[Note that this review contains spoilers]
After his fiance Linda Nolan (Sue Lloyd), a model, suffers horrible facial burns in an accident, respected surgeon Sir John Rowan (Peter Cushing) vows to restore her beauty.
The generation gap
This leads him to study Ancient Egyptian texts, which he uses in conjunction with pituitary glands and a laser to effect a remarkable transformation.
Linda after the accident, but before the operation
Its effectiveness proves transitory, however, prompting John into a succession of murders in a bid to meet Linda’s ever more desperate demands...
Scripted by John and Derek Ford and directed by Robert Hartford-Davis, this 1968 British horror obscurity is best known today for presenting Peter Cushing in some of the most extreme situations of his career.
But unlike Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, where Cushing, co-star Veronica Carlson and director Terence Fisher were taken by surprise by Hammer boss James Carreras’s demand they film a rape scene to spice the film up, we may surmise that Cushing knew from the outset what he was letting himself in for.
The script, after all, was by Donald and Derek Ford. Admittedly, the latter hadn’t yet sunk to the levels of the likes of the softcore Sexplorer and hardcore Sex Express AKA Diversions. Nonetheless, a filmography that had already included the likes of Primitive London and The Yellow Teddy Bears hardly pointed to the likelihood of Corruption being restrained, tasteful, well-made horror in the by then classic (if also thereby arguably aging) Fisher manner.
Moreover, the writers obvious source of inspiration was Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, a film whose unflinchingly rendered real life surgical horrors made the Hammer Frankenstein films look tame by comparison.
As such, I’m tempted to think that there is a hint of Cushing’s wariness coming through in the scene in which Sir John wanders through Soho at night looking for a likely victim. For, rather than being shown on location, we get what look like studio shots of Cushing superimposed over stock or second unit footage.
Cushing superimposed over Nudist Paradise at the Jacey
An uncut version of the film, which included Sir John’s picking up and killing a prostitute, whose head he takes, would probably help clear things up here.
The superimposition is also, however, very much of a piece with Robert Hartford-Davis’s showy direction, in which rack focus, hand-held camera, distorting lenses, shock zooms and rapid-fire editing are the order of the day in a Repulsion / Blow-Up / The Sorcerers type manner.
Cushing in full-on maniac mode
As the synopsis suggest, the story is replete with non-sequiturs: Where did the Egyptians learn about laser beams and the endocrine system, exactly?!
It also suffers from inconsistent characterisation: One minute Linda is expressing horror that John has experimented upon a guinea pig, the next encouraging him to cold-bloodedly murder the seeming innocent who has wandered into their orbit.
In retrospect, however, it all makes sense. The clue here is in the ending, in which it is suggested that most of what we have just seen, from the point of Linda’s injury onwards, has taken place in Sir John’s head.
Yes, it’s a projection of his subconscious...
If this seems fanciful, an excuse for weak writing, consider the aforementioned Diversions: While that film explicitly presents its vignettes as (sexual) fantasies, we are surprised at the end to learn that, rather than being a convicted prisoner she is in fact one of the police officers escorting the prisoner.
Put another way, there is a consistency of theme here, of Derek Ford looking to challenge middle-class respectability in his images.
More coincidentally, there are also thematic links to Fisher’s pre-Frankenstein film The Stolen Face, in which a surgeon believes a young woman’s malignancy is down to her facial deformity, cures her and then discovers that her ugliness was more a manifestation of an evil soul, with this in turn prefiguring Frankenstein Created Woman’s Christina.
All told, then, Corruption is not a good film in and of itself, but it is one that is certainly of interest to the British trash fan for various reasons.