The Bad Movie Report

X! - The Man with the X-ray Eyes!


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 link.

What? 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". Or something.

If 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.

Dr. 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 cropsMilland and van der Vlis contemplate BEDTIME II: BONZO'S REVENGE 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.

Xavier 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.

Xr. 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 of vision.

Why is this man smiling?The 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 Ah.  That's why.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).

The 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 .

Now on the run from the law, Xavier holes up at a seaside amusement park as "Mentallo - The Man "Hold it, you all-seeing hockeypuck!"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.

Xavier 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,Those lenses have GOT to hurt. 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.

Xavier 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.

The 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. The end.

Stephen 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.

In 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 Special effects by Gray's Anatomy.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.

The 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.

In 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 or Dawson's 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.

The major part of X!'s fame is probably due to its story, crafted by Robert (Prime Cut) Dillon Party at Ground Zero!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.

In 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.


An excellent "He tampered in God's domain" story.

- October 25, 1998

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