Corruption (UK 1968)

Corruption_(film)D: Robert Hartford-Davies. S: Derek & Donald Ford. P: Peter Newbrook. Cast: Peter Cushing, Sue Lloyd, Noel Trevarthen, Kate O’Mara, David Lodge, Anthony Booth, Wendy Varnals, Billy Murray. US dist (Blu-ray/DVD): Grindhouse Releasing.


Long-reviled as the tawdriest entry in star Peter Cushing’s long filmography – an accusation quite meaningless for a C.V. bearing such timeless gems as The Blood Beast Terror and The Uncanny – Robert Hartford-Davies’s Corruption has begun to enjoy a resurgence of stature in recent years, thanks largely to the efforts of Jonathan Rigby (whose “English Gothic” rates the film as a forgotten masterpiece). While Rigby may be overstating the case, he’s at least on the right track. Corruption is a memorable and highly entertaining slice of Sixties Permissiveness – nasty and daft too, mind you, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The plot is yet another riff on the Eyes Without a Face “surgical horror” formula which enjoyed limited popularity in the tawdrier end of genre cinema throughout the 1960s (see also Jess Franco’s The Awful DrOrlof), with brilliant surgeons turning to desperate measures to reconstruct the ravaged features of their formerly va-va-voom daughters/girlfriends/silver-haired grandmothers [delete as appropriate].

corruption-blu-ray-04The spirit of Georges Franju, you will be unsurprised to learn, is only a fleeting presence in Corruption; while Les Yeux sans Visage(1960) unspooled in unflinchingly clinical black-and-white, Corruption’s decidedly cruder thrills dazzle the viewer in glorious colour – to far lesser effect. Still, Cushing delivers a convincing and driven performance as brilliant surgeon Sir John Rowan, desperate to restore the crispy phiz of supermodel fiancé Lynn (Sue Lloyd) after she’s badly scarred by a falling spotlight. Rowan is tormented with guilt, since the accident occurred during an unseemly tussle between him and a low-life photographer corruption german(Tony Booth, laughably over the top) during a way-out Happening; he vows to stop at nothing to recreate her beauty. And being a genius surgeon, he’s hit on the ideal solution: pituitary glands. “Plastic surgeons are only now beginning to rediscover techniques perfected by the ancient Egyptians,” he informs a credulous colleague. (Presumably the Egyptians also invented lasers, since that’s a key element of Rowan’s surgical setup.) Daringly stealing the vital gland from a female cadaver at the hospital, Sir John sets to work in his private operating theatre…

corruption 3The op is a resounding success, and Rowan and Lynn decide to celebrate by going on holiday. But Lynn’s sister (Kate O’Mara) soon receives an ominous telegram, informing her of their unscheduled return; “I hope nothing has gone wrong,” muses Rowan’s young co-worker. Given that we’re watching a film called Corruption, and not Trouble-Free Steps Towards a Perfect Complexion, you can probably guess how that hope fares. Yep, the pituitary juice has worn off, returning Lynn’s face to its former ickiness. Thinking the problem lies in the use of a corpse’s pituitary, Sir John makes a fateful decision to switch to a live source and pounds the pavements of Soho in search of a suitable donor. Here the Continental Version asserts itself with mind-boggling force. You haven’t lived ‘til you’ve corruption%202witnessed Peter Cushing struggling with a buxom, topless prostitute in a seedy bedsit, stabbing her repeatedly before sawing off her head with a scalpel. Ay caramba! [Small wonder the conservative star recalled the shoot with little fondness.] With the head secured in his Gladstone bag, Rowan returns home and tremblingly repeats the operation – which is, again, a temporary success. But as Sir John becomes ever-more disillusioned by his murderous actions, his fiancé (already driven slightly barmy by the accident) becomes ever-more blasé about securing a steady supply of expendable doxies. After a particularly ridiculous killing in a train compartment – after which Sir John “hides” the headless body under one of the seats (!) – he declares he’s had enough and calls it quits, despite the rantings of his inamorata.

corruption 2And here Corruption throws its audience a gobsmacking curveball. For its surprise third act, the film abruptly turns into a Desperate Hours-style home invasion thriller: John and Lynn, frozen in mid-row, are shocked to find themselves confronted by a gang of thugs led by psychotic dandy Georgie (Phillip Manikum), resplendent in white Beatles suit and Pertwee cape. Georgie and his droogs – including the encouragingly-named Groper (David Lodge) – proceed to terrorize the pair in hopes of finding some hidden loot, but are instead aghast to find a severed head in the fridge. Now almost totally loopy, Lynn cajoles Georgie into forcing Rowan to carry out the operation on her face…but, oops, watch out for that laser beam! Everything goes nuts in the Shakespearian climax, which sees the entire cast laid waste by Sir John’s out-of-control laser-scalpel-thingy, blasting everything in sight to a crisp. The final shot is of Sir John’s face, ironically-scarred by the searing heat of his own folly…

corruption BDWell, they don’t get much subtler than this. Thigh-slapping fun, especially in its Filthy Foreign Version, this is one of Cushing’s better horror efforts – thoroughly ludicrous, wholly unconvincing, and an absolute riot from start to finish. One would be hard-pressed to call the direction stylish (all fish-eye lenses and flat, TV-ish lighting), but at least it moves at a cracking pace. Cushing’s obsession makes for undeniably compelling viewing, and the silliness takes the edge off the underlying unpleasantness. The dual-format release from Grindhouse (“Peter Cushing’s 100th Birthday Special Edition”) presents the film in a flawless HD encoding, with a choice of either the original UK theatrical version or the mind-bogglingly-sleazy Continental Cut; likewise, the lurid cover art (by UK illustrator Rick Melton) comes in a reversible sleeve offering collectors a rendering of the full-strength prostitute killing. It won’t win you any friends, but as guilty pleasures go, it’s one of the juiciest.