CORRUPTION (1983) Black Friday Exclusive Blu-ray
Director: Roger Watkins (as Richard Mahler)
Vinegar Syndrome

The work of singular porn auteur Roger Watkins gets a very special Blu-ray presentation on Vinegar Syndrome's Black Friday exclusive edition of the dark and fantastical CORRUPTION.

Having figuratively sold his soul to a mysterious organization for power and profit, Williams (Jamie Gillis, THE OPENING OF MISTY BEETHOVEN) only starts to realize the extraordinary hold they have on every aspect of his life when he is double-crossed by messenger Alan (George Payne, THE TAMING OF REBECCA) who himself is offered unlimited power in return for renouncing love and has made off with a mysterious suitcase to sell to the highest bidder. In between sexual interludes with wife Doreen (Tiffany Clark, LIQUID A$$ETS) and regular hooker Erda (Vanessa del Rio, DRACULA EXOTICA), Williams fields threats from business partner Franklin (Michael Gaunt, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) who has abducted his sister-in-law Felicia (Kelly Nichols, THE TOOLBOX MURDERS). As a last resort, Williams goes to his slimy half-brother Larry (Bobby Astyr, ROOMMATES) for help, only to be taken on a tour of a literal underworld where Williams realizes that his soul really is not his own anymore.

Made midway through his eleven-year directorial career of Roger Watkins, who had apprenticed under Nicholas Ray, Freddie Francis, and Otto Preminger among others, CORRUPTION is muddled plot-wise but thoroughly engrossing on a stylistic level with Alan's renouncement of love (and, by extension, his soul) portrayed as a series of encounters in red, blue, and black rooms with three women (FLASH PANTS' Tanya Lawson, THE SATISFIERS OF ALPHA BLUE's Marilyn Gee, and MANEATERS' Tish Ambrose) in color-coordinated lingerie. A series of peepholes reveals hardcore vignettes that seem to exist on other planes, and some stare back at the voyeur. Presumably love is a weakness in this universe, as Williams demonstrates affection or both his wife and his regular hooker with Gillis giving a subtler performance while Payne goes off the rails in clownish white make-up and red lipstick and followed around by a green gel. The film runs out of steam at just over eighty minutes, but there are some fine performances in the meantime that have one wishing that some of these actors had more opportunities to give conventional performances. Music editor James Flamberg (THE COLOR PURPLE) provides one of his two scores (the other for Watkins' MIDNIGHT HEAT) which includes a synth piece that sounds very close to John Carpenter's and Ennio Morricone's main theme for THE THING. The score is filled out by classical passages including Albinoni's much-used "Adagio in G Minor", Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov", and Bach's "Passacaglia". Samantha Fox (AMANDA BY NIGHT) and Michael Morrison (TABOO) have non-sexual roles.

Remastered in 2K from the original 35mm camera negatives, Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen is sharp, crisp, and spectacularly colorful with only scenes in the black room and some step-printed wintry night exteriors looking a bit noisier. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono highlights every moan and grunt as well as the chilling presence of Flamberg's synth score and the classical music passages. In "Through the Lens" (12:25), cinematographer Revene (NEW YORK NIGHTS) recalls his collaborations with Watkins, meeting Nichols on a Chuck Vincent film, the personalities of Astyr and Gaunt, Del Rio's "Mother Earth" sexiness, and "sex machine" Payne (with whom he first worked on the gay film NAVY BLUE). He also mentions that CORRUPTION was the first American film shot with Agfa film, and that Watkins was open to the creative photographic effects he suggested even though they were time-consuming.

The film's theatrical trailer (3:18) and pressbook gallery (0:53) are also included, but the disc also features what is described by a prefacing text screen as "the Easter Egg to end all Easter Eggs", and it is quite a momentous surprise: Roger Watkins' THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET. Although Vinegar Syndrome plan a fully-featured special edition of the film from better materials, this 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 transfer from a 2K scan of an uncut 35mm print (77:58). Originally mounted as THE CUCKOO CLOCKS OF HELL and running over three-and-a-half-hours, the film was whittled down to just under eighty minutes and re-edited by distributors Cinematic Releasing Corporation as THE FUNHOUSE and then under he better-known moniker. Watkins himself (billed as "Steven Morrison" in the cast and "Victor Janos" as director) stars as Terry Hawkins who has served a year-long sentence for drug possession. Having made a few unsuccessful stag films, Hawkins decides to show the world what he is truly capable of and, in doing so, "take care of all those who took care of me." He pairs up with unappreciated talent Bill (Bill Schlageter), pimp turned slaughterhouse worker Ken (Ken Fisher) who just served time in an institution for bestiality, and thrill-seeking prostitutes Kathy (Kathy Curtin) and Pat (Pat Canestro) to shoot a snuff vignette in an abandoned gothic monstrosity with its blind caretaker (Paul M. Jensen) as their victim. He shows the resulting footage to Steve (Steve Sweet, FILTHIEST SHOW IN TOWN), a backer of adult films who introduces Hawkins to wealthy Jim Palmer (Edward E. Pixley) and his wife Nancy (Nancy Vrooman) who throw S&M parties at their upstate New York home but whose real passion is erotic filmmaking. Hawkins knows that Steve and the Palmers passed his films off of theirs and profited from them, so he decides that the three of them – along with hopeful actress Suzie (Suzie Neumeyer) – will be the stars of his snuff masterpiece.

Although still quite gruesome in its final third, the film's shocks are spoiled by quick flash-forwards throughout the opening sequence (presumably the work of the distributors concerned that the buildup might not keep grindhouse viewers hooked) that leave no doubt as to what will happen even if we do now know who the victims will be and why they were selected. An angry and nightmarish debut future, THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET's visualization of what one imagines snuff films might look like if they were real is impressively studied in its gritty imagery and seemingly haphazard surrealism and striking visuals (and layered sound design). The film was released on tape by Sun Video under the LAST HOUSE and FUNHOUSE titles in different cuts, all in limited quantities for the rental market. These tapes served as the source for various bootleg releases (as well as a crappy quality Venezuelan cassette). Barrel Entertainment released the film on DVD in a two-disc set mastered from a 35mm print with commentary by Watkins and plenty of extras. This edition is out of print although there are a number of overseas releases that carry over some but seemingly not all of the extras. It remains to be seen what Vinegar Syndrome will produce or carry over in the way of extras for their standalone special edition, but the HD transfer here alone is a revelation (for those of us who have only seen boots of the Venezuelan tape and going by caps online of the DVDs) and they're doing a new scan from recently-discovered better elements. Since Vinegar Syndrome has yet to disappoint with a special edition, this one should be worth the wait for LAST HOUSE fans whether they have the other DVD editions or have been considering plunking down insane amounts for an out-of-print release. (Eric Cotenas)