Corruption (US - BD)
Gabe takes a sleazy train ride with a very disheveled Peter Cushing...
When his fashion model fiancé (Sue Lloyd) has her face burned by a stage lamp, Dr. John Rowan (Peter Cushing) concocts a formula to restore her former beauty. Unfortunately, the formula only lasts a limited time and requires fluid from the pituitary glands of living victims, forcing the good doctor to stalk and murder beautiful women.
Sometimes, I feel spoiled by the unprecedented availability of B-horror/sci-fi/exploitation movies. If you can’t find it on DVD or Blu-ray in America, you can probably find it in a different country and, if you can’t find it there, you might be surprised to see it on any of the various streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Crackle, etc.). Sometimes, I feel so spoiled that I’m a little sad – sad that the joy of discovering something new has been lost to me. Then, a company like Grindhouse Releasing puts out a ‘lost gem,’ like Robert Hartford-Davis’ Corruption and I’m warmed by the realization that there is still a vast ocean of violent, weird, debaucherous, so-bad-it’s-good, and so-good-it’s-good cinema just waiting to be discovered.
I’m not as well-versed in the British brand of exploitation thriller as I am with its Italian counterpart, giallo films, but I have seen enough to recognize some thematic and visual tropes. Corruption (aka: Carnage) is a good example of the kind of non-supernatural, non-period piece exploitation shockers that gained popularity in Britain during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, following years of Hammer dominance. It also slightly predates many of the similar, more popular ‘Britsploitation’ proto-slashers, including Pete Walker’s Die Screaming, Marianne (1971), Gary Sherman’s Raw Meat (1972), and Peter Sasdy’s Hands of the Ripper (produced under the Hammer banner). It seems that director Robert Hartford-Davis was a little ahead of his time. Hartford-Davis (born William Henry Davis) began his career as a cameraman for UK television and made a name for himself when his first film, Crosstrap (1962), courted controversy with its violent content. He continued churning out boundary-pushing exploitation movies for more than a decade, including sexploitation favorite The Yellow Teddy Bears (1963), a gothic horror film called The Black Torment (1964, probably his most popular film), and a little-seen modsploitation flick called Gonks Go Beat (naturally).
Corruption isn’t so well directed that critics unwilling to look past the subject matter couldn’t simply ignore it, but Hartford-Davis compiles a colourfully gritty atmosphere that can’t be achieved accidentally. He and cinematographer Peter Newbrook’s (camera operator for David Lean and director of a superior cult horror flick called The Asphyx) mod and sexploitation roots show in the film’s far-out set decoration/wardrobe and youth-placating party scenes. However, the groovy ’60-isms aren’t present only for the sake of titillation – they’re effectively used in conjunction with extreme close-ups, strobe editing techniques, and even fisheye lenses to create a palpable sense of unease. Hartford-Davis drops his stylistic extremes for most of the film’s dialogue/exposition-heavy sequences, but really cuts loose during the murder set pieces and epic foot chases. In the film’s best scene, a hesitant and depressed Cushing follows an already suspicious young lady as she boards a train. As the tension is ratcheted tighter, Hartford-Davis calls on the Hitchcockian tradition that forces an audience to sympathize with the murderer and his victim at the same time.
The screenplay is credited to Derek and Donald Ford, but it really should have a ‘based on a story by’ credit for the five people that wrote Georges Franju’s Eyes without a Face (aka: Les Yeux sans Visage and Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, 1960). Cushing’s modus operandi is a bit different from Pierre Brasseur’s – Cushing seeks pituitary gland fluid, Brasseur seeks the actual facial tissue – but both actors are playing doctors that stalk and kill women in hopes of preserving/restoring a loved one’s beautiful face. Hartford-Davis (who is credited with the concept in this disc’s extras) isn’t the first or last filmmaker to ‘borrow’ from Franju’s film, though. There’s a long, proud history of Eyes without a Face exploitation rip-offs, including Jesus Franco’s The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962) and Faceless (1988), Anton Giulio Majano’s Atomic Age Vampire (1960), and Joseph Green’s The Brain that Wouldn’t Die (which was apparently made at the same time as Franju’s movie). The major difference between Eyes without a Face and Corruption is that Franju presents Edith Scob as a waifish casualty of circumstance, whereas Sue Lloyd’s beauty-craving insanity turns her into an aggressive harpy and the film’s key villain. There’s probably a greater message concerning the differences between French and English views on women in there somewhere, I’m just not sure I’m the man to extract it.
