A fiftysomething-year-old Peter Cushing, knife in hand, wrestles with a topless hooker in this British proto-slasher from the class of 1968. I can -- and I will! -- write a long, rambling review about Corruption, but that one, singular sentence really does tell you everything you need to know.
Cushing stars as Sir John Rowan, an impossibly wealthy surgeon fortunate enough to have a fashion model (Sue Lloyd) hanging off his arm. With models come photographers, and when an impromptu shoot at
a swinging '60s party gets uncomfortably exposing for Sir John's tastes, a fallen floodlight leaves Lynn's cover model good looks scorched and horribly scarred. Conventional plastic surgery fails to restore her former beauty, so Sir John turns to the decidedly unconventional. His answer, months in the making, is a collision of the ancient with what's close enough to science fiction, blending long-forgotten Egyptian lore with bleeding-edge surgical techniques. Sure, it involves a computer-guided laser and carving out the pituitary gland of a corpse from his hospital's morgue, but more importantly, it works. Well, it works for a while, anyway. When her scars return, Sir John quickly finds himself in search of...fresher specimen, reluctantly settling into the role of Renfield-with-a-doctorate to Lynn's pituitary vampire. As the cycle repeats itself, Lynn's looks return but her continuously-slipping sanity never does, and Sir John grows so rattled with each kill that it's uncertain if he can even keep conducting these surgeries. Then again, after harvesting a pituitary gland from the wrong girl, something else might get in the way...
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Cushing once described Corruption as "gratuitously violent, fearfully sick", as if that's a bad thing. Of course, he's not wrong. Depending on which cut of the film you opt for, we're talking about a movie where one of the foremost gentlemen of horror smears his bloodied hands on a prostitute's bare breasts before proceeding to decapitate her. Don't shrug Corruption off as some sort of mindless slasher because it really is anything but. For one, there's its gleefully ridiculous sense of humor. There's something I find fascinating about the head-on collision of the swinging '60s with hyperviolence. As ever, I can't turn away from Cushing's piercing blue eyes, even if they're photographed with distorted fish-eye lenses and surrounded by his frazzled hair, reflecting the disintegration of this surgeon's once-brilliant mind. The screenplay is at least a little sharper than the slashers it would one day spawn, with better formed character arcs and many more changes of scenery. Corruption refuses to settle into a comfortable rut, to the point where it halfway turns into a Straw Dogs-style home invasion thriller in the last twenty minutes and change, complete with menacing apple-smashing and a cape of many colors and...oh, I've revealed too much already. It's one of the most gloriously insane finalés I've ever witnessed, and whenever you think Corruption has reached its most crazed crescendo, there's something even more unhinged lurking around the next bend.
Corruption would be deliriously fun no matter who was in the lead role, but the presence of a master like Peter Cushing elevates it to such heights, especially the sight of his mannered, gentlemanly surgeon devolving into a bug-eyed maniac. I
was surprised to learn that this marks the first ever home video release of Corruption on these shores, and true to form, Grindhouse Releasing has made it worth the wait. This Blu-ray release is a full-blown special edition that piles on two different cuts of the film, and the presentations are about as flawless as I could ever have hoped to see and hear. Very, very Highly Recommended.
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Corruption is achingly gorgeous on Blu-ray. The screenshots scattered around this review may not do them justice, but the levels of clarity and detail are just about always astonishing. Its filmic texture has rightly been retained and is never intrusive. No wear or speckling ever get in the way. Corruption's vibrant, swingin' '60s palette -- especially throughout the party that opens the film -- is startlingly well-preserved. Even though two feature-length presentations and a slew of high definition extras are spread across this dual-layer disc, there aren't any sputters or stutters to be found throughout these AVC encodes. I've seen enough of Grindhouse Releasing's work to expect stellar care and effort, but this eclipses anything I could possibly have expected.
Both versions of Corruption feature 16-bit, monaural DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks, and they're phenomenal. A few strained line readings aside, I frequently found myself in awe of how rich and full-bodied the elements remain all these many years later. Although the bouncy, jazzy score is far and a way the worst thing about the film, jarringly out of step with the bleak tone of the murders, the instrumentation is so clean and clear that it sounds as if it could've been recorded last Tuesday. The overwhelming majority of the dialogue is perfectly balanced in the mix and immaculately rendered as well. Again, I'm really not left with any complaints or criticism whatsoever; better than a best case scenario.
