‘X: The Man with the X Ray Eyes’ or — The Unfolding Terror of the Infinite not-God?
Roger Corman’s ‘X: The Man with the X Ray Eyes’ (1963) gets something so fundamentally right that it would sound banal, patronising and insulting to even point it out. Anyway, it’s this — the film gets better as it goes along.
Now this might seem like the minimum, basic requirement that a movie needs to work but it’s surprising how many good ones, and even great ones, can struggle to effectively nail and stick to this. ‘X’ does so with such simplicity that, much like Dr. Xavier’s (Ray Milland) ever increasing vision, the film undergoes a process of inevitable expansion to the extent that, at the risk of sounding needlessly poetic and pretentious, it’s like watching a flower-bud unfurling. It’s just that this particular orchid has pitch black petals.
This is just as well because the opening twenty or so minutes to ‘X’ weren’t looking too promising as poor Dr. Xavier isn’t the only one having his eyesight tested but the viewer is too, specifically regarding how many bland, detail-free sets you can stand looking at. The plot, dialogue and premise threaten to make our eyeballs roll as opposed to expand their vision as silly Dr. Xavier decides to take some experimental eye-drops that have already killed a monkey because he isn’t a monkey and a monkey can’t report on being able to see on all spectrums of light anyway. What can go wrong?
Obviously things go wrong and after accidentally killing a colleague in a freak ‘being administered an injection by a window’ slip-up Dr. Xavier must go on the run in an attempt to flee the police and to, hopefully, buy enough time and money to… cure (?)… augment (?)… his all seeing gaze.
Fortunately it is when Xavier goes on the run that ‘X’ really starts to pick up and it’s not just in terms of incident and excitement but that the film, itself, comes more to life. The appearance of Don Rickles as an unscrupulous carnival owner certainly helps with his energy really leaping off the screen, whilst Dick Miller popping up demonstrates the universal rule that every always film benefits from Dick Miller popping up in it.
There’s then an excellent scene where the carnival workers idly sit about speculating on their mysterious new recruit’s powers which has a wonderfully easy, loose, laid-back vibe to it that’s an effortless pleasure to watch. After that it’s a series of interesting developments that leads to one of the best ‘entering Vegas’ montages I’ve seen, functioning almost as a sort of psychedelic parody version of the trope.
By the climax the movie has become both more apocalyptic (Xavier gets a chilling monologue describing the city as “rising into the sky with fingers of metal, limbs without flesh, girders without stone… a city unborn. Flesh dissolved in an acid of light. A city of the dead2”) and expansive, even ending with a pretty cool chase that I certainly wasn’t expecting.
The ending (which I won’t spoil) is a superb example of cosmic horror. Xavier’s vision is now so powerful that he can see what dwells beyond our universe, to the great darknesses and beyond that darkness to the one thing even more terrifying — a great, inescapable light. Is it the gaze of God or the abyss… or something else entirely? Either way, the eye of the infinite void has now seen through Xavier himself and torn him to shreds in the process. It’s a phenomenal way to close a movie with quite a bit of Lovecraftian horror mixed into the scientific hubris run amok angle.
‘X: The Man with the X Ray Eyes’ is excellent. It’s a great crazed scientist movie that not only combines the terror of being unable to switch off from the limitless (the one thing worse than sleeping with the light off is sleeping with it always on) but also raises questions of addiction (Xavier could just as easily be an acid casualty who has fried his brain from trying too hard to glimpse beyond the limits of his own mind). Indeed, with the addiction themes and Milland’s performance then ‘X’ would make for an interesting double-bill with ‘The Lost Weekend’ (1945).
Les Baxter’s provides an great score that effortlessly combines groovy lounge tunes with atonal, experimentalism and that horrifying ending must have been pretty influential and you can certainly see how it must have had an impact on, say, Paul W. S. Anderson’s ‘Event Horizon’ (1997) and other cosmic horror inclined flicks.
Oh, and if you’re a fan of this movie (and if you don’t already know this) then look up the extra line of dialogue Stephen King suggested should have been the film’s closing sentence. It’s a doozy.