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This DVD, released by Final Cut, is more than £8 on amazon.
This is a very famous 1963 film by director Roger Corman, the legendary low-budget exploitation king. Corman's best work was released in the early 1960s, and this science fiction film was a refreshing change from his gothic horrors, which were probably becoming a little overripe.
Dr James Xavier develops experimental eye drops that allow the human eye to see parts of the spectrum it can't usually see. After accidentally killing a cute monkey, he experiments on himself. Initially he gains x-ray vision. As well as the obvious looking at ladies stuff, he saves the life of a little girl when he realises the doctor operating on her hasn't seen the full extent of her condition. Unfortunately this doesn't go down too well, and another doctor dies in an unlikely scuffle. On the run, Xavier is forced to work in a fairground as a fake psychic while he desperately tries to get enough money together to find a cure for his condition. His eyes are getting worse, you see, and he's beginning to see beyond reality itself...
This is an enjoyable film, but it feels pretty small. It's only 75 minutes long, and even then there's a lot of padding - very long opening and closing credit sequences and lots of lengthy scenes of optical effects meant to convey what Xavier sees. The story is great, but it really belongs on a TV show - it would have made a perfect episode of The Twilight Zone. It's not quite movie material, but this would no doubt have gone out on the bottom half of a drive-in double bill. Corman made his films to be fast and disposable.
It is a great story, though - man brought low by his scientific hubris is hardly new (see Frankenstein, for instance), but this is a bit more inventive than usual. Xavier wants to better the lot of mankind, but he's got that 'slightly too driven' aspect that a lot of the madder scientists have, and lacks social graces. He's got one loyal friend, and there's a moderately pretty blonde who seems to love him. It is unclear why.
Xavier is played by Ray Milland, a British actor who won an Oscar in his time, but ended up in slightly low-rent horror flicks. He is good, especially in the later scenes where he's degenerating rapidly (although weirdly in those scenes he really looks like Ricky Gervais). He even handles the embarrassing dance sequence quite well. But the problem is that he's not Vincent Price, Corman's usual leading man at the time. Price would have owned this part, and it becomes very difficult not to imagine Price delivering Xavier's lines. He'd have sold the character better and would have probably been more fun.
The rest of the cast are a bit stiff, although Don Rickles is very good as Xavier's sleazy carnival hustler. Corman bit-part perennial Dick Miller has a small role, too. Everyone loves Dick Miller.
It's a PG, so there's nothing too rough in it. The scenes with the monkey are harmless - it's clear the animal is a trained performing monkey, not a genuine subject of vivisection. The one death in the film is so utterly ridiculous as to be totally inoffensive. And there's no actual nudity, although Corman teases us brilliantly by almost showing nudity in lots of shots. (Basically, if I had x-ray vision, I'd spend all my time just boob-watching. Xavier is made of sterner stuff, and there's surprisingly little of that kind of thing. It's probably just as well I'm not a mad scientist).
The film is quite freaky, especially towards the end. They fit an impressive array of contact lenses on Milland, which get progressively nastier-looking. His final cosmic rant is pretty good (although, damn it all, just imagine *Vincent Price* delivering it). The ending is a bit too sudden and brief to have the kind of impact I'd expected. Stephen King raves about this film in his book Danse Macabre, and he talks about an alternative ending that was cut that sounds like it would have been a lot freakier.
It's made competently enough without being showy. Corman was never really a showy director. It's grounded in reality, in spite of the colourful hallucinatory x-ray eyes scenes. These aren't too good, alas, and it's a shame he didn't make this a few years later. Corman's LSD film The Trip is one of the better attempts at filming a psychedelic drug experience, and this movie could have used a bit of that expertise.
The music is by Les Baxter, who did most of Corman's early 60s films. His exotica albums are peerless, but Baxter's soundtracks aren't usually quite as interesting. This one works fairly well when it goes all science fiction-y (ie whenever the theremin comes out).
The DVD has good picture quality but no extras at all.
This is a good little movie, but it's a bit too slight to really recommend at the price. It would be a welcome part of a Corman boxset, but on its own is probably not quite substantial enough.