CORRUPTION (1968) (Blu-ray/DVD)
Director: Robert Hartford-Davis
Grindhouse Releasing

Never before given a video release in the United States, CORRUPTION is not only of Peter Cushing’s rarest horror films to come by (it was only in recent years that TCM started to air it on television again) it’s also considered his nastiest. Through a licensing deal with Sony (the film is still a Columbia Pictures property), Grindhouse Releasing thankfully unleashes CORRUPTION in a very special edition Blu-ray/DVD combo with a stunning new transfer, so even if you’ve seen the film in the past, surely now it’s like viewing it for the very first time.

After successfully performing an operation, prominent surgeon Sir John Rowan (Peter Cushing) attends a swinging London party with his younger model fiancee Lynn (Sue Lloyd, HYSTERIA). After her overzealous photographer (Anthony Booth, THE RETURN OF MR. MOTO) demands Lynn pose for some provocative photos, a fight breaks out, causing an enormous photographic lamp to crash into her face, thus disfiguring most of one side of it. Out of guilt and love for her, John sets out to restore her beauty through an innovative procedure using laser technology and a fresh pituitary gland. He is able to obtain such a gland from a recently deceased girl, much to the dismay of fellow surgeon Steve Harris (Noel Trevarthan, THE VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU) and Lynn’s younger sister Val (Kate O’Mara, THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN), who becomes his surgical assistant. The initial operation is a success, but the restoration to her face is temporary, meaning more skin grafts are needed, and now John succumbs to murder, first a call girl and then several other unsuspecting young ladies. After John takes Lynn to a seaside cottage for some rest, a run-in with another victim named Terry (Wendy Varnals) results in a group of hippie home invaders (including middle-aged comic actor David Lodge as a grotesque simpleton named Groper, who sort of resembles a deranged John Lennon) and a riotous climax in which a wobbly laser device goes haywire.

CORRUPTION (which is also known as CARNAGE and LASER KILLER) is the British contribution to the largely European surgical horror genre (usually concerning a mad doctor murderously motivated to restore the beauty of a disfigured loved one), innovated in George Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE, with similar themes carrying over to such films as Jess Franco’s THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF and Claude Monet’s THE BLOOD ROSE. As most British horror films with graphic overtones at the time were in a period setting, CORRUPTION (which was promoted in the U.S. with the tagline, “CORRUPTION Is Not A Woman's Picture! Therefore: No Woman Will Be Admitted Alone To See This Super-Shock Film!”) was unique in its jarring depictions of stalwart Cushing up to such nasty business in modern England, heartlessly cutting off the heads of women and bringing them home in bloody plastic wrap (although today it might be a bit more shocking to see Cushing decked out in dandyish summer wear better fitted for Tony Randall). Even though Cushing considered the end results “sick” and (along with Vernon Sewell’s THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR, produced around the same time) a low point in his feature career, he gives his usual expert performance (with his recurrent props here being scalpels and wigged mannequin heads) and is given a lot of screen time, playing well off his much younger love interest (Lloyd, who conveys Lynn’s descent into madness absorbingly, if a bit over the top).

Director Hartford-Davis specialized in British exploitation, but when he dabbled in horror, the results were usually subpar (THE BLACK TORMENT and BLOOD SUCKERS, the latter which he disowned, claiming it was unfinished), but CORRUPTION is no doubt his best genre effort (though BEWARE OF THE BRETHREN is underrated as well). Not only does the film give Cushing a rather juicy role and plenty of screen time, there’s an outrageousness about it which works in its favor, a heightened awareness of its trendy mod backdrop, clever editing and fitting use of the fisheye lens, and enough gore to satiate those horror fans whose taste leans towards the sleazy side rather than the more restrained English gothics. The screenwriters (brothers Donald and Derek Ford) were also responsible for the Sherlock Holmes VS. Jack the Ripper classic, A STUDY IN TERROR, and producer Peter Newbrook (who also served as cinematographer, as he did on numerous other films) would later helm THE ASPHYX, his sole directorial effort. Later the sultry star of GIRLY and WHAT BECAME OF JACK AND JILL?, Vanessa Howard plays a dimwitted face-painted party guest (who tries to engage John in conversation) and “Carry On” regular Valerie Van Ost (known to horror fans as the vampire who gets staked in THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA) plays a victim on a train in one of the film’s more disturbing scenes.

If Sony had eventually released CORRUPTION on their own, it likely would have been a no frills MOD disc, but Grindhouse has rescued the film with this highly impressive Blu-ray/DVD combo. We get two different versions of the film: the U.S./U.K ,theatrical version and an international version. The main difference is that in the international version, the murder of the prostitute (played by an entirely different actress) has her topless, followed by a blood-soaked scalpel carving and the dialogue and execution are also different. With the option to play either version seamlessly, the transfers are identical and look incredible. The dual-layered Blu-ray presents CORRUPTION in a 1080p HD transfer preserving the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Simply put, this is one of the best looking transfers of a 1960s horror film that you’ll ever see, comparable to Criterion’s ROSEMARY’S BABY Blu-ray. Detail is incredibly sharp and colors are stunningly vibrant, and the film has a full palette of colors and life-like fleshtones on display. Audio comes in an English DTS-HD Master Audio track, and is complementary to the look of the feature, with dialog being clear and Bill McGuffie’s rather jazzy score also sounding fresh and lively. An isolated music/effects track is also on hand for both versions. The included standard DVD presents the theatrical version only (though the alternate prostitute death scene is there as a supplement) in an anamorphic transfer with all the same extras as the Blu-ray.

Extras include an audio commentary with English authors Jonathan Rigby (English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema) and Cushing biographer David Miller (The Peter Cushing Companion). Together, they give an excellent conversation on a number of topics surrounding the film, its cast and production team, as well as the differences from the novelization which was subsequently released. Since both gentlemen are well spoken and speak fondly of the film, it’s quite an entertaining commentary. There are three recently-shot video interviews with some of the cast members. Billy Murray (13:38) played Terry’s husband, home invader Rik in the film. Murray describes it as a fun film to make although he admits never seeing it all the way through. He mentions that he got on well with the director, and that he was awe of Cushing. Wendy Varnals (16:09) chats about how she got into acting and television hosting, remembering Cushing as a very gentle and generous man. She goes on to describe some of her scenes in the movie and her disagreements with the director on the set. Jan Waters (9:08) played the prostitute in the theatrical version, and here she recalls her death scene with Cushing and how proper he was on the set (she too has never seen the completed film). An audio interview with Cushing (7:14), conducted in 1974, has the icon giving his views about cinema of the time (and being offended by A CLOCKWORK ORANGE), though none of his own films are directly addressed.

Other extras include a section of “Alternate Scenes” including the alternate murder of the prositute on its own, a few short insert snippets (provided by Columbia to replace gory footage in countries that required a milder version of the movie). An international trailer, a U.S. theatrical trailer, five different TV spots and two radio spots are included, as well as a number of trailers for other Grindhouse Releasing titles. The still galleries are separated by color stills, black and white stills and promotional materials, and it’s likely that every possible printed image for the film is on display here. A filmography for Robert Hartford-Davis will also allow you click on to trailers for two of his later films: BLACK GUNN and THE TAKE (an Easter Egg can also be found elsewhere). A copy of the director’s actual annotated shooting script is available as a DVD-ROM extra, and the disc’s cover folds out into a mini poster of the alternate reverse cover artwork by Rick Melton, and also includes liner notes by Allan Bryce. (George R. Reis)