Corruption is a 1967 British science fiction horror film directed by Robert Hartford-Davis from a screenplay written by Derek Ford (Don’t Open Till Christmas, The Urge to Kill) and Donald Ford. Also released as Carnage and Laser Killer.
The movie stars Peter Cushing, Sue Lloyd, Noel Trevarthen, Kate O’Mara (The Vampire Lovers), David Lodge (The Fiend; Scream and Scream Again), Wendy Varnals, Billy Murray and Vanessa Howard (What Became of Jack and Jill?).
Corruption is the oddest entry in Peter Cushing’s filmography – a movie so relentlessly sordid that even the notoriously uncritical actor and ‘gentleman of horror’ expressed his disdain for it. It’s the closest he came to making the sort of modernist, misanthropic, brutal horror that made up much of the British genre from the late Sixties to the late Seventies – films made by Michael Armstrong, Peter Walker, Norman Warren and others. A million miles away from Hammer, which at this stage was at its most staid, this 1968 movie remains a grim and nasty affair even now. This is especially true in the ‘international’ version that was unseen for years until it turned up as an option of the blu-ray releases (note: if you ever have the choice between the UK cut and an ‘international’ cut of anything, always go for the international version).
Corruption is a decidedly British take on the sort of story behind Eyes Without a Face and The Awful Dr Orloff. Cushing is the brilliant surgeon Sir John Warren, who is involved with a younger woman named Lynn (Sue Lloyd), a model and party girl. Persuaded by her to attend the sort of swinging bash that only ever existed in the minds of middle-aged filmmakers, he finds himself decidedly out of place – as out of place, in fact, as Cushing himself in this story. Sidelined by Lynn and trendy photographer Mike (Anthony Booth), he’s forced to make small talk with spaced-out hippy chick Vanessa Howard (no great ordeal, you might think…) before getting into a scuffle with Mike, who is trying to get Lynn to disrobe for an impromptu photo session. A light is knocked over and lands on her face, causing a massive, ugly scar – not the sort of thing that generally helps a fashion model’s career.
A combination of guilt and romantic obsession sees Warren use an experimental technique to restore Lynn’s beauty – something involving the pituitary gland that he removes from the corpse of a woman in the hospital he works in. This proves successful – but only temporarily. He realises he needs to extract the gland from a living woman (or at least, a fresher corpse) and this realisation sends the couple into a downward spiral of murder and madness.
This first manifests itself in the one scene that is entirely different in the two cuts. In the English edition, Warren visits a prostitute and kills her in a rather restrained scene. In the ‘international’ version, it’s very different. If you’ve ever wanted to see Peter Cushing wrestling with a topless woman before brutally slicing her up (even having an entirely unnecessary boob grope in the process), then this will be the film for you. Even by modern standards, this is an extraordinarily savage scene, the intensity increased by fish-eye lens shots of a demented Cushing, hair all over the place and showing a sort of distress and determination to get this over and done with that you suspect wasn’t entirely acting.
Soon, Warren realises that the results of his experimental surgery will never be permanent, and attempts to call a halt to the killings, but an increasingly unstable Lynn forces him to go on. As the pair hide out in a seaside cottage, Warren is forced to kill Valerie Van Ost in a train carriage – a scene slightly less exploitative but no less savage than the last killing – and take her severed head off home to be ready for the next operation. Also lined up for killing is beach bum Terry (Wendy Varnals), who the pair tricked into staying with them. But here, Corruption takes a curious left turn. Terry turns out to be part of a gang of thugs who are planning to rob the cottage, and when the gang break in and terrorises Warren and Lynn, the tables are suddenly turned – the monsters are suddenly the victims. The desperate Lynn tries to convince gang leader Georgie to force Warren to operate on her in exchange for money, but the home invaders soon discover that they might have bitten off more than they can chew (severed heads in the fridge will do that), leading to a rather frantic showdown…
Directed with relentless efficiency by Robert Hartford-Davis – an efficiently workmanlike director who would later make the equally downbeat and grim The Fiend – Corruption is one of the unsung greats of British horror, appearing as it did right at the start of a shift in gears away from the gothic and into more contemporary, mean-spirited and graphic movies. The screenplay by exploitation veterans Donald and Derek Ford (who would make everything from gothic horror to hardcore porn – sometimes at the same time – in their careers) is a masterclass in efficiency – the story trundles along so quickly, that you have little time to question how ludicrous it might be, and the shift in gears with the introduction of the gang – a decidedly modern threat (just dig their Carnaby Street fashions!) against Cushing’s almost traditional mad doctor – is inspired.
