I have never witnessed a bad performance by Peter Cushing even in the desperate last gasps of Hammer Films like The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). Cushing completely committed himself to whatever role he was playing regardless of the screenplay. According to commentary on the exceptional Blu-ray disc of Corruption by Grindhouse Releasing, Cushing was not fond of Corruption due to the film’s level of violence and nudity. What sets it apart from Cushing’s earlier Hammer work is its contemporary setting. The graphic blood and gore is fully lit, not obscured by the shadows of candlelight or gaslight. Even brief nudity (in the “International” version) is a tactic Hammer itself began to use more as the popularity of the horror genre began to fade.
In Corruption Cushing plays Sir John Rowan, a gifted London surgeon. His fiancée Lynn Nolan (Sue Lloyd) is a famous fashion model. The pair are madly in love with each other even though it appears there may be a thirty year gap between their ages. Lynn brings John along to a swinging London party hosted by Mike (Anthony Booth), Lynn’s main photographer. Mike prods Lynn into an impromptu photo session, clearly inspired by Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966). Sir John deems Mike’s actions inappropriate and disrespectful. In his struggle to stop the photographer a light falls and horribly burns Lynn’s face.
Sir John, feeling responsible for Lynn’s disfigurement, begins studying ancient Egyptian texts which he believes point to a possible treatment. Using glands from a “Jane Doe” corpse the doctor is able to restore his fiancée’s face. It turns out, of course, that the effects are only temporary and Lynn becomes increasingly insistent that Sir John murder young women to “keep up appearances.” After meeting with and murdering a prostitute (played by Jan Waters in the UK version and by Marian Collins in the nude and bloodier international version), Sir John begins to feel remorse and has an increasingly difficult time with Lynn’s demands.
The couple eventually take a holiday near the seaside where the meet the pretty young Terry (Wendy Varnals). Thinking she is simply a vagabond they offer her a room in their cottage. As it turns out, Terry is actually allied with a gang of young toughs led by Rik (Billy Murray) who have other plans. Soon after Rik’s appearance the story spins into completely unexpected territory.
Director Hartford-Davis was no stranger to lurid subject matter or horror having previously directed Gutter Girls (1963) and The Black Torment (1964). Both films were co-written by Derek and Donald Ford, who scripted Corruption. The brothers had previously written A Study in Terror (1965), an underrated film that placed the fictional Sherlock Holmes in the hunt for a very real Jack the Ripper. Corruption was perhaps inspired by the more lyrical French film Les Yeux Sans Visage [Eyes Without a Face] (1960) directed by Georges Franju. While Corruption is more of a standard horror film, it is not mindless. The title itself thematically refers to the corruption of Sir John and Lynn by guilt and vanity, respectively.
Some audiences might find Corruption campy, but the mostly excellent performances (particularly by Cushing) and the unpredictable last third made it eminently entertaining to me. Actress Sue Lloyd previously co-starred with Michael Caine in The Ipcress File (1965) and she continued to work in film and television through the early 2000s. Character actor Billy Murray, who in 1968 also had a featured role in Up the Junction, is still active to this day. He has had stints on such popular British television shows as The Bill and The Eastenders. He is also the father of actress Jaime Murray, recently featured on the cable series Dexter (2007 season) and the mini-series Spartacus: Gods of the Arena (2011).
Extras are as extensive as one would expect from the Grindhouse team. The color transfer from original elements is sharp and well saturated.
Trivia: Both Corruption and the James Bond movie Goldfinger (1964) feature a Ford Mustang and an early use of the laser beam.
- Blu-ray disc with both the British/US version and the International version (more blood and nudity).
- DVD with both the British/US and international versions
- DVD includes DVD-rom of original director shooting script
- Audio commentary by British horror film historian Jonathan Rigby and Peter Cushing biographer David Miller
- Interviews with actors Billy Murray (13:38), Wendy Varnals (16:07) and Jan Waters (9:08)
- Audio interview with Peter Cushing 1974 (7:00)
- 2 theatrical trailers, 5 television spots and a stills gallery
- Director filmography and trailers of his later films Black Gunn (1972) and The Take (1974)
- Separate Dolby digital mono music and sound effects tracks
- Original cover art by Rick Melton and a booklet with liner notes by Allan Bryce, editor of the British horror magazine The Dark Side
DIR: Robert Hartford-Davis. PROD: Peter Newbrook. SCR: Donald and Derek Ford. CIN: Peter Newbrook. ED: Don Deacon. SCORE: Bill McGuffie. CAST: Peter Cushing, Sue Lloyd, Noel Trevarthen, Kate O’Mara, David Lodge, Anthony Booth, Wendy Varnals, Billy Murray, Vanessa Howard, Marian Collins, Jan Winters. Color. Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1. Running Time: 91 min. Columbia Pictures. Blu-ray/DVD release: Grindhouse Releasing (grindhousereleasing.com)