X: The Man with the X Ray Eyes and (E)xposition Dumps

I love:  X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes!

Image: cinefantastiqueonline

I’ve wanted to see this Roger Corman film for years.  Stephen King talked about it in his non-fiction book on horror in prose and film, Danse Macabre.   The film stars Ray Milland.

It FINALLY became available on a Netflix double feature disc paired with Premature Burial, one of Corman’s Poe flicks and not a bad offering itself.   In Burial, Milland plays Guy, a Victorian man who has a terror of being buried alive.  It was a common fear in those days, that one would succumb to catalepsy and mistakenly be interred.  Perhaps in earlier times it explained some of the vampire myths about coffins being opened and searchers finding bloody-handed corpses with bulging eyes inside, and claw marks inside the lids.

The Premature Burial, by Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865). This painting always used to scare the crap out of me.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

X opens with a shot of a bloody eyeball.  Yeah, that can’t be good.   Milland plays Dr. Xavier, a scientist who is doing research on the limits of human vision. He wants to push it further than it’s ever been pushed before.

Xavier develops some eyedrops that allow him to see past the visible spectrum.  He tests them on a monkey, who freaks and dies.  His assistant asks, horrified, “What did he see?  WHAT DID HE SEE?

This isn’t good enough for the doctor; the monkey, of course, is an animal.  There’s only one way to determine how a human would react to the drops.  Only.  One.  Way.

He soon finds he can see into a patient’s body (fabulous trick for a doctor) and through ladies’ clothes at a party.  And he damn well enjoys it.

Unfortunately, Xavier soon finds himself practically addicted to the idea of it, to “explore all the mysteries of creation!” and it leads him down a dark and twisted path, to some of the world’s ugliest wallpaper.  Quite painful for a man who can see everything.

Is Xavier nuts to experiment on himself?  Is it ethical? What horrors await him? How far will he go?  Why did people in the 1960s dance so weird?

Milland plays existential anguish well.  Sitting at a casino table, x-raying cards through an enormous pair of black sunglasses, he resembles a surly alien, desperately trying to escape as the drops spiral him down into a nightmare.

Corman favorite Dick Miller pops up, as do Don Rickles and the late great John Hoyt, who Trek nerds might know was actually the doctor in the Star Trek pilot “The Cage.”  I met Mr. Hoyt in Santa Cruz shortly before his death; he was a very gracious man.

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, for all its zany premise and cheap special effects, is quite somber in tone and well-acted.   Give it a look (heh heh) if you get a chance, while Netflix still has it.


I hate:  (e)xposition dumps.

Sometimes referred to as infodumps, these occur when a writer isn’t careful about inserting expository information skillfully within the narrative.  Instead, a character stops everything by explaining things, or there are long passages that do it instead.

Dumps annoy because they stop the story.  I don’t have a problem with them if something else is going on around them.  There are times when you kind of have to do it, but you should try not to lay it all out at once.  Go through your info and pull out the main points you want people to know, and feed it to them in bites rather than shoving a huge platter into their brains.

If you really have to, flashbacks are okay, I guess.  Someone pondering can have other things going on around them that reveal character or plot points or setting while they’re working out their details.

Thinking about this now, I got some cleanup to do.  The only novel you can’t change is one that’s on the shelf.

Too late now!

Image: Lars Aronsson / Wikimedia Commons

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