In Roger Corman's sci-fi fable, vision (or, more specifically related to cinema, seeing) becomes the modernist's folly, a severed optical nerve dipped into a bubbling beaker before the swirling-mesmerist credits and a close-up of Ray Milland's peepers. He plays Dr. Xavier, or "X," as in x-rays, the effect he seeks with his experimental serum, to be tested on himself, as misguided scientists are inclined to. "Only the gods see everything," fellow doctor Harold Stone warns, but Milland is "closing in on the gods," so the camera assumes his view to receive the drops and the first "splitting of the world" -- scrambled textures, kaleidoscopic abstraction. The new powers allow him to scan first through clothing, a swingin' party turned into a G-rated nudie bash, but later through skin, so a misdiagnosed surgery can be avoided. Tragedy soon strikes, and Floyd Crosby's tracking shots switch from hospital corridors to pier sideshow where runaway Milland, in shades and Oriental silks, becomes "Mentalo," seer to Don Rickles' juicily razzing carny. Diana Van der Vlis comes for help, but the doctor is Corman's dislocated Modern Man, trying to curb his weariness through a scientific expansion of vision only to be plagued by its visions, The Man Who Saw Too Much instead of The Man Who Saw Too Well. Having aimed for the Heavens, Milland yearns for eyelids and walls, back to the darkness, which in Corman's potent ideas (the city is x-rayed into steel skeletons, while Las Vegas neon gets stripped to solarized smears) turns into sardonic manifestations of an universe disrupted by promethean prodding. Logically enough, a trip leads to church (if not exactly to the Light), a hallelujah revival meeting providing not so much divine retribution as the inspired Grand Guignol literalization of Matthew's pluck-it-out ocular gag, and the filmmaker's view of the cosmic inquiry gone wrong. With John Hoyt, Jonathan Haze, and Dick Miller.
--- Fernando F. Croce