Corruption (1968)

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Corruption (1968)
Cast: Peter Cushing, Sue Lloyd, Noel Trevarthen, Kate O’Mara, David Lodge, Antony Booth, Billy Murray
Director:  Robert Hartford-Davis
Nutshell:  a lurid, sleazy exploitation shocker set in the Shagadelic 60s and London of the Austin Powers era starring Peter Cushing – what’s not to like?

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Had Austin Powers been a nasty horror film it would have probably looked a lot like 1968’s lurid shocker Corruption which features London in the Shagadelic era of Carnaby Street and the Hare Krishna’s from around Oxford Street. Peter Cushing is a highly successful and sought-after plastic surgeon, especially now that he is working with cutting edge laser technology to brilliant effect. His cutting-edge work has recently won him a Knighthood from the Queen and he is now known as Sir John Rowan.

He has a trophy model girlfriend like all super stars do and after a gruelling 5-hour operation he is worn out when a phone call from Lynn, his gorgeous girlfriend reminds him that he had promised to take he to this fab swinging party where there would be wine, girls, dancing and much more. Cushing, though exhausted agrees and they end up at a scene straight out of Austin Powers with a photo shoot that arguably inspired the photo shoot scene in The International Man of Mystery movie as it is pretty much identical except that while Austin Powers is supposed to be funny, Corruption is most definitely not. Cushing sticks out like a sore thumb at this youthful party and tensions soon flare up into a scuffle with ghastly consequences as one of the heat lamps falls on Cushing’s fiancée, hideously charring and disfiguring her skin.

Depressed and suicidal she feels she has nothing to live for now that her face has been destroyed. Cushing’s guilt leads him to immerse himself into his new untested theories of laser work and he looks to the great Baron Frankenstein as an example as he develops a potent serum from the pituitary gland that has startling results when used in tandem with his lasers. Lo and behold, he is able to restore Lynn’s face to its glorious previous state. But those of us who have seen these kinds of films before…Frankenstein, The Wasp Woman, Rejuvenator, Countess Dracula and so on will already fear the worst and soon enough, the skin starts to degenerate again and the same gloom sets in, but this time Lynn isn’t ready for suicide, no, quite the contrary. She is now ready to find fresh serum and to get fresh serum she needs fresh pituitary glands and for that she must force her husband to kill, over and over and over again.

Corruption plays like a trashy, pop art, Psychedelic version of George Franju’s masterwork Les Yeux Sans Visage and has a background score that is somewhat reminiscent of Lalo Schifrin’s free-form Jazz score that sounds like it was composed and played by Spinal Tarp in full-on Blues-Jazz mode. Imagine The Exorcist with a similar score? No wonder Bill Friedkin chucked the tapes out the window when he first heard them. The Exorcist with that score would have been Austin Powered to instant death. Friedkin did exactly the right thing in that case. In Corruption, you squirm as the free-form jazz score continues through the gratuitous murder scenes underscores the entire mood of the film rendering the film as a warped and wonderful version of Austin Powers. Peter Cushing famously angered many of his die-hard fans by appearing in a film as twisted as this, featuring severed heads and topless women and Peter Cushing himself viciously stabbing a woman in full on fish eye lens mode.

Cushing’s fan base was accustomed to a much more genteel scenario and this in your face shocker that sold itself on the severed head was a far cry from the Hammer Films he was adored for. Cushing did also say that the film had a great script and that he was sick of playing roles set in the bygone era. He also mentioned that the ownership and control of the film passed hands during production and the film ultimately didn’t end up as the same that had been on the initial script.

Indeed, much condemned upon initial release, the film soon died of cinemas as a flop and didn’t resurface on home video other than a much sought after Japanese Laserdisc version for years and years until the Grindhouse Blu-ray company issued the film looking absolutely brilliant with eye popping reds especially! In recent times it has gathered a certain cult following of its own and is certainly bizarre, nasty and entertaining enough to have earned that distinction and yet the most memorable aspect of the film is as a snapshot into the swinging 60s and a thoroughly entertaining one at that.

Cushing is excellent as Sir John Rowan and very well supported by Sue Lloyd as the unhinged girlfriend and Kate O’Mara looks gorgeous as her sister. There is also Billy Murray AKA Johnny Allen from EastEnders years later.

My first recollection of this film is catching it on late night TV in England in the early 70s and finding the climactic scene pretty much burned in to memory ever since. Having watched it a couple of times since then, the climax is certainly quite spectacular but at the same time the thought does enter the mind that a remake in the hands of a director who has the ability to stimulate visually would be really most enjoyable indeed. Corruption is a one of a kind, trashy take on a horror classic with its own nasty edge and a free-form cool jazz ambience and the Hip 60s vibe that renders it a worthy camp classic. Very funny in parts, nasty in others and most definitely a scream from start to finish.