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Director: Robert Hartford-Davis
Cast: Peter Cushing, Sue Lloyd, Noel Trevarthen, Kate O’Mara, David Lodge, Wendy Varnals, Billy Murray
Length: 91/90 min
Disks: 2 (1 BD, 1 DVD
Label: Grindhouse Releasing
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
From Grindhouse Releasing comes the first ever US home video release of Robert Hartford-Davis’s Corruption (1968), a film that can only be described as Britain’s answer to Grand Guignol. But, even if this hadn’t been the first ever US release, anyone interested in seeing this intractable film in its full glory should run, not walk, to their nearest home entertainment outlet and purchase a copy of this blu-ray before they are sold out, as this is a limited edition. What Grindhouse Releasing has given us here is a Criterion-level release of a very rare exploitation film, lovingly restored in 2K and with tons of extras. As if that were not enough, two versions of the film are included: the original US/UK version, and the uncensored International version, which includes extra gore and nudity. Obviously, this was a labor of love project for Grindhouse, and no other releasing company would lavish such care on such a small-niche film.
It is serendipitous that Grindhouse is releasing Corruption in the same month that Criterion is releasing Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (1960) on blu-ray. Of all the low-budget exploitation films inspired by Franju’s nightmarish depiction of a surgeon trying to restore a woman’s horribly disfigured face, Corruption is probably the most infamous. When the film came out in theaters in 1968, many were appalled by its utter lack of redeeming value and scenes of unflinching viciousness. Peter Cushing himself regarded it as the sickest film he ever made. Where else would one see the “gentle man of horror” wipe his bloody hands on a naked woman’s breasts after stabbing her to death, then proceed to decapitate her with a scalpel?The film’s lurid plot deals with a famous surgeon (Cushing) who feels responsible for accidentally disfiguring the face of his beautiful, but vain fiancée, and determines to find a way to restore her beauty. He soon stumbles on a method of using fluid from the pituitary gland to restore tissue. Of course the glands must come from living women, and so the good doctor is forced to embark on a bloody murder spree.
I’d heard about this film for many years, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it in its entirety. When it was over, I wasn’t sure how to react, but I had an inexplicable urge to take a shower. I’ve seen more graphic films than this, but Corruption is just plain nasty. It has moments of humor that are somehow incongruous and leave me strangely unrelieved. The ending is one such scene where body is piled upon body; absurdity upon absurdity. It reminded me a bit of the conclusion to Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein, but without the benefit of Claudio Gizzi’s lush, romantic score to point the irony.The acting is uniformly good throughout. In fact, one or two scenes contain some of the best acting Peter Cushing has ever done. He is particularly good as conveying his torment at having to take innocent lives. Sue Lloyd is excellent too as Cushing’s disfigured fiancée whose mind slowly deteriorates in response to the murder spree they embark upon. The supporting actors all surpass themselves, especially Kate O’Mara who would reunite with Cushing two years later for Hammer’s Vampire Lovers.
If forced to pinpoint just why this film feels like such a grim exercise in cruelty, I’d have to say it’s because of its total lack of campiness, or even irony—the sense that the actors and director are taking the material seriously, but with a nod and a wink, à la Vincent Price and Roger Corman, or to a much greater extreme, Udo Kier and Paul Morrissey.
One of the amazing things about this blu-ray release is the excellent quality of the transfer for such an obscure little film. If only some of the recent Hammer titles from Studio Canal looked this good. There is no sign of over-sharpening, or DNR filtering. Film grain is present throughout, but is very natural and unobtrusive. Colors look organic and natural, even at the party scene where the ‘70’s psychedelic hues are beautifully saturated. The whole presentation suggests the look of 35mm film, which is just as it should be. The prints themselves are in very good shape—not perfect, but very good. On technical grounds this release is highly recommended.
Like the video, the DTS-HD Mono track shows its history a bit, but is presented in excellent-sounding, full and clear sound.
This wouldn’t be a Criterion-level release without some serious extra features, and Grindhouse Releasing certainly provides a treasure-trove for our enjoyment. First and foremost is an audio commentary with British film historians and authors Jonathan Rigby and David Miller. Rigby, author of Studies in Terror: Landmarks of Horror Cinema, Christopher Lee: The Authorised Screen History, and English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema is a veritable encyclopedia of film knowledge, and David Miller, former editor of Shivers Magazine and Peter Cushing’s biographer, provides some fascinating insight as well. Both scholars know each other well and are obviously having a blast doing this. As has been noted in all seriousness by a reviewer on another website, both men possess Brit accents that are not too thick (!)
Next, we have several new interviews with actors Wendy Varnals, Billy Murray, and Jan Waters, plus an archival audio interview with Peter Cushing. Next, we have four alternate scenes, an extensive stills gallery, and a large number of trailers, coming attractions, and television and radio spots. Most of these are in SD, but the Corruption trailer is in HD. Finally, we have an isolated music and effects track, liner notes by Allan Bryce and a reversible cover with original art by illustrator Rick Melton.
Fans of Peter Cushing and those with an interest in exploitation cinema should consider this Grindhouse release of Corruption a mandatory purchase. It is indeed one of the most important genre releases of the year. This is not a film for everyone, and movie-goers who are not attuned to the sleazy side of cinema will no doubt wonder what all the fuss is about. But those who are attuned should purchase a copy without delay, as this is a limited release and could quickly end up selling on Amazon from third-party sellers at $200 apiece.