chapter  7
14 Pages

‘Flesh dissolved in an acid of light’: The B-movie as second sight

WithSimon Sellars

Roger Corman, known as the ‘King of the Bs’, was a force of nature. An undeniably

intelligent and daring filmmaker, more often than not he seemed a hyper-manic

combination of accountant, adrenalin junky and huckster than a maverick artist with a

vision. Reminiscing about an early script, he said: ‘I told [the production company] I would

give them the film if they would give me all of my money back immediately as an advance

against distribution and I would do the same thing on three more films, so I could set myself

up as producer’ (Emery 2003, 120). He also seemed in competition with himself: ‘I did

Bucket of Blood in five days and . . . Little Shop of Horrors in two days and a night, but that

was really an experiment and a joke to see if I could do it’ (121). In 1963, Corman completed

The Terror in three days on sets left over from The Raven, also from 1963. That year, too, he

somehow found the energy to directX: TheManwith the X-ray Eyes, with its portrayal of Dr

James Xavier, who experiments on his own eyes with a super-powerful X-ray serum. The

‘X-effect’ is exponential, and Xavier begins to see through more and more layers of reality:

right through his eyelids and beyond, then through walls and buildings. When he sees

through a sick girl’s skin to discover a malignancy her operating doctor has missed, Xavier

disables the doctor by cutting his hand and performing the operation himself, saving the

girl’s life. Facing a subsequent malpractice suit, the funding for his experiments is cut.

Feverish from the X-effect and sleeplessness, his grip on sanity worsens and he lashes out at

a colleague, inadvertently pushing him out of an upper-floor window to his death. Xavier

hides out in a backwaters town. Under thrall to a manipulative carnival hustler, he performs

circus tricks as a sideshow ‘mind reader’ (in actuality, he reads people’s ID cards through

their clothing). Needing money to progress his experiments, he follows the hustler to

another anonymous, small town, where, in a distortion of his former life, he looks through

sick people’s skin to identify diseased internal organs. He then provides a diagnosis to the

victim, who, having abandoned hope, is grateful and willing to reward him. Of course, he

must hand over a cut to the hustler, becoming ever more embittered as a result.