The performances are mostly impressive, too. Cushing certainly throws himself into the role, showing physicality and a crazed style that is rare. As both a figure of fear and pity, he’s great, bringing the role more dignity than it might deserve. He might be essentially miscast – you feel that this may well have been written with a younger man in mind – but he gives it his all. His possible distaste for what he has to do in the film probably helps with his tortured, conflicted performance too! Sue Lloyd is also excellent as she slips slowly into madness as her need to hold on to her beauty pushes her over the edge. There’s a good supporting cast playing mostly unpleasant characters too, and only Noel Trevarthen and Kate O’Mara seem unnecessary – not so much because of their acting but because as the film’s token ‘good guys’ (Warren’s colleague and Lynn’s sister), they have very little to do.
Corruption‘s reputation has never been great. Most critics – the sort who still found Hammer films to be a bit unsavoury in 1968 – tended to follow Cushing’s lead in considering the film to be nothing more than exploitative, unpleasant trash. They are, of course, woefully wrong in their assessment. In recent years, the film has thankfully found a bigger following than ever thanks to a splendidly lurid Blu-ray release from Grindhouse in the US and an agreeably thorough revival by Indicator in the UK. David Flint, guest reviewer via The Reprobate
Plastic surgeon Sir John Rowan (Cushing)’s girlfriend’s face is badly burned and scarred in an incident involving a large lamp.
Luckily, Rowan has happened upon the secrets of the Ancient Egyptians and has harnessed the use of pituitary glands and a large laser (what Ancient Egyptians were doing with one of these is anyone’s guess) to restore her beautiful looks.
Alas, whilst on holiday, her face reverts to awful ghastliness and Rowan realises that the aforementioned glands must be from a live specimen, not dead; alas, for ladies of slack morals, this means he will be roaming the streets and relieving prostitutes of select parts of their innards.
What follows, as Rowan and his girlfriend connive to keep her looks pristine, is an ever-escalating spiral of depravity until they are both rumbled and it becomes a fight to the death…
Corruption may well be the most eyebrow-raising British horror film of the 60s and despite the rather Austin Powers-like depiction of the sixties at the beginning (Hartford-Davis was a master of this, having already helmed the likes of Gonks Go Beat and The Yellow Teddy Bears) the film progresses to scenes you would never imagine featuring Peter Cushing, from surprisingly full-on snogging, nudity and plenty of savage killings.
European prints of the film featured more nudity along with a scene of Cushing’s bloody hands groping a victim’s breasts. The tone of the film is oddly downbeat, no Hammer comedy klaxons or sunrise endings here. Cushing delivers the most manic performance of his career, surprisingly believable and an excellent foil to his girlfriend, played by Lloyd, who you lose sympathy with pretty quickly.
The supporting cast is also excellent – particularly the foul, weirdness of David Lodge – all thoroughly repellent and a suitable collective to sound the British fanfare to the end of the innocent sixties and welcome in the grey grime of the seventies.
Director Robert Hartford-Davies went on to direct other idiosyncratic British horror movies Incense for the Damned (1970) and The Fiend (1971). Daz Lawrence, MOVIES and MANIA
On October 2nd, 2013, Grindhouse Releasing issued Corruption on Blu-ray + DVD in the USA. The package features:
2 Disc set – Deluxe dual layer Blu-ray Edition + DVD combo
Spectacular new hi-definition digital restoration of the original uncensored version – PLUS – the “International Version” of the movie with bloody violence and nudity presented for the very first time in America
Interviews with stars Wendy Varnals, Billy Murray, Jan Waters and Peter Cushing
Audio commentary by acclaimed UK horror journalist Jonathan Rigby and Peter Cushing biographer David Miller
Isolated music and effects track
Liner notes by Allan Bryce, editor of British horror magazine The Dark Side
Extensive still galleries, trailers, TV spots and radio spots
The original annotated director’s shooting script and production notes
Shocking reversible cover with original art by notorious illustrator Rick Melton
Grindhouse Releasing prevues of coming attractions
Buy Corruption on Grindhouse Releasing Blu-ray + DVD combo from Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk
“A clinically nasty exploitation movie, derivative and gory and made with a complete absence of style.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook
“The standard of acting helps lift the film above being just another sleazy shocker. Lloyd is wonderfully effective as the cool model who transforms into a kill-crazed harpy, and Booth and O’Mara are great in their supporting roles […] Cushing is absolutely brilliant as the desperate and rather pathetic Sir John, horrified at what he’s been reduced to.” Jumble Sale Frenzy!
Buy Offbeat: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com
Corruption was turned into a novelization by ‘Peter Saxon‘
Buy X-Cert: The British Independent Horror Film 1951 – 1970 book by John Hamilton from Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com
Buy The Shrieking Sixties: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com
Buy A Life in Film: Peter Cushing: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com
Read the original screenplay online via the Internet Archive
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