• Gabe Powers

Corruption (1968) Blu-ray Review (originally published 2013)

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.



I’m not as well-versed in the ‘60s-’70s brand of British exploitation thriller as I am with its Italian counterpart, giallo films, but it’s easy enough to recognize repeated themes and trope. Following many years of Hammer and Amicus dominance, Robert Hartford-Davis’ Corruption (aka: Carnage, 1968) became an early example of the brand of non-supernatural, contemporary shockers that were about to overtake Dracula and Dr. Frankenstein. It slightly predates the more popular Britsploitation proto-slashers, like Pete Walker’s giallo-esque Die Screaming, Marianne (1971), Gary Sherman’s Raw Meat (1972), and Peter Sasdy’s Hands of the Ripper (produced under the Hammer banner in 1971), meaning that Hartford-Davis was at least a little ahead of his time (author Kim Newman once dubbed this movement “Green Penguin thrillers” in reference to the color of the seedy British pulp novels they mimic – in the tradition of the Italian giallo, or yellow paperback thrillers).


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 known as Gonks Go Beat (1965). Corruption isn’t so well directed that critics unwilling to look past the subject matter couldn’t simply ignore it, but Hartford-Davis’ colorfully gritty atmosphere can’t have been achieved accidentally. He and cinematographer Peter Newbrook’s (camera operator for David Lean and director of a superior cult horror flick called The Asphyx, 1972) 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. At best, they’re effectively used in conjunction with extreme close-ups, strobe editing techniques, and even fisheye lenses to create a sense of seedy unease.



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 (French: Les Yeux sans Visage; aka: Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, 1960). Peter Cushing’s character’s modus operandi is a bit different from Pierre Brasseur’s character, but both actors are playing doctors that stalk and kill women in hopes of preserving/restoring a loved one’s beautiful face (Cushing is seeking pituitary gland fluid, Brasseur is seeking actual facial tissue). 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 rip-offs, including Jesus Franco’s The Awful Dr. Orloff (Spanish: Gritos en la noche, 1962) and Faceless (1988), Anton Giulio Majano’s Atomic Age Vampire (Italian: Seddok, l'erede di Satana, 1960), and Joseph Green’s The Brain that Wouldn’t Die (which was apparently made at the same time as Franju’s movie, but not released until 1962). The major difference between Eyes without a Face and Corruption is that Franju’s faceless victim, portrayed by Edith Scob, is a waifish casualty of circumstance, whereas Corruption’s Sue Lloyd is a jealous monster, the aggressive harpy and the film’s key villain. There’s probably a greater message concerning the differences between French and English views on women during the 1960s in there somewhere, I’m just not currently qualified to extract it.


The Fords still deserve credit for the things they do with Franju’s formula, especially once they get through the heavy exposition and focus on creative kill sequences. The violence isn’t shocking when viewed through modern eyes, but, even with the more graphic stuff left to the audience’s imagination, it is remarkably savage for a 1968 release. According to Allan Bryce’s Blu-ray liner notes, star Peter Cushing was “pleased to be making a movie in modern dress,” following years of Hammer and Amicus period pieces, but I imagine that a consonant gentleman or his level was bothered by Corruption’s more intense and misogynistic violence. Throughout his career, Cushing was relatively outspoken about his dislike of vulgarity and, in this case, he’s quite literally hands-on with some particularly vulgar stuff. This is especially true for the less censored international cut, which includes a topless version of the first brutal murder. Concerns aside, Cushing is as professional as he always is and is actually really well cast as a beleaguered and sympathetic straight-man, who is at the utter mercy of his fiancé’s increasingly psychotic demands.



Video

Grindhouse Releasing has scanned the uncut version of Corruption in 2K for this 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer and the results are fantastic. Considering the film’s age and obscurity, the print is surprisingly consistent with fine grain and only minor film damage artifacts. 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 artifacts. 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 color 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.



Audio

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 artifacts. 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.



Extras

  • Commentary with English Gothic (Signum, 2015) 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.

  • Interview with 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.

  • Interview with 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.

  • Interview with actress Wendy Varnals (16:10, HD) – who discusses her early theater and television career, her live interview show and magazine columns, her part on [I]Corruption[/I], Cushing’s gentile nature, arguing with Hartford-Davis, filming some of the more hazardous scenes, and quitting the business.

  • Audio interview with 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.

  • Still galleries – Color stills, black & white stills, and promotional material

  • Robert Hartford-Davis’ filmography, including trailers for Black Gun and The Take.

  • Grindhouse Releasing trailers

  • Pages from the director’s original shooting script


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