The Fords deserve some credit for what they do with Franju’s formula, especially once they get through the heavy exposition of the first act and begin to set up creative kill scenes. The first bit of butchery is a textbook prostitute slaughter (every good proto-slasher has one). With that out of the way, the film is free to mess with our expectations a bit. The second intended victim inadvertently saves herself by going for a midnight snack and is then revealed to be a predator herself and in cahoots with a group of hoodlums that are casing Cushing and Lloyd’s seaside house. This eventually leads into an insane climax that only makes sense because the audience has been slowly conditioned to expect insanity. The violence isn’t really all that shocking when viewed through modern eyes, but, even with the more graphic stuff left to the audience’s imaginations, it’s remarkably savage for a 1968 release. According to Allan Bryce’s Blu-ray liner notes, Peter Cushing was ‘pleased to be making a movie in modern dress,’ following years of Hammer and Amicus period pieces, but I’d like to know what he thought about Corruption’s more misogynistic violence. Throughout his career he was relatively outspoken about his dislike of vulgarity and he’s quite hands-on with some particularly vulgar stuff, especially in the international cut, which includes a topless version of the first murder. Opinions aside, Cushing is always a professional and is actually really well cast as an out of his element, sympathetic straight man who is utterly defeated by his fiancé’s increasingly psychotic demands.
It was exciting to see Grindhouse’s first Blu-ray when I reviewed An American Hippie in Israel, but that particular film wasn’t exactly the ideal arena for the studio to show off their abilities. Corruption is nearly as obscure, but is a more professional production (it opens with a Columbia logo!) and the footage wasn’t found in somebody’s closet. Grindhouse scanned the uncut version of film in 2K for this 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer and the results are fantastic. The print is surprisingly consistent with fine grain and only minor film damage artefacts. Some shots display more damage, grain, or dirt than others – specifically, a handful of sequences that take place in the hospital where the stark white walls pulse with vague print impurities – but even the particularly dark moments remain relatively clean. There are no obvious signs of digital cleanup, like DNR-infused waxy details or Photoshop-like smudges covering artefacts. Details are crisp where it counts, limited mostly by focus and dim lighting (the whole movie is pretty dark outside the hospital scenes). The extreme close-ups are the sharpest bits, but I’m particularly surprised by the complexity of some of the wider shots of the English countryside. Edge haloes are only present in a couple of the very darkest shots. The mod fashions and decors give way to an occasionally eclectic and vibrant colour palette that rarely bleeds. These scenes contrast nicely with the more ‘stately’ warm hues that make up the bulk of the film. Reds are rich without notable macroblocking effects, natural greens are lush, and flesh tones are consistent.
Corruption comes fitted with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono soundtrack that isn’t going to light your sound system ablaze, but certainly gets the job done without any major distortion. The vocal performances are sometimes inconsistent in terms of sound quality and overall volume, but these usually appear to be the consequences of ADR work when the soundtrack was originally put together. The clarity of the dialogue also depends on the location where it was shot and this track accurately recreates the expected aural artefacts. The sound design is occasionally clever, including a scream that turns into an ambulance siren, drill-like laser beam sounds that increase in frequency alongside a disembodied heartbeat, and influxes of off-camera tidal noises during a beachside foot chase. Composer Bill McGuffie (who also wrote music for the Cushing-starring Daleks Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. and Newbrook’s The Asphyx) doesn’t fill the movie with wall-to-wall music, but what is included is enormously eclectic, including jazz, classical, ethnic, and ‘60s rock influences. Sometimes, the stylistic choices are so random I suspect that McGuffie just composed a bunch of stuff and handed it to the filmmakers to do with what they want, but the arbitrary qualities of the music are actually quite charming. The score features remarkable depth for a mono track approaching its 45th birthday and doesn’t turn to mush when mixed with layers of sound effects, like during an early party sequence.
