A film worth watching even when Pere Ubu is not performing a live score. The movie doesn’t have a lot of incidental music so they were playing most of the time, and they added some other fun stuff (rimshots at the bad jokes, soundtrack-looping to repeat lines of dialogue). Got applause after an intense few minutes of music when Ray is driving away pursued by a helicopter towards the end.
An intense but oh-so-stiff (like he’s in a trance) Ray Milland (Ministry of Fear, Dial M for Murder, Panic in Year Zero) stars as Dr. X. He has an empty shell of a beautiful doctor friend to fall in love with, two male co-stars who both appeared in Kubrick’s Spartacus, and a shifty manager played by Don Rickles. Plot, he invents an eyedrop that lets you see through things, tests it on himself, accidentally kills his friend, escapes to a circus, becomes a mystical healer (well, diagnose-r) under Rickles’ supervision, is finally hunted down by the cops who chase him to a bible revival tent where he claws his eyes out and does not scream “I can still see!!” over the end title.
Corman wastes so little time on character development that he actually has to pad the runtime to make the movie count as a feature. So we get more bubbling lab equipment at the start, and more blurry perspective shots of Las Vegas at the end (apparently gazing at Vegas through x-ray eyes just makes it look skewed and blurry). Among the blurry bits there’s a repeated shot of a half-constructed building pasted skeletally against a flat sky with X’s narration about watching the city become unmade. This bit conveys the horror of X’s condition far better than the hundred shots of Ray Milland looking nervous ever could, and along with the over-the-top ending it gives the movie a real sense of terror peering out from all the camp and sci-fi silliness, elevates it far above its MST3K-worthy contemporaries.
Because of pacing problems and mostly uninteresting writing and acting and sets, I wouldn’t want to watch X more often than I do, once every three or four years. But I wouldn’t want to watch it any less often either. It’s a crap classic, and I enjoy it every time.