The Films (4/5, 4/5)
Roger Corman is a name that should be very familiar to people reading this site. Corman has been a name in cult cinema, almost as long as their has been such a thing as cult cinema. He began working as a producer in the 50's with titles such as Monster on the Ocean Floor and the Fast and the Furious (no relation to the current franchise). Throughout the 60's he would develop a steady working relationship with James Nicholson, and Samuel Z. Arkoff of American International Pictures which would allow him to direct wonderful films in a variety of genres, while also producing others.
In order to add value to the low budget films they were producing AIP frequently cast formerly famous stars in their twilight years in starring roles. For these 2 films, they cast Ray Milland probably best known to horror fans for his work in Lewis Coates' classic chiller the Uninvited, and Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder. In exchange for acting in these 2, he also got his chance at directing the AIP apocalyptic thriller Panic in Year Zero!
The first film Milland would star in for Corman/AIP would be the Premature Burial. The Premature Burial was the third film in what would become known as Corman's Poe Cycle. Corman, having worked with AIP for a few years by this point decided to strike out on his own. He found a company to help produce the film, and went about making the adaptation. However, his leading man for the prior two films (The Fall of the House of Usher and the Pit and the Pendulum) Vincent Price was under contact to AIP and could not participate in Premature Burial. It was at this time that Corman cast Milland. The interesting thing was the film became an AIP project when Nicholson and Arkoff bought out the other producers (Pathe Lab) on the day the film was to begin shooting.
The story of the Premature Burial is simple enough. Milland stars as Guy Carrell, a man with a perpetual fear of death, and most specifically a fear of waking up from a supposed death, buried alive. He goes about being treated for his unending fear, but to no avail.
The Premature Burial being the third film in the cycle, Corman had already begun refining the style that he would use throughout the remainder of the series. Premature Burial, for one things foresees the use of garish and bright colors that would be used to such great effect in the latter Masque of the Red Death (The 7th Poe film, shot in the U.K. and lensed by Nicholas Roeg). Corman creates in this modest chiller a tense, suspenseful, atmosphere, with some of the best visual of the entire series. A little aside the original story sees the main character as a medical student, of which Milland, is much older. Due to the nature of AIP casting this isn’t the first nor the last time AIP and Corman would cast a lead that was to old for the part. In the Tomb of Ligeia (my personal favorite of the Poe Cycle) Vincent Price plays a character that is supposed to be decades younger than his own age.
I know I am not the only one who always viewed the Premature Burial as the odd duck out of the Poe Cycle due to the non-participation of Price. It has been about 15 years since my last viewing, which if I recall was on TV, full frame, and very washed out. The years convinced me that not only was the film, the odd film out in the cycle, but was likely the worst of the series. Watching it now on Kino's Blu-ray edition, I found myself wondering why I held the film in such a position. The film now resides as one of my favorites with excellent performances by Milland and glamour of Hammer Hazel Court. The film also was a wonderfully evocative score, and as previously mentioned some fine visuals by director Corman.
A year later Corman would reteam with Milland in what I can only describe as a Mad Scientist thriller gone philosophic, X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes. The film stars Milland as Doctor James Xavier, a world famous scientist and doctor who is out to expand the way humans view the world. He creates a set of eye drops that allow him to view things in a much deeper way. Initially, this is seeing people nude under their clothes, but that evolves into the internal working of bodies, and structures, and at one point seeing the inside of his own eyes.
The film may be one of the deepest experiences that Corman would create as director, while he would politically go further with a film like the Intruder. X takes a common B-Movie plot, and dispenses with the basics of it within minutes, the film then turns into a loose episodic narrative. The film continues with Xavier trying to escape the confines of his existence (and a murder) by joining a carnival, and then becoming a gambler, but he cannot escape the world he's created for himself.
The visuals Corman created in 1963 may look dated to some viewers, but still hold up admirably well, and due to their inherent strangeness of the piece really help convey the specifics of Xavier's condition on an almost metaphysical level. The film though it plays with certain elements of genre films and literature falls more into sci-fi than horror, however there a few moments in the film that are quite eerie and shocking.
Both the Premature Burial and X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes show a high point of Roger Corman's career as a director. He would create 5 additional Poe films, and continue to push genre cinema boundaries through the 60's, but would retire from the director's chair after making the World War I film van Richtofen and Brown in 1971.
Audio/Video (4/5, 4/5)
The Premature Burial is presented in the films original 2:35:1 AVC encoded transfer. X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes is presented in a 1:85:1 AVC encoded 1080p transfer. Both films look splendid on these 2 Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-ray's, and while no one would mistake these films having a full on frame by frame restoration. The results here are phenomenal. Both films have excellent color, showing off the bright and garish color schemes that Corman put together for both. There are solid black levels, flesh tones are accurate, and there is a nice natural grain structure throughout both films. There is some minor damage carried over from the source in both films, but it rarely detracts from the viewing experience.
Both films have DTS-HD MA 2.0 tracks in English. These tracks are quite serviceable with dialogue being audible throughout, as is the films score. I did not detect any issues.
Extras (2/5, 3/5)
The Blu-ray of the Premature Burial includes a short with Joe Dante talking about the film, a Trailers from Hell with Roger Corman giving commentary over the film's trailer and a 10 minute interview with Corman brought over from the MGM DVD. The Blu-ray of X has a splendid extras package. The package kicks off with 2 commentaries an archival commentary with director Corman, and a new information packed commentary by Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas. We also get a 5 minute cut prologue to the film, an interview with Joe Dante on X, The Trailers from Hell for this film with Mick Garris doing commentary, and an HD version of the trailer.
Both films display the underrated, but excellent and memorable pairing of Ray Milland with Roger Corman. The Blu-ray's look and sound fantastic, and have decent extra features to boot. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.