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Horror films in America were measurably tamer before the 1968 ratings system came in. Until Psycho or thereabouts the majority were marketed as movies for teens, and most of the William Castle pictures were considered kiddie fare. Depending on the sensitivity of the kid, of course, any reaction was possible. With Valenti's rating system movies became more naturalistic. When exploitation producers saw how much freedom they had, truly gruesome horror pictures became the norm.
Trying to jump the gun on the new freedom was England's Titan International Productions, the makers of the artistically challenged and aggressively brutal shock-fest Corruption. It premiered on both sides of the pond late in 1968, and Columbia reportedly distributed it in the United States as Carnage. As was the case with numerous earlier UK horrors, a Continental version was prepared as well, with more violence and substitute nude scenes. 1
Corruption probably won its Columbia release due to the presence of Peter Cushing, the pre-eminent horror star of the era. But Cushing never appeared in a film as extreme as this one, especially the Continental version. When the actor talked about his taste in horror fare running to "less being more" he must have set memories of this one aside.
As if commissioned to grind out a maximum of unsavory scenes, Donald and Derek Ford's script is yet another re-think of Georges Franju's influential masterpiece Eyes Without a Face. Celebrated surgeon and researcher Sir John Rowan (Cushing) exhausts himself to keep up with his fickle fashion model girlfriend Lynn Nolan (Sue Lloyd of The Ipcress File). Lynn refuses to leave a 'swinging' party, and starts an impromptu session with photographer Mike Orme (Anthony Booth), who encourages her to disrobe. When Rowan objects a fight breaks out, and a hot light severely burns Lynn's face. Seeking to make amends, John uses his experimental regeneration formula on his suicidal lover. The process requires laser surgery and a fresh extract from a pituitary gland that Rowan pilfers from the hospital morgue. Lynn's disfiguration magically heals, but the cure is only temporary. To secure more potent pituitary secretions, John takes to murdering prostitutes. Thus begins a deadly spiral of crime and atrocities.
Corruption is a true ugly duckling horror opus. It has neither the beauty or mystique of older, more subjective horror films, and it doesn't relate to anything particularly relevant in the culture -- more transgressive horror items would actively situate themselves as reactions to Vietnam (Deathdream), moral hypocrisy (The Last House on The Left) and even the abandonment of the working class (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre). No, Corruption just takes a proven formula and tries to out-nasty the competition. The circumstances put quite a strain on the actors. Frankly, the sexy Sue Lloyd comes off the best, as she makes the wholly selfish Lynn interesting no matter how ridiculous things become. The fashion model seems truly destroyed when her face is marred. Her relatively poor makeup effect is limited to a fake scar that resembles a brown jellyfish taking up residence on her cheek. When the hysterical Lynn encourages Sir John to start killing people just so she can be pretty again, we believe her.
Watching Peter Cushing in this show is a rather odd experience. Even when he plays unlikeable characters, Cushing is always so charismatic that we enjoy his presence. Fans were perturbed when he raped Veronica Carlson in the uncut Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, but that event was considered an aberration. In Corruption Cushing seems to be going through a really horrible midlife crisis. Egged on by Lynn, he decapitates a prostitute and similarly attacks other women. Things get to the point where Rowan and Lynn are sizing up every girl they see, including a free spirit who shares their beach getaway house for a few days. All of this puts a strain on credibility, especially when we mull over the fact that Cushing isn't that young any more, and more than one of his female victims appear perfectly capable of beating him in a wrestling contest. Even the shooting style seems wrong for Cushing -- distorting his face with fisheye lenses seems wholly unnecessary. The final act sees an unlikely group of toughs -- a brainy ringleader, a mindless goon, a trashy girlfriend -- invade the beach cottage, leading to a pretty ridiculous mass slaughter. A runaway surgical laser beam suddenly starts behaving as did the lethal "Crystal" ray-weapon in an old George Pal opus, wiping out the cast like a bug zapper from Hell. It's not exactly grade-A moviemaking.
More genuinely shocking is the sight of Cushing in the Continental version, struggling with a semi-nude victim. We just don't expect the upright Van Helsing in such a perverse situation, with no option for cutaways or doubles. As they used to say, the film doesn't know the meaning of understatement -- Cushing handles his scalpel like Jack the Ripper. It's no wonder that even "Psychotronic" guru Michael Weldon was impressed; he's quoted as calling Corruption "A Sleazy Gem."
Director Robert Hartford-Davis puts together a good Mod-era London party scene, and uses distorting lenses and other tricks to goose overly familiar scenes. Yet the film bumps and lurches forward, never finding a pleasing pace. In the supporting cast the only memorable contribution is that of Kate O'Mara, whose beautiful eyes are more piercing than Dr. Rowan's lasers. The cinematography is professional -- lots of bright colors in the reasonably tasteful Mod clothing and décor choices -- but never particularly expressive. Even the action murders and heads wrapped in cellophane are handled in a prosaic manner. Just the same Corruption has attracted its own cult following, especially now that the extra-sleazy Continental version can be seen.
Grindhouse Releasing's Blu-ray + DVD of Corruption is a sparklingly clear and sharp HD transfer, surely remastered by the experts at Sony. The widescreen image probably looks better than release prints from 1968. The film is present in two full versions representing the standard "R"rated American release and the unrated extended International version.
