TITLE: Corruption
YEAR RELEASED: 1968 (made in 1967)
DIRECTOR: Robert Hartford-Davis
CAST: Peter Cushing, Sue Lloyd, Kate O’Mara, Noel Trevarthen, Anthony Booth, David Lodge, Billy Murray, Wendy Varnals, Valerie Van Ost

RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES braces himself for one of Peter Cushing’s less distinguished outings

Ever wanted to see Peter Cushing wrestling with a topless woman?

No, I can’t say it ranks high on my bucket list either and yet, for better or worse the image is now indelibly etched on my brain. Before I explain why, perhaps a synopsis of this quite bonkers piece of cinema is in order…

With a heavy nod to Eyes Without A Face (1960), Corruption tells the tale of cosmetic surgeon Sir John Rowan (Cushing), whose wife Lynn (Sue Lloyd) is facially scarred in a freak accident involving a red hot photographic lamp at a party.

Luckily for Lynn, Sir John has had success in using pituitary gland extracts to cure physical scars. Okay, it’s worked on the gerbils in his lab. Still, no reason it won’t work on Mrs Rowan, right?

So, in search of a suitable human donor, Sir John heads off to the hospital morgue, in search of a fresh cadaver. Despite the protests of a colleague, the resulting op appears to be a success, until Lynn returns from a holiday with her face scarred again. These transplants appear to have a limited shelf life…

Having been rumbled at the hospital, Sir John realises that he will need to widen his scope, and must kill to secure suitably fresh donors. After bumping off a prostitute, and suspecting it might be a good idea to get out of town for a while, the doc and his rejuvenated wife had down to their seaside retreat. Trouble is, an increasingly deranged Lynn doesn’t fancy becoming disfigured again and insists on another transplant before the current one loses its efficacy.

From here on, Corruption heads off well and truly into nutzoid-land. Valerie Van Ost gets bumped off on a train, before the pair befriend a girl on the beach (Wendy Varnals) with a view to making her the next donor, except she has a bunch of mates waiting nearby with a view to doing the place over.

To cut a long story very short, the doc and wife find themselves under siege, a power struggle ensues, and a climax in a makeshift operating theatre involving a laser beam is the result. Just when you think things can get no more bonkers comes an even more bonkers ending which will leave you shouting “WHAT?”, and reaching for the strong stuff.

Directed by Robert Hartford-Davies (never the most subtle of directors), this is a film with a convoluted release history, with different edits for the UK and international markets, and it’s the latter which by far contains the most graphic material (particularly in the aforementioned prostitute wrestle), and which I saw for this piece. The UK edit is thankfully bereft of this imagery, simply showing the deranged doc stabbing the fully clothed lady (indeed, a completely different lady). The version in the continental cut is shocking, in the way that catching a favourite and normally respectable uncle, dancing drunkenly in his underwear to a Lady Gaga track is shocking, whilst the sight of Cushing smearing his blood-soaked hands across his victim’s breasts is frankly disturbing.

Even in its tamer edit, however, watching Corruption is a pretty grubby exercise, if a strangely compelling one. Viewing it is a bit like driving past a nasty road accident. You know you shouldn’t really look, but your morbid sense of curiosity gets the better of you.

The film was not one of Cushing’s favourites.

TRIVIA POINT: In Gary Parfitt’s book The Films Of Peter Cushing, the actor reflected on Corruption: “It was gratuitously violent, fearfully sick. But it was a good script, which just goes to show how important the presentation is.”

Richard Phillips-Jones
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