Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Corruption (1968)

Little known and little seen (in the UK, at least) since its release - it took an age to appear on DVD and, as far as I know never had a UK VHS release or any TV outings that I can recall - Corruption is a real curiosity.  Although some critics have attempted to compare the film to Franju's Les Yeux Sans Visage, Corruption is far cruder and, in truth, really belongs to the sadistic sub genre of British horror, along with films like Horrors of the Black Museum or Circus of Horrors.  With its, for the time, graphic scenes of female dismemberment, it can also be seen as something of a precursor to the 'body horror' genre which became popular in the seventies.

But, at heart, Corruption is a cheap British exploitation film, another production from Titan, the firm formed by producer/cinematographer Peter Newbrook and director Robert Hartford-Davies.  Originally, the duo seemed to have high hopes for their new company, following their first production, a Norman Wisdom comedy, they announced various mainstream future projects, including a World War One epic, but, in the main, their subsequent output consisted of low budget horror films like Corruption.

But to turn to the film itself, Corruption is, in essence, a straightforward medical horror film, with Peter Cushing's top surgeon resorting to murder in order to obtain the body parts he needs to treat his photographic model girl friend's scarred face. Inevitably, the treatments prove to be only temporary, resulting in further murders.  It is, however, far more explicit in its violence than  most horror films of the era: Cushing's victims are savagely stabbed and slashed in frenzied attacks, with lots of close ups of their screaming faces.  Inevitably, all of the victims are female - the first is a prostitute, the second a train passenger - and the levels of violence visited upon women in the film is troublesome.  Even when they aren't being murdered and beheaded, they are being suffocated on the beach (a witness who needs to be silenced) or, in the case of Cushing's girl friend (Sue Lloyd), their faces are being burned and scarred by photographic lights.  All of this is filmed with a disquieting degree of relish.

Conceivably, it could be argued that the film is making a comment about the pressures created by the media for women yo conform to unrealistic body images.  Certainly, the film posits as one of Lloyd's maim motivations for urging her husband on to keep murdering in order to renew her treatments, is so that she can use her restored beauty to return to her role as a leading photographic model.   Indeed, whilst she is indeed a victim as a result of her disfigurement, as the film progresses, she becomes the driving force behind Cushing's depravities, cajoling, blackmailing and threatening him with violence in order to force the increasingly reluctant surgeon into more killings.  Moreover, from Cushing's point of view, her scarring makes her dependent upon him, forcing her away from the independence she enjoys through her work.  But that's a stretch.  Corruption, in the main, is interested in exploitation rather than advancing the causes of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Corruption, though, is the presence of Peter Cushing.  There is something deeply unsettling about the sight of the gentleman of British horror hanging around Soho trying to pick up a prostitute, then grappling with a topless woman.  Not only does he stab her to death in a brutal attack, but he also wipes the blood on his hands off on her bare breasts.  The use of a fish eye lens for the close ups of both Cushing and his victims not only makes the sequences even more disturbing, but also succeeds in making Cushing look like some kind of pervert.  I can't help but suspect that his expressions of distaste and self loathing during these scenes isn't acting.  This really isn't the sort of stuff viewers would usually associate Cushing with.  But the times were changing and, it seemed, just horror alone wouldn't sell a film.  (To be fair, the topless sequences were originally only in export cuts of the film - the prostitute was fully clothed in the original UK and US prints).  In due course Cushing would be seen committing rape (in Hammer's Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed), and burning young women at the stake in Twins of Evil.

Cushing himself did address the issue of his character's conduct in the film, claiming that, as a result of a dispute between Titan and their co-producers, the film had been re-edited, to emphasise the violence.  Although Cushing clearly felt that his performance had been compromised, it remains the film's strongest point.  He still succeeds in retaining the character's humanity, making it possiblr for the audience to symapathise with a man driven to murder not through evil, but love.  Sue Lloyd as his partner also gives a decent performance, gradually becoming ever more unhinged as her treatments fail to take.  The film's problems - aside from the violent victimisation of women - lie mainly in an overly talky script and a lack of plot development.  Indeed, one can't help but get the impression that the makers had no idea of how to end it: the final act sees Cushing and Lloyd retreat to their beachside cottage in Seaford, only to run foul of a local gang.  This development comes completely out of left field and feels totally at odds with the rest of the film.  The gang themselves, including a cloak wearing leader and a middle aged simpleton,  look as if they should be in California rather than Seaford.  The whole thing culminates, rather arbitrarily, in an mini apocalypse as Cushing's laser scalpel machine goes haywire and kills everyone, followed by a coda implying that it had all been a dream.  (Cushing is seen arriving at the same tiresome swinging sixties party he attended at the film's opening, with the dialogue repeating itself). 

Although the film is well shot and professionally assembled, all attempts at suspense are fatally undermined by a wholly unsuitable jazz score that plays under all the main sequences.  Still, in its favour, Corruption does at least represent an attempt to do something different in a horror film, eschewing the cosy supernatural Gothic ethos of Hammer for a more contemporary approach.  For once, Cushing isn't just the scientist creating monsters through surgery, this time he's the monster as well. 



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