PROJECT X (1968)
Director: William Castle
Olive Films/Paramount

Not to be confused with the recent Hollywood comedy disaster about a riotous house party, PROJECT X, the futuristic thriller from legendary producer/director William Castle, makes its way to Blu-Ray (as well as DVD), courtesy of Olive Films and their much appreciated mass unlocking of the Paramount Pictures movie vault.

In the year 2118, Hagen Arnold ("Rat Patrol" star Christopher George, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) is a geneticist/ secret agent who had been on a mission in the East (“Sino-Asia” to be exact) after the West catches wind of their genocidal plan of mass destruction. After surviving a place crash, Hagen remains frozen in a cryogenic suspension, with the memory of what he learned on his mission, wiped out by a serum that was injected into him by an unknown party. Scientists and researchers at a highly advanced technological center believe that the Sionese have a secret weapon, and that the information about it is still stored in Hagen’s mind. They thaw him out, and use their equipment and sensory machines to look deep inside his subconscious.

Led by Dr. Crowther (Henry Jones, THE BAD SEED), the scientific team have Hagen wake up in a 150-year-old place and time, that of 1960s rural America. Since Hagen was a historian of 1960s crime and violence, in this strange setting they have him convinced he's a thug who just robbed a bank, with members of the research team acting out as his accomplices. Their further probes into Hagen’s mind (as he sleeps in a room they can monitor via a two-way mirror) bring them closer to the information their searching for, but some obstacles come in the form of a mysterious onlooker with a ray gun (Monte Markham) and a beautiful blonde flirty factory worker (Greta Baldwin) who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Based on a novel by Leslie P. Davis, PROJECT X is an overlooked mix of mystery, espionage and sophisticated science fiction. Released the same year as another Castle/Paramount production (that little film about Satan’s offspring), at times the action feels like a take-off on FANTASTIC VOYAGE (with its surreal journey into the human mind rather than the human body). The plot is set way, way into the future, something which many 1960s and 1970s sci-fi offerings often failed to do, making them dated before the filmmakers ever expected them to be. It also paints an imminent sense of optimism, a time where crime and violence are virtually things of the past, and most likely due to the low budget the film was allotted, there’s “Mission Impossible” type elaborate charade which conveniently takes place in the “past” of the late 1960s.

The scenes involving the visual probing of Hagen’s sleeping mind contain animation by Hanna-Barbera, well known for their numerous prime time and Saturday morning cartoon programs. The animation is blended with live action footage, and a majority of the imagery is obscured by full shades of pastel coloring. The psychedelic spectacle works in the film’s favor when you put it into the context of what’s lingering in someone’s sub consciousness, even if it resembles an episode of “Johnny Quest” on hallucinogens.

With automated sliding doors that share the same swishing sound effect found on “Star Trek”, the sets and costumes leave no doubt that this was a product of the late 1960s. Actors wear such “futuristic” attire as v-neck smocks over turtlenecks and emblem-decorated jumpsuits. Even our hero can be seen in a suspender-like outfit which makes him resemble an overgrown “Dennis the Menace”! But PROJECT X is still pretty intriguing and ahead of its time in a lot of ways (someone even had the good sense of predicting flat screen, widescreen television monitors as the norm, as you’ll see throughout the entirety).

Years after the gimmick shockers he was best known for, William Castle had just done several comedies which failed to make an impact, and this attempt at science fiction was quickly forgotten in favor of a number of higher profile, like-genre productions released the same year. The cast is made up mostly of television actors (including Harold Gould, Phillip Pine, Lee Delano and Ivan Bonar), but they do a convincing job. Veteran character actor Keye Luke (GREMLINS) can be seen briefly as a Sino-Asian ruler (not unlike “Ming the Merciless”) during one of the mind exploring sequences.

Never before available on home video, Olive Films has licensed PROJECT X from Paramount for this beautiful-looking Blu-Ray release. Remastered in High Definition, the film is being presented in full 1080p resolution, in a 1.78:1 widescreen ratio, with anamorphic enhancement. Colors appear bright and bold, as they often did in Technicolor productions from this period, and detail is sharp and well-defined throughout. Film dirt and debris is minimal, and the picture only gets a tad softer when optical and other effects are matted in. The English Mono track is 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, and plays through fine with no noticeable hiss or distortion, and Lalo Schifrin’s score stands out nicely. No trailer or extras are included here, but there are eight chapter stops accessible through the main menu. (George R. Reis)