. There are a few logical bobbles
in the beginning - the shutting down of the project is most un-beancounterish,
and the chief surgeon would have better luck nailing Xavier on assault
charges than malpractice - but past those, the story travels such a
logical course, exploring the possibilities and drawbacks of Xavier's
condition, that it should be used as an example for writing such films.
Credit, of course, is also due in no small part to Corman and crew for
pulling it off.
the final analysis, X! still stands as a refreshing island of
thought and actual drama in a field that has been overcrowded since
its inception with bug-eyed monsters, light sabers and various forms
of rocket ships. That fact surprised the critics of 1963, and it would
still surprise them today.