February 14, 2006

RARE GEMS – CORRUPTION (A.K.A LASER KILLER) (1967) REVIEW 3






George Franjus’ ‘Les Yeux Sans Visage’ (1959) is definitely more art house than exploitation,and I cannot praise it enough - go find ....anyway.... it was this masterpiece of French new wave that resulted in a few cash-ins. These imitations dwelled on the perverse marriage of ‘sex and surgery’ and spawned a small legion of imitations of varying quality.

Jess Franco gave us Dr .Orloff which he created in 1962, fusing sex, surgery and ‘sci-cod’ and which is still going strong today with Orloff often popping up in Francos’ films concerning the good Doctor primarily or nothing to do with him at all. As late as 1988 we can still see evidence of this in the film ‘Faceless’ out this contemporary ‘mipic’ (mini epic) of fucked up identity and surgical horror set to a cheesier than cheese discotheque soundtrack and it features Kojak !

Franju captured the essence of melancholy and a visual ‘poetry’ of sadness, with the main protagonist in a ‘faceless’ white mask wandering through silhouetted corridors whilst dogs in cages bark and howl are images that haunt you forever.

Such an amazing dreamlike atmosphere sets it well above the rest of its imitators. Though we should not really dismiss the lesser contemporaries as any less genius in their own fields of accomplishment.

One such of these ‘lesser known’ is Robert Hartford Davies responsible for 1967’s seminal ‘Corruption’. What’s also unique about this entry is it is British through and through! It is a movie far grittier that the Hammer or Tigon studios could chuck out at the time. The formula itself and the staple narrative of this twisted tale can be seen in various movies that resulted in the ‘problematic’ nasties of the early 80’s. Though never, as far as I am aware, released on VHS in England I would imagine it would’ve made the obscenity list if released in it’s ‘uncut’ form pre-VRA (Video Recordings Act), in this day and age I would imagine an uncut release but whether Peter Cushings antics with a prostitute and a potential victim on a train would cause problems it’s difficult to say, especially as the BBFC are so bloody fickle.

‘Corruption is a super shock film’, ‘Corruption is not a woman’s’ picture’ screamed the press books and marketing campaign. What can definitely be stated is that we are dealing with one of the most enfant terribles of 1960’s horror cinema up to that point.

What the censors at the time, worried what the horror genre could evolve into is epitomised in Corruption and managed expertly so. Several no-nos and taboos of the age are boldly flaunted; the prostitution of swinging London, the hedonism of the current ‘youth culture’, mad surgeons and violent youth gangs added petrol to flame. For 10 years such was ‘Corruptions’ notoriety that it was used as a benchmark on just how vile a movie can be. Corruption was also an independent production released via a major studio namely Columbia, this took many a critic also off guard.

If the films marketing had boasted ‘Cushing – as you’ve never seen him before’, then for once this would be most truthful. Peter Cushing plays a character unlike I have ever seen in any of his other movies and to see just how warped and twisted his character is/becomes then seek ‘Laser killer’, this is the title of the longer continental version of Corruption – more on that later.

THE PLOT

Sir john Rowan played so eloquently by one of my favourite actors Peter Cushing is a wealthy talented surgeon. John is happily in love with Lynn Nolan (played by the beautiful Sue Lloyd) who is his fiancée and part time model.

Sir John is clearly out of his depth as he is dragged to a swinging sixties ‘wing-ding’ party. Although Sir John looks ill at ease and his wing has truly lost its ding he suffers in silence, as he will do anything for Lynn.

At the party they bump into ‘Mike’ played by Anthony Booth (Death Us Do Parts’ scouse git and Tony Blairs father-in-law), Mike is quite obnoxious and insists on snapping away at Lynn much to Sir Johns’ chagrin.

When things get a little too ‘full on’ with Mike wanting Lynn to ‘lewd it up’ in front of the camera, Sir John intervenes. A small fight ensues, one of the lamps used for lighting crashes down on Lynn’s face severely charring the flesh and rendering her scarred for life. Sir John blames himself and carries the cross of this unfortunate incident.

The solution to Lynn’s predicament that is slowly impacting on her sanity is a revolutionary laser treatment created by Sir John. It is also established that human pituitary glands are needed as grafts, the problem faced is where to get them.

