“I’m afraid there’s been an accident. A flood lamp crashed into your sister’s face.”
Reportedly regarded by Peter Cushing fans as one of his career nadirs, Corruption has pretty much remained an obscure if not unheard of film that vanished from distribution years ago, never making it to home video in North America. U.S. distributor Columbia probably regarded the film with a thin level of disdain, since it lacked the more ornate style of its own cache of Hammer Films, such as Revenge of Frankenstein (1958).
The story of Corruption’s genesis lies in director Robert Hartford-Davis and cinematographer Peter Newbrook, who teamed up under their Titan Films shingle to produce personal (albeit exploitive) projects. In prior years, the pair had made an odd mix of comedies before settling on a trio of horror projects with a U.S. co-producer. Only Corruption reached the production stage, and it was aimed at three specific markets: the tamer U.S. / U.K., the spicier “Mediterranean” territories, and Asia and Scandinavian countries more accepting of nudity and gore.
Corruption (also known as Carnage) is a pastiche of Eyes Without a Face (1960) and The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962) – films where a reckless doctor ruins the face of a loved one, and loses his mind trying to restore the affected woman’s beauty. In Eyes, a surgeon snatches subjects for face transplants to restore his once-happy relationship with his disfigured daughter, whereas in Brain the damage stems from the sudden decapitation of a fiancée by her ill-driving surgeon / fiancé, and victims snatched from lurid locales for a potential head transplant.
Cushing’s Sir John Rowman is a little different among the three deranged surgeon films, being an older man with conservative ways strangely attached to an up and coming young model named Lynn (The Ipcress File’s Sue Lloyd). Filmed during the hip & swinging sixties, the age gap matters little, but Rowman isn’t keen on seeing Lynn disrobe at a party for her lead photographer / likely former flame (Anthony Booth), and the ensuing fracas causes a studio lamp to singe her face, ruining her career as a cover girl.
Rowman’s rogue experiments in using donor material to rejuvenate damaged tissue becomes an obsession, and the positive yet very temporary results with Lynn mandates a proactive killing spree, timing the next band-aid job just prior to her face’s imminent rumpling. While Lynn lies to her deeply concerned sister Val (The Vampire Lovers’ Kate O’Mara) about Rowman’s ‘miracle’ cure, the good doctor is out searching for another fresh pituitary gland from which he’ll extract the needed genetic goo. Rowman and Lynn eventually retire to his country home, where they stumble upon another worthy donor – puddle-kicking, tra-la-la-ing hottie Terry (A Whole Scene Going’s Wendy Varnals) – but they soon discover the frolicking tart is part of a bigger sinister plan.
It’s around this stage where the film, like Cushing’s character, loses its mind. There’s a home invasion with a caped leader, rude fruit consumption by a giggling thug named Groper (David Lodge), and an outrageous finale where director Robert Hartford-Davis and writers Derek and Donald Ford go for a Grand Guignol ending that has everyone being punished using a then-novel surgical device: a laser beam cutter, which Rowman uses to fix Lynn’s face. The last montage – a misty replay of the accident-prone party footage – feels tacked on and is generally unnecessary, given the film’s distressed characters were directed towards a mass killing – but the ‘twist’ perhaps tempers the absolute nihilism of the original ending, letting audiences decide for themselves as to whether it was all a dream, or is a portent of an insane, intractable future.
END OF SPOILER
“But they know something! They’ve established medical knowledge was used in the killings!”
Grindhouse Releasing’s Blu-ray-DVD combo set is an excellent restoration, boasting a near-pristine print with dynamic colours, and an isolated mono music & effects track of Bill McGuffie’s unreleased lounge jazz score (which is admittedly dated and often inappropriate, but does accentuate the film’s outrageous tone). His other credits include the Jayne Mansfield crime film The Challenge / It Takes a Thief (1960), Sidney J. Fury’s The Leather Boys (1964), Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966), and the cult film The Asphyx (1973).
The Ford brother’s script is snappy and brisk, and several ridiculous lines (see italicized quotes) were clearly designed to closet questionable character behaviour and plot issues, and push everyone onwards to the next scene. Even though Cushing has some deliciously insane moments – the prostitute murder is incredibly prolonged – he has some genuinely strong dramatic moments, making Rowman a compelling character: he’s ostensibly a decent man manipulated by a vain creature aware of his infatuation and dependency on her presence and minor affection.
The BR’s reversible sleeve includes rated and very unrated poster art depicting the prostitute’s death. In the U.K. / U.S. version, a clothed Jan Waters (Take the High Road) is stabbed and crumples to the ground, whereas in the naughtier version (released under the idiotic title Laser Killer), another actress (Marianne Morris / Marian Collins) is quite topless, and is chased around, groped, and stabbed by Rowman before a knife begins the decapitation. The gore is very tame, but seeing Cushing touching blood-splattered breasts is quite atypical for the actor. Director Hartford-Davis shot the prostitute killing, a rather impromptu train murder, and Val’s beach death with a fisheye lens, espousing a kind of poor-man’s Murder-Vision (which actually works within the film’s trippy, highly colourful commercial look). The option to select rated and unrated versions is available only on the Blu-ray, but the unrated prostitute killing is archived in the DVD’s alternate scenes gallery.
Within the extensive publicity galleries are stills showing both the ‘Asian’ (topless) prostitute killing and the ‘Mediterranean’ version (not on this release) featuring actress Morris in a black bra. The most amusing item: a suggestion within Columbia’s exhibitor’s handbook to try out hiring someone to walk around town with a British Derby, a medical bag, and a mannequin’s head!
Grindhouse includes video interviews with the surviving cast, and a great commentary track where author Jonathan Rigby (English Gothic) and Cushing biographer David Miller lovingly dissect the oddities within this long unavailable gem. (They also acknowledge the actor’s ‘hair thrashing’ motif which is endemic to any moment Cushing is tossed around by a monster / legal official / thug / very upset hooker.)
An archival audio interview with Cushing, taped at Pinewood Studios on Aug. 29, 1974, is revealing for the actor’s mellow comportment and relaxed voice (less sharp and resonant than his Acting Voice), and some side comments on current popular films like Chinatown (“Very, very good, but I’ve seen better”), the trend of more sex in films, and the use of juvenile expressions by Americans.
This is a lovingly assembled special edition – one of the best released this year - boasting excellent extras and a truly gorgeous 2K HD transfer with eye-popping colours. A must-have for connoisseurs of all things Cushing, if not taboo horror.
Director Hartford-Davis is perhaps best-known for a number of exploitation works including The Yellow Teddy Bears (1963), The Smashing Bird I Used to Know (1969), Incense for the Damned (1970) with Cushing again, and The Fiend (1972).
In addition to Corruption and The Yellow Teddy Bears, writers Derek and Donald Ford also wrote A Study in Terror (1965), the TV series Z Cars (1967-1968), and Peter Sykes’ oddball Venom (1971).
Actress Wendy Varnals, who merely slipped into acting for a short period, left ‘the business’ right after Corruption, and moved to the U.S., whereas Kate O’Mara appeared in several TV series, including Triangle (1981-1982), Doctor Who: The Rani (1985-1987), Dynasty (1986), and Howard’s Way (1989-1990). The film career of former model Sue Lloyd never really took off, and her best-known credits include The Ipcress File (1965), Attack on the Iron Coast (1968), Innocent Bystanders (1972), and the TV series The Baron (1966).
© 2013 Mark R. Hasan