Foreseeing a relaxation of censorship on the horizon, England’s Titan Films filmed this mad surgery opus with far more gore and cruelty than was the norm in 1967-68, and their gambit paid off. Horror favorite Peter Cushing stars with Sue Lloyd, a pair nobody expected to show up in a shocker with such a high sleaze quotient. PI’s special edition gives us three versions of the show including the continental cut with Cushing’s most lurid scene ever, and heaps of comment and analysis.
Region B Blu-ray
1968 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 91.5 min., 90.5 min. / Carnage / Street Date August 30, 2021 / available from Powerhouse Films UK / �18.99
Starring: Peter Cushing, Sue Lloyd, David Lodge, Noel Trevarthen, Anthony Booth, Kate O’Mara, Wendy Varnals, Billy Murray, Vanessa Howard, Marian Collins (or Jan Waters), Phillip Manikum, Alexandra Dane, Valerie Van Ost, Diana Ashley, Victor Baring, Shirley Stelfox, Marianne Morris.
Cinematography: Peter Newbrook
Film Editor: Don Deacon
Original Music: Bill McGuffie
Written by Donald and Derek Ford
Produced by Peter Newbrook
Directed by Robert Hartford-Davis
Yes, it’s the movie that everybody dislikes but that all horror fans feel they must see — nobody believes that the beloved, kindly actor Peter Cushing could play such a despicable character in such a sleazy context. This aggressively nasty 1968 picture is seriously lacking in any quality besides ugly malevolence. And Cushing gets right into the spirit.
Most horror films in America were measurably tamer before the 1968 ratings system arrived. Although films like Psycho were meant for adult audiences, horror pictures were mainly marketed to teens. Most of the William Castle pictures were sold as 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 became the norm.
Trying to jump the gun on the new freedom was England’s Titan International Productions, the makers of the artistically challenged, brutal shock-fest Corruption. It premiered on both sides of the pond late in 1968. As was the case with numerous earlier UK horrors, a Continental version was prepared as well, with more violence and a substitute nude murder scene.
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 begins 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 criminal 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. The sexy Sue Lloyd comes off the best, bringing interest to the wholly selfish Lynn 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 unlikable 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. Cushing’s character in Corruption seems to be undergoing 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. The choice of victims and their killings is depressingly literal and un-illuminating. The better Italian gialli at least compensate with style.
All of this puts a strain on credibility, especially when we mull over the fact that Cushing isn’t that young any more. More than one of his female victims appear perfectly capable of besting him in a wrestling contest or fistfight. 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 don’t expect to see our morally 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 assembles a decent Mod-era London party scene, and over-uses distorting lenses and other visual gimmicks to goose overly familiar scenes. 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 but never particularly expressive: even the murder violence and shots of heads wrapped in cellophane are handled in a prosaic manner. Bright colors highlight the reasonably tasteful Mod clothing, except perhaps for Peter Cushing, who is made to don gaudy Carnaby Street gear. Just the same Corruption has attracted its own cult following, especially now that the extra-sleazy Continental version can be seen.
Seven years ago I asked about the reported alternate title Carnage and received a lot of correspondent information. The ever-vigilant “B” asserted that in all his “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.” “B” continued to explain how Corruption came out just as the MPAA switched over to CARA, with the ratings system, and most movie paper items simply say ‘Suggested for Mature Audiences.’ And he accurately described Peter Cushing’s character as a ‘maniacal slimeball.’
Correspondent Denis Fischer was the first to tell me about the Laser Killer title used in France. He had read that the French cut implied that Dr. Rowan practiced necrophilia on one of his female victims.
And the helpful Tim Rogerson found that the December 11, 1968 Variety review of Corruption states that it was given an ‘R’ rating, and was one of the first films assigned to the new rating category. The new CARA ratings were effective from November 1, 1968. Corruption was filmed in July and August of 1967, but the distributors sat on it for over a year. West Germany got it first, in August of ’68.’
Cushing was criticized for playing in such a graphic horror show, but his scene murdering a topless prostitute remained mostly under wraps until after his death. A men’s magazine reportedly published photos from the scene, that’s all. When it finally surfaced it became clear that a different actress played the part in the ‘continental’ version, Marianne Collins. Jan Waters’ interview corroborates this.
Powerhouse Indicator’s Region B Blu-ray of Corruption makes Hartford-Davis’s movie look as attractive as possible — the 2K restoration was sourced from the original negative. The brightly- lit scenes use more convincing gore than usual — when Dr. Rowan slices a throat, the cutting action is explicit. PI says that their presentation can be viewed three ways: ‘censored UK theatrical’ (92 mins), ‘U.S. theatrical’ (92 mins), and the more graphic ‘continental’ version (91 mins).
PI’s extensive extras begin with a fine set of items from a previous Grindhouse Releasing (2014). The full audio commentary is from author Jonathan Rigby and Cushing biographer David Miller. Interviewed actors Billy Murray, Jan Waters and Wendy Varnals talk about their roles and careers; a new interview allows actor Phillip Manikum to join them. All of course praise Peter Cushing.
More new material expands the extras greatly. Stephen Laws’ seven-minute introduction dispenses most of the basic information about the show. Like the actor testimony, it can’t quite convince us that Corruption is worthy of consideration as a classic. Peter Cushing is heard on a 1986 audio talk before an audience at the National Film Theatre and sounds delighted to be so honored. Also interviewed is the producer/cameraman Peter Newbrook. Both audio interviews are feature-length.
Among the other extras are a low-quality scan of the French title sequence with the Laser Killer title card replacement, a Trailers from Hell episode with Edgar Wright, and image galleries containing innumerable poster designs, most in terrible taste. PI’s handsome insert booklet is an 80-page tome with essays, articles, and review excerpts. The trailer sampled is edited at an extremely fast pace, jamming in violence and alarming text titles. It comes off as supremely trashy.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Movie: Good? but Ugly
Supplements: Audio commentary with David Miller and Jonathan Rigby (2013)
Interview with Peter Newbrook (1995, 92 mins): audio recording of the producer / cameraman with Alan Lawson and Roy Fowler,from the British Entertainment History Project
The Guardian Interview with Peter Cushing (1986, 72 mins): audio recording in conversation with David Castell at the National Film Theatre
Interviews: The Reluctant Beatnik (2021, 15 mins): actor Phillip Manikum; What Ever Happened to Wendy Varnals? (2013, 16 mins); Actor Billy Murray (2012, 14 mins); Actor Jan Waters (2012, 9 mins)
Stephen Laws Introduces Corruption (2021, 7 mins)
Edgar Wright Trailers from Hell commentary (2013, 3 mins); Alternate Laser Killer opening titles (3 mins); Isolated music & effects track; Original UK + US theatrical trailers; TV & Radio spots; Image galleries; Director’s shooting script gallery.
Illustrated 80-page book with an essay by Laura Mayne, a history of Titan International Films, an archival interview with producer / cinematographer Peter Newbrook, pieces on the music, cast and publicity, excerpts from the novelization, review excerpts.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (features only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed: August 24, 2021
Text © Copyright 2021 Glenn Erickson
Here’s Edgar Wright on the Hartford-Davis shocker: