You know Mill Creek? They’re the home video company calling themselves “The Leader in Value Entertainment.” They produce many inexpensive genre-themed DVD box sets you might find in a tub at Wal-Mart or at a truck stop convenience store. A long time ago I bought their Horror Classics 50 movie DVD collection which is how I first watched Frizt Lang’s Metropolis and the puppet-strangler thriller Bluebeard. The transfers in the collection are usually from damaged prints presented “as is” without making any notable attempts to restore the films. I’ve not forgotten when Mill Creek’s low quality ruined my experience watching Blue Beard. I really didn’t want to watch any more movies this year, but there were a couple hours left in the night and when my wife wants to watch one more movie I watch one more movie. But my attention was exhausted, I didn’t want to think anymore so I improvised a plan. We’ll watch a Mill Creek movie, maybe the transfer quality will be so bad that she’ll just give up and we can go to bed. Take a look, the oldest movie (and therefore the most likely to be damaged beyond watchability) was The Amazing Mr. X. Oh how wrong I was.
The Amazing Mr. X is so astonishingly good that it completely overcomes the Mill Creek handicap. A noir thriller masquerading as a horror film, The Amazing Mr. X takes us into the life of Christine, a widow having trouble moving on after her husband’s death. After hearing him calling to her over the waves of the beach below her mansion, Christine frantically searches the shore for her husband but finds instead a besuited psychic named Alexis and his pet raven. He shocks her with the mystic ability to know private information about her life. She takes his card and begins seeing him regularly after she’s attacked by a class-two anchored-proximity phantasm in her bedroom later that night. That’s Ghostbusters lingo for… ‘ghost’.
I’m a staunch rationalist who despises tarot readings, star signs, and anything without peer review which means I reflexively detest movies suggesting those cons have any validity. This is where The Amazing Mr. X earns its superlative. Supernatural apparitions, objects moving on their own, contacting ‘the other side’ aren’t abnormal in a horror film which means I’m ready to accept Christine’s encounters as authentic within the bounds of her world. But every time I think I’ve gotten a handle on what’s real and what’s not, the movie pivots and gives me reason to doubt myself.
For example, when Christine’s visits with Alexis become more frequent I expect she’s going to become his disciple developing mystic powers that will help her commune with the dead, but that’s not what happens. Instead Christine’s new suitor Martin and her overly protective sister Janet hire a private investigator to prove Alexis is a fraud. And he is! They learn that he’s actually been arrested for conning people before, which calls into doubt everything he’s told Christine up to this point! He’s absolutely conning her! But how does that explain the ghost? Alexis wasn’t there for that, so it must be real right?
Janet decides to prove he’s a phony by going to Alexis’ office and pretending to be someone she’s not. We already know he’s a con and the movie finally lets us see it. When Janet pulls up to Alexis’ house he’s inside watching on a futuristic viewing screen that feeds an image of the street outside his front door to this special hidden room. He recognizes her and smiles. She walks into his home and the doors open automatically while his pet raven squawks and flits from room to room. Sitting atop the table against the far wall is a notepad with the words “Write your name and address, and your question, below.” and “Fold and conceal this sheet.” at the bottom. Janet sits down and writes “Does my husband love me? Mrs. Charles Harper” She’s unmarried and hopes this sting will expose Alexis enough to make him leave her sister alone. Alexis is watching her on the other side of the wall through a two-way mirror. After she’s stood up and concealed her note in her bodice, Alexis rotates the tabletop replacing her notepad with a fresh one. On his side of the wall he flips up the notepad she’d written her question on to reveal a carbon transfer paper hidden underneath the first pad that transcribed her note perfectly.I love the way The Amazing Mr. X exposes the carny tricks these hucksters employ to con vulnerable people out of money.
Alexis confronts Janet and feigns using his psychic powers to reveal that he suspects she isn’t Mrs. Charles Harper as she claims but has instead come to protect her sister from his influence. Janet is shocked and suddenly converted, now a true believer. How could he know unless he was truly a psychic? The Amazing Mr. X masterfully pulls the audience along revealing just enough information at a time for us to believe we have a grip on what’s really happening before it rips the rug out from under us! Right after Janet leaves Alexis’ home we see Christine’s maid Emily walk in revealing that she’s a plant he’s used to get more information on his mark.
Soon Janet and Christine arrive at Alexis’ house for a seance and the film is fully on our side exposing numerous magician’s tricks. We see Alexis in a back room putting on masks, rigging the crystal ball, and preparing other illusions to fool his clients. And it’s working! They’re entranced by his magic! Just then Martin and the private investigator barge in ready to expose Alexis… but the con man is too fast. The investigator starts knocking around Alexis’ contraptions while Martin scolds Christine. Alexis urgently insists everyone leave but the men bully him into resuming the seance to prove his powers under pressure. He reluctantly reinitiates the ceremony with the two sisters completely enthralled by his presence and the two men furious with his charade. He gulps and sits down at the crystal ball. The room is dark and nothing much is happening, he tries to get up but the men stop him and he sinks back into the chair with the countenance of a guilty dog.
Then suddenly… and quite out of nowhere… a piano plays… not just any song… Pauls’ song! And more than that, Pauls’ voice begins speaking to the group from somewhere… everywhere at once! Just then a curtain opens like magic revealing Paul, standing in the doorway to the porch surrounded by an evenings mist. Everyone is aghast at the sight of Christine’s dead husband standing there unmistakably alive. Before Martin and the PI can make it to the door, he’s vanished outside… into thin air. Everyone is shocked and Alexis shoos them all away. Even he seems shaken by the sudden appearance of the dead man.
What the hell!? Where did Paul come from? Is he a ghost? Are ghosts real in this world? How am I supposed to know? Just when I thought I knew the score the movie throws me another curveball and it’s back to square one.
Once everyone’s gone Paul appears again, very much alive. He reveals to Alexis that his death was faked and blackmails Alexis into a new scheme. Paul suggests Alexis marry Janet, murder her, and inherit her estate. Paul reminds Alexis that he could kill the mystic and no one would come looking for him, after all a dead man can’t commit murder… and Alexis can’t turn Paul in without revealing himself to be a con artist!
Twist! Turn! Twist! Turn! I’m not going to spoil the ending because it’s a sincerely fantastic movie that you should make time to experience first hand. You can find this page-turner for free on Youtube and maybe even on another streaming service for a couple bucks.
The Amazing Mr. X is very similar to The Uninvited both narratively and visually. Both are ghost stories where the characters confront and test the supernatural set in the picturesque cliffs of California’s coast. If you’re interested you could read my review of The Uninvited in the Quarantined Critic archives.
Well that concludes our nearly year late recap of the movies we watched last October. The Amazing Mr. X was a dark-horse and ended up as my 9th favorite movie from the month. Oh yeah! I guess this would be a good time to share the entire list.
- Terror is a Man
- The Bird With the Crystal Plumage
- Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter
- Dead of Night
- The Tingler
- The Amazing Mr. X
- The Fly
- Cutting Class
- Dead Ringers
- The Curse of Frankenstein
- The Lure
- The Brood
- The Blob
- Eyes Without a Face
- Gremlins 2: The New Batch
- I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle
- Tremors 2: Aftershocks
- The Driller Killer
- Horror of Dracula
- Carnival of Souls
- The Stuff
- The Sinful Dwarf
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers
- Halloween III: Season of the Witch
- The Blood Drinkers
- The Mummy
- Dracula 3D
- The Black Cat
- Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
If any of those titles interest you please take a look at the back catalog of posts in this blog. Thanks for reading!