Grindhouse takes its extras seriously. The alternate scenes are gathered in one extra, where we find out that a different actress played one murder victim in the rougher version. Actors Billy Murray, Jan Waters and Wendy Varnals appear on screen to talk about their roles and careers, and to praise Peter Cushing. His candid interview is an audio piece from the mid- 1970s. Writer Allan Bryce's liner notes give us a full rundown on the career of Robert Hartford-Davis, but like the actor testimony, can't quite convince us that Corruption is worthy of consideration as a classic.
The disc also carries a commentary by author Jonathan Rigby and Cushing biographer David Miller. A Robert Hartford-Davis Filmography is offered, as is a selection of Grindhouse trailers. An original shooting script appears as a DVD-Rom text file, logically enough only on the DVD copy.
Finishing things off are galleries of stills, advertising art, trailers, TV spots, etc. The already raw-looking package art can be reversed to permit the substitution of even trashier artwork, which is duplicated as a mini-poster on the folding liner note insert. An alternate poster design (seen here) is less likely to alert the vice squad.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Corruption Blu-ray + DVD rates:
1. Once again we come to a situation where DVD Savant is asking for information instead of giving it out. The movie may have been finished in 1967, as the posters I have seen do not carry a normal Valenti-era rating card. Come to think of it, I haven't seen release artwork with the Carnage title anywhere. Perhaps these American Corruption posters were never used? I was seeing many films in 1968 but never heard of this one under either title, so feel free to set me straight.
2. From correspondent "B", 1.06.14:
Dear Glenn: In all my wasted days of scouring movie paper shops, backrooms of old theatres and (once) a major exchange, I've never actually seen anything on this picture under the Carnage title. If someone produces an image of an ad-mat or poster, I'd be excited to see it.
Though Corruption was released in the U.S. in December of 1968, to the best of my knowledge the film was completed and submitted to the MPAA prior to the formal establishment of CARA. Accordingly, the trimmed American version simply received a "Suggested for Mature Audiences" tag and was given an MPAA seal. The National Screen Service number for all Corruption paper is 68/164, suggests that Columbia may have prepared its ad/pub material for the movie around mid-year or so, as 164 is not a high number given the quantity of 1968 film releases. All '68 paper on this title that I have seen carries the "Suggested for Mature Audiences" tag.
The MPAA website used to be fairly helpful in terms of giving historical information as to when a film was rated and whether (and when) a rating was ever reviewed or changed; since its redesign, it is not helpful at all. Since Columbia received an SMA tag for the movie at some point in '68, it's possible that the film was not again submitted to the MPAA for a long time. [Submitting films to the board isn't free.] Back in the day, many studios simply translated a "Suggested for Mature Audiences" into an M or GP/PG rating in ads and even with snipes on posters for underbelly runs. If any version of Corruption released by Columbia received an "R" rating -- as seems to have happened at some point -- this might have occurred because of home video or paycable concerns. [Various "unrated" films released prior to the autumn of 1968 have been submitted to the MPAA for such reasons.]
I'm curious to see this new disc, as even the cut Columbia version of the movie has always seemed a little disturbing to me. As you note, it's almost disconcerting to see Peter Cushing -- no stranger to playing villains, of course -- as such a... well, maniacal slimeball.
I don't know whether this helps, and I'm sure your other correspondents probably have better information. The reviews lately have been terrific. I hope some of the people who made The Butler read your piece; it's far superior in insight to many of the reviews that appeared when the film opened. Best, always. -- "B".3. From Denis Fischer, 1.06.14:
The most explicit version of Corruption was released in France under the title Laser Killer. It added a small bit of nudity and suggested that Peter Cushing practiced necrophilia on one of his female victims.4. And many thanks to Tim Rogerson, 1.07.14:
Glenn -- To clarify on this: The December 11 1968 Variety review of Corruption states that it was an 'R' rating (specifically in the narrative presumably to highlight the fact that it was one of the first films given the new rating). I believe the new MPAA ratings were effective from November 1 1968. Corruption was rolled out with a spaghetti western Payment in Blood. Both Variety and the Vincent Canby New York Times review (also December 1968) refer to the film as Corruption.
Corruption was filmed in July and August 1967. Titan Films appear to have bankrolled this themselves and then sold the worldwide rights to Columbia afterwards. UK trade paper Daily Cinema announced the signing of the deal with Columbia in its January 15 1968 edition. The deal was for three films of which Corruption was the first. Why the film was then sat on in the UK and the US for nearly a year before release is not clear to me (UK release in early November 1968). It was released in Germany in August 1968 (i.e. earlier than UK/US).
It's a pity no-one asked Cushing in his lifetime about why he did the 'alternative' sex/violence murder scene rather than insist that a double be involved. Money must be the obvious answer although it couldn't have been that much money one would have thought. Although it was never screened in the UK or USA, the existence of the alternate scene was known at the time, as an edition of Penthouse (or Playboy) had featured an article on the fact that the scene had been shot in a more risqué version and (I think) showed stills. Luckily for Cushing, the scene didn't surface to a wide audience until the advent of the Internet. He also 'escaped' comment over the Anna rape scene in Frankenstein Must be Destroyed since that was cut from both the UK and US cinema releases although shown intact in at least some territories.
Cushing appeared suitably embarrassed about his participation in Corruption in later interviews. The film got a real slating in the UK press by some critics when released, although his excuses for participating tended to vary slightly from interview to interview and mainly focussed on trying to imply that the script filmed was quite a bit different than the script he signed on to make. This is somewhat disingenuous and not really true as one can tell from reading the shooting script.
Regards, Tim Rogerson
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