||Given how much of the human body can be squishy, the most visibly squishy parts of it must be the eyes, and for good reason many people get uneasy about anything getting too close to them, even contact lenses must be handled with care. The thought of eye injuries is even worse, and the concept of doing something potentially damaging to them, far more than reading by torchlight under your bedclothes, is a big no-no in the realm of everyday common sense. So when we see Ray Milland put droplets in his own peepers, we get squeamish.
Although ostensibly a science fiction movie from the early nineteen-sixties, which it is, director Roger Corman's "X", also known as The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, had embraced horror in a way that beforehand H.P. Lovecraft had been a master of. If Corman did not have the budget to live up to Lovecraft's warped notions of what could lie beyond the visible world and into a vast, unimaginably awe-inspiring universe of sheer, unknowable hostility, he certainly gave it a good try as Milland's Dr Xavier performed experiments with himself as guinea pig.
Just as H.G. Wells' Dr Griffin in his novel The Invisible Man carried out his tests on his own body and it drove him to murderous distraction, well, Xavier only kills one person, and accidentally at that, but Wells had set a precedent for those pioneers who simply go too far in pushing back the boundaries of science. Not that in the real world you hear of many scientists going as far as this, but Marie Curie and her husband's fates resonate just as much as any fictional adventurer in grasping the nettle of fresh knowledge: they died, though Xavier does not.
He might as well have died, however, as those droplets of a new, vision-enhancing drug are self-administered and begin to have a curious effect on him. He should have heeded the warning when his test monkey died of apparent shock after the drug worked its magic, but this is science, Goddammit, and we don't need to faff about with such niceties as health and safety! At first, Xavier's job at the research institute, which seems to double as a hospital, is secure, because his abilities are enhanced, and he can diagnose maladies by looking.
His powers seem to come and go, and work better when he focuses on a certain aspect of what he is surveying, so at the infamous party sequence he manages to see through everyone's clothes, but doesn't see through the walls beyond or indeed see skeletons doing the Twist either. It's a bit of cheesy comedy to satisfy those kids in the audience who thought a pair of mail order X-ray specs genuinely would provide them with the talent to see bare naked ladies, and Milland has a bit of fun with it. Yet Ray Milland was not an actor you associated with fun.
Little wonder, then, that events turn dramatically against him and soon, after that fatal accident, he is in hiding and it all goes Nightmare Alley on us for the world of carnivals and hucksters and cheating at gambling. Xavier is now working as a sideshow attraction, apparently showing remarkable psychic powers when he, now sporting thick, dark glasses, is actually x-raying all and sundry to work out the answers to the patrons' questions. His sleazy boss is a perfectly-cast Don Rickles, the insult comedian who envies his new employee's power to see, yes, naked ladies.
But Xavier has gone beyond that, and the element of the cosmic grows in the film, which otherwise is fairly primitive - professional, but lacking the cash to realise its ambitions, which are considerable. Corman had recently enjoyed a big hit with House of Usher, his first Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, and was becoming more eager to explore his possibilities, so much so that you can trace the origins of his counterculture movies like The Trip to "X", both as producer and director. That idea that if you developed x-ray vision it would run drastically out of control eventually and allow you to see some colossal consciousness staring balefully back is not something anybody else was trying in sci-fi cheapies of the day, which brought us back to the vulnerability of eyes. Xavier's solution is a bastardisation of religious spirituality as well as a horrific self-sabotage. Quite something for 1963.
[This is released on Blu-ray by Second Sight in a terrific set with much care and attention lavished on it.
New interview with Director Roger Corman
Introduction by Kat Ellinger, Author and Editor of "Diabolique"
Audio commentary by Roger Corman
Audio commentary by Tim Lucas
Joe Dante on "The Man with the X-Ray Eyes"
"Trailers from Hell" with Mick Garris
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
Rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Graham Humphreys
Reversible poster with new and original artwork
Soft cover book with new writing by Jon Towlson and Allan Bryce.]