The disc also includes a Dolby Digital 1.0 music and effects track.
The extras begin with an audio commentary featuring English Gothic author Jonathan Rigby and Peter Cushing biographer David Miller. Both commentators are especially cordial and incredibly informative, making the track a ‘friendlier’ version of the typical Criterion expert commentary. The track verifies that Cushing himself wasn’t particularly fond of Corruption, but neither Rigby nor Miller is willing to throw the film under the bus. They critique the film’s weaker moments without skimming over some of the better ones, even finding plenty of plot and dialogue-based tidbits to praise that I’d entirely missed (I would have never noticed how much the film has in common with Shakespeare Macbeth on my own). Of course, being an author/expert track, most of the energy is spent contextualizing the film, comparing it to similar films, and running down the career histories of almost every major player (and even a few minor ones). Do note that this track has been recorded for both the R-rated and unrated cuts. The tracks are roughly the same, aside from the first murder scene.
Up next is a series of interviews:
- Actor Billy Murray (no relation 13:40, HD) – who fondly remembers working on the film, compares his in-film gang to The Manson Family, being in awe of Peter Cushing, injuring his face on-set, and takes credit for the film’s dopey ‘it was all a dream’ ending.
- Actress Jan Waters (who only appears in the cut version, 9:10, HD) – who recalls learning her lines via cue cards (because the script kept getting rewritten), Cushing’s helpful attitude, and ‘60s fashion.
- Actress Wendy Varnals (16:10, HD) – who discusses her early theater and television career, her live interview show and magazine columns, her part on Corruption, Cushing’s gentile nature, arguing with Hartford-Davis, filming some of the more hazardous scenes, and quitting the business.
- Actor Peter Cushing (7:10, HD) – In this audio-only interview from 1974, Cushing chats about his work in general, and discusses his distaste for sex, violence, and naughty language in movies. He never mentions Corruption by name.
The extras are closed out with three still galleries (color stills, black & white stills, and promotional material), Hartford-Davis’ filmography (including trailers for Black Gun and The Take), Grindhouse Releasing trailers, and pages from the director’s original shooting script.
Corruption is one of the more entertainingly sleazy ‘60s/’70s UK thrillers (a semi-subgenre author Kim Newman once dubbed ‘Green Penguin’ in reference to the colour of the seedy pulp novels they mimic – in the tradition of the Italian giallo, or yellow paperback thrillers) and surprisingly rewatchable, despite reusing the oft-recycled basic plot of Eyes without a Face. It has its weaknesses, most of which revolve around its tiny budget and weird narrative structure, but is never boring. Grindhouse has put together another fine package here, including a sharply remastered picture, a clean version of the original mono soundtrack, and a great selection of extras headed by an incredibly informative expert commentary track. Even the box is fun – it features double-sided ‘R-rated’ (bra, no blood) and ‘unrated’ (boobs, lots of blood) cover art.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 8th October 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 English, Dolby Digital 1.0 Music/Effects
Extras: Author/Critic Commentary, Cast Interviews, Still Galleries, Trailers, Director Filmography, DVD Copy, Liner Notes/Mini-Poster
Easter Egg: No
Director: Robert Hartford-Davis
Cast: Peter Cushing, Sue Lloyd, Billy Murray, Wendy Varnals
Genre: Horror and Thriller
Length: 91 minutes
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