There are no dubs, remixes, or subtitles. That's not to say that Corruption is without other audio options, but I'll touch on those in a moment.
First of all, I just want to say how much I love Grindhouse's packaging. The Criterion-esque clear case makes Corruption feel special rather than just another Blu-ray release. I also prefer the way this combo pack overlays the DVD and all-region Blu-ray disc on the same side of the case, with the Blu-ray disc placed on top for easier accessibility. The other side of the case houses a mini-poster, promotional artwork from across the globe, and a set of enthusiastic liner notes by The Dark Side's Allan Bryce. (I won't hold that against Grindhouse, though, he types with a knowing wink.) The cover art is also reversible if you want to ogle a pair of painted, bloodied, bare breasts. As for the disc itself...!
- Multiple Versions of the Film: This Blu-ray disc features both the original version of Corruption that played in the UK and in the US, and there's
also a grislier 'international' version. The differences are most pronounced in the first kill, with each version having a different actress portraying the blonde prostitute. The British cut is less visceral and kind of playful about it, while the international release has a great deal of nudity and is sopping with stage blood. Both presentations are in high definition and are comparable in quality.
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- Isolated Music/Effects Track: An isolated music and effects track is presented here in Dolby Digital mono (192kbps), and it's available for both versions of the film.
- Alternate Scenes (4 min.; HD): A gory version of the prostitute murder is offered alongside shorter, tamer inserts for a few other sequences in the film. The more brutal murder clocks in just shy of four minutes in length, while the inserts range anywhere from three to twenty seconds.
- Interviews (46 min.; HD): Corruption features newly-conducted interviews with actors Billy Murray, Jan Waters, and Wendy Varnals along with an audio-only interview with Peter Cushing from 1974. The conversion with Cushing doesn't have anything to do with Corruption specifically, unless I missed something, instead oriented around his dissatisfaction with the less-than-gentlemanly state of horror at the time. Varnals' interview is part career retrospective, part slice of life, detailing the fun but not quite glamorous sides of genre filmmaking in the '60s without wardrobe trailers or hordes of makeup artists. Waters chats about what it was like getting butchered by Peter Cushing, including her struggle with some last minute script changes and a visual touch she requested that made it into the final cut. Murray's is the most interesting discussion of the lot, tackling everything from a "where are they now?" with the rest of his gang all the way to a shoving match with a still-spry Cushing leaving him with dozens of stitches.
- Audio Commentary: Corruption's audio commentary is easy to overlook, as it's listed under 'Setup' rather than with the rest of the extras. This conversation with English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema author Jonathan Rigby and Cushing biographer David Miller is well-worth those couple of extra button presses, of course. Though scholarly and well-researched, it's also overflowing with personality and is a remarkably fun listen. Among the many topics of conversation are other films with similar premises, the history of laser surgery, the backgrounds of the producers and cast, its unexpected pairings with spaghetti westerns on both sides of the pond, and just how different the "bloody awful" novelization could be.
- Original Director's Shooting Script: Robert Hartford-Davis' heavily annotated copy of the Corruption shooting script is available as a DVD-ROM extra on the other side of this combo pack. Alongside it is a 17 page shot list.
- Trailers, TV Spots, and Radio Spots (8 min.; HD): Also along for the ride are an international trailer, an American trailer, five TV spots, and a pair of radio promos. All of it is delivered in high definition, including, impressively enough, the television spots.
- Still Galleries (HD): Corruption also offers three photo galleries, divided into color stills, black-and-white stills, and promotional materials. It took around 4 or 5 seconds to move from one image to the next on my Blu-ray player, though, and that was too slow for me to want to fully explore any of these galleries. As a result, I can't speak to how comprehensive they are.
- Robert Hartford-Davis Filmography: This is just a textual laundry list like you'd see on the IMDb, but a couple of trailers have unexpectedly been sprinkled in as well.
- Easter Egg (2 min.; HD): If you want to hear a little more from Wendy Varnals, keep an eye out for a hidden Union Jack on the 'special features' submenu. There might be other Easter eggs, but this is the only one I've stumbled upon thus far.
The Final Word
What better way to ring in Peter Cushing's centennial than with this sleazy, infectiously fun proto-slasher? I really did have a blast catching up with Corruption, a film I'd read about time and again but never had the opportunity to fully experience until now. It sure doesn't hurt that I was properly introduced to the movie through such a first-rate Blu-ray package from Grindhouse Releasing. Very Highly Recommended.