It was the otherwise unclean Show Dogs, with it’s subplot about panda smugglers, that led me to Project X. The rest was elementary.
Trailer for Project X
John Badham’s Project X (1987)
What is an inordinately intelligent baby chimp like Virgil to do when, in the great tradition of Walt Disney, we open with the removal of not one, but two of the little guy’s mother figures? Ripped from the care of animal researcher Helen Hunt, Virgil is carted to an Air Force base where he’s to be looked after by notorious flyboy Matthew Broderick. (Both Hunt and Broderick make the mistake of viewing the test monkey as their pet.) Has it really been over thirty years since I spent an afternoon at the Cinerama Dome admiring this top-flight John Badham fantasy adventure? And where along the way did Hollywood lose its ability to combine sci-fi, comedy, and action to produce something beyond another shithole sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean or inferior remake of the uninteresting-as-is Jumanji? Even the obligatory plea for animal rights can’t dampen this never-a-dull-moment triumph.
Trailer for The Return of Doctor X
Vincent Sherman’s The Return of Doctor X (1939)
No animal experiments here, unless you count the 30’s vogue of exotic women with leashed capuchin monkeys as pets. Warner Bros. played home to many of the great gangster films of the 1930’s, but monster movies were Universal Studios’ stock-in-trade. Humphrey Bogart was WB’s last choice to star as the blood-thirsty, child-killing, Dr. X, as well he should have been. Bogart was capable of playing many things, but a bloodthirsty zombie wasn’t one of them. As if a pie-wedge streak of Bride of Frankenstein white to highlight his hair weren’t enough, the script also called for him to cart around a rabbit for most of the picture. (The more prestigious Universal revived humans; Warners could barely afford to reanimate Bugs Bunny.) Bogart hated the role, later commenting, “If it had been Jack Warner’s blood, maybe I wouldn’t have minded as much.” Bogie took top billing, but the real stars were B movie staples Dennis Morgan and the eternally chipper Wayne Morris. This marked contract director Vincent Sherman’s first of many pictures for the studio.
Trailer for X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes
Roger Corman’s X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes (1963)
In the 1960s, the road to a paycheck for most superstar remnants of Hollywood’s Golden Age forked in two directions: big screen fright or the even more terrifying network drama. Ray Milland would go on to appear in an abundance of schlock horror titles (Frogs, The Thing With Two Heads, Love Story), but this isn’t one of them. Reasoning that most people are blind to all but a tenth of the universe, demented scientist Dr. James Xavier (Milland) acts as his own lab rat to test a new brand of eye drops that not only endow the user’s vision with an added depth and clarity, they enable one to see a Vegas dealer’s hold card or peer through women’s blouses. With a title like this, audiences went in half-expecting camp howls. But even the appearance of Don Rickles as an opportunistic carny can’t distract from the overall sense of dread and dismay, as this is one of Roger Corman’s most aggressive and disconcerting works.