Robert Hartford-Davis, 1968
Starring: Peter Cushing, Sue Lloyd, Kate O’Mara, Noel Trevarthen
A renowned plastic surgeon, Sir John Rowan (Peter Cushing), is at a party with his young girlfriend Lynn (Sue Lloyd), a model, when things get out of hand. He wants to leave, but she’s being fawned over by a photographer, and a scuffle breaks out in the crowd; a photo light falls over, smashing right on Lynn’s face, ruining it. It becomes Rowan’s obsession to make a surgical breakthrough and repair her beauty, and he begins experimenting with a series of (I believe) hypothalamus transplants, which at first seems like a miraculous cure and her face is restored without any hint of scarring or trauma. But this is only temporary and soon Rowan must replace the transplant, causing him to find increasingly homicidal ways to procure new glands…
Anyone who reads this blog is well aware of my frenzied love for Peter Cushing (two words: slap fetish), but I have to admit that while I really enjoy Corruption, I don’t quite rank it alongside some of his other performances from the late ‘60s through early ‘70s, though the bar is set quite high with things like the Sherlock Holmes (1968) TV series, Twins of Evil (1971), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972), Fear in the Night (1972), and — drumroll — Horror Express (1972). In a weird way, I think the fact that Corruption was unavailable for so long has inflated its reputation, a bit, as a truly nasty piece of work. Cushing is nowhere near as maniacal as he is in Twins of Evil or Fear in the Night, or even Madhouse (1974), and the film’s interesting twist (this isn’t really a spoiler) is that he is goaded into killing by Lynn, who is almost maniacally obsessed with becoming beautiful — and staying that way. Though they have some traits in common, Sir John Rowan is a far cry from the Baron Frankenstein.
It’s also strange to think how neglected director Robert Hartford-Davis has been compared to other British genre directors; no disrespect to Terence Fisher or Pete Walker, but there are other talents out there. Hartford-Davis directed some other horror films, such as The Black Torment (1964), Incense for the Damned (1970), and The Fiend (1972), all of which I’ll be reviewing for my British horror series. If I had to sum up these titles (including Corruption), I think the best way I could describe them is flawed, but always interesting, and as far as low budget genre cinema goes, there’s not a lot more than I could ask for. I’m hoping some of his other titles get more attention and wider releases in the future. Unlike some of the other British genre directors, who as a rule tended to stick to similar themes, Hartford-Davis is at least in part interesting because he was all over the place. Corruption is essentially a riff on the glorious Eyes Without a Face (1960), but is a thoroughly British grindhouse interpretation of the material (though admittedly it doesn’t approach the level of insanity found in Jess Franco’s The Awful Dr. Orloff or Michael fucking Pataki’s Mansion of the Doomed…).
One of the best — and also most awkward — things about the film is that everything is set in swinging London. This results in a lot of unintentional, often unpleasant humor, and it has everything from a ridiculous party to an Austin Powers-like photo shoot that must be seen to be believed. Swinging London is admittedly one of my favorite time period settings for late ‘60s/early ‘70s horror and I hope that one day I can do a swinging London film festival, complete with things like Psychomania, Deadly Sweet, Dracula A.D. 1972, Raw Meat, and Scream and Scream Again. (Appropriate costumes will be mandatory.) Speaking of costumes, Cushing’s Sir Rowan is endearingly out of place in his fiancee’s world and, like so much British cinema from this period, much of the tension — and his encroaching, increasingly sweaty and disheveled madness — comes from this divide between free-wheeling youth and the reserved, traditional older generation.
I think part of why this film was soured a bit for me — and where some of the aforementioned youth comes into play — is the twist ending, although it’s not quite a surprise twist, but more a directional change of course, a sharp left turn that basically transforms this into a home invasion film (and with very, very few exceptions, I hate those). Rowan and Lynn go off to an isolated seaside cottage and hope to ensnare a lonely young woman, but she isn’t all that she seems. And so on. Despite that, this is a solid effort from Hartford-Davis and Cushing, who both seem to be having a great time, though I believe Cushing later said it was one of his worst films. Hammer-regular Kate O’Mara (The Vampire Lovers, The Horror of Frankenstein) is sadly underused, but keep your eyes peeled for other genre actresses like Vanessa Howard (Girly) and Valerie Van Ost (The Satanic Rites of Dracula).
Even though it’s not among my favorite Cushing films, or even British horror movies, Corruption is one of those sleaze gems that soundly fits under the description of “grindhouse” — so of course it’s fitting that it was restored and released on Blu-ray by the great Grindhouse Releasing with two versions of the film (the US/UK version and the gorier and more explicit European cut) and a load of special features. They go above and beyond with all of their releases — and all of the titles they chosen really have something special — but this was an obvious labor of love and both the release and the film come recommended. And let us not forget the amazing tagline: “CORRUPTION Is Not A Woman's Picture! Therefore: No Woman Will Be Admitted Alone To See This Super-Shock Film!” Perhaps the real problem is not with Corruption, but that I’m a woman and I watched the film alone.