After using a cadaver for this purpose initially Sir john feels that something a little warm blooded is necessary. Brutally killing a whore and then a woman on a train are extremely nasty little vignettes with Cushing giving all he’s got in the sleaze stakes, he almost salivates as the red stuff is smeared all over the victims breasts, a marriage of sex and violence that can also be seen in Derek Fords’ (screenplay) other hardcore masterpiece ‘Diversions’ (1976). 'Diversions' also uses the methodology of graphic sex coupled with extreme violence that is jaw dropping at times (this I will review another time).

In fear of their safety in light of the killings and in doubt of their sanities; Sir John and Lynne head for a remote seaside house as far away from the ‘maddening’ crowds as possible.

There he becomes at the mercy of a group of nasty hippy bikers. One spiteful scene has Lynn held back by force as a brandy glass is placed over her nose and mouth obstructing her airflow to almost pass-out. This invasion into Lynn and Sir Johns narcissistic environment spirals out of control ultimately leading to the justifiable apocalypse.

CRITIC

Despite it’s grittiness that was void in hammer films at the time I can’t help feel that the movie is like a Hammer ‘outcast’, sent to obscurity for simply going too far. Corruption when initially released caused a negative reaction when released.

One write up commented ‘ an example of degeneracy to which the cinema can sink in it’s efforts to satisfy an apparent box office demand for horror and sensationalism’, more focus was placed on the graphic content than the unusually ‘fresh’, ‘warts and all’ approach that the movie had adopted. Bearing in mind all U.K audiences were used to so far was fangs, bats and the tepid guignol of Hammer. Although I am a big advocate of the Hammer legacy, where ‘Corruption’ is concerned we can see it is entirely a totally different breed .

The film is such an ‘intense’ piece especially by late 1960’s standards echoing future Italian nasties which laid the gruel and misogyny on thicker for the ‘70’s/’80’s thrill-seeking audiences.

What is most interesting are the two ‘cuts’ of the film, the standard U.K ‘Corruption’ and the infinitely nastier ‘Laser Killer’ (the continental version or European cut as it is sometimes deemed). As mentioned previously this contains some real ‘out-of-character-extraordinaire’ from Cushing. As a true professional Cushing plays this character, unique as he has played nothing like it before or since, with all the menace and passion as one can find in easily any of his ‘Frankenstein/Van helsing’ roles.

The first instance appears with the prostitute, as Sir John leaves his aesthetic surgical utopia for a squalid dive in London. There we meet his first victim a peroxide stereotypical old hooker, in a gob smacking sequence Sir John flips knocking several bales of shit out of her before producing a huge knife which is used to sever the head from the body. An amazing sequence where Cushing plays the lascivious psychopath with such startling relishness and perversion it almost engulfs you. The outstanding and frenetic Jazz score also adds to the delirium and jaded hedonism witnessed on screen. The second involves some poor unfortunate on a train who receives much of the same treatment and has her corpse stuffed under the seat for good measure!

The above uncut footage was denied ever being shot, why? - I am at a loss as there is nothing really embarrassing about these scenes. Admittedly Cushing had done nothing like this before and maybe felt the extremity had gone a little too far over his moral boundary. This still seems a shame that the scenes had to be excised as it adds so much to the undertone of decay and destruction caused by narcissism so important to the movies tone and message.

Early references indicate that these sequences were presumed ‘lost’; fortunately it was only a matter of time before they cropped up in the French sub-titled print released on VHS.

Remarkably all the nefarious footage is there. This version was transferred from VHS to DVD-R where although the quality we have become accustomed too with DVD is sadly lacking this still does not mar any enjoyment. I am most surprised why this hasn’t seen the light of day for such a long time, you have quite major stars convincingly acting their way through the tale, you have controversial subject matter which could placate the taboo hunter and a major theme that has been used in so many films since makes ‘Corruption’ all the more poignant.

It seems to be a ‘lost’ entry in British cinema that could’ve pioneered the way in which horror movies were perceived and executed in the future, but it never quite made it. That’s never to say die though as Killers Moon (1978), Expose (1975), Diversions (1975) and some of the Norman J Warren vehicles attempted to push the boundaries and catch up with the tone our European counterparts had achieved decades back.

I would confess that despite the fashions and ‘far-out-man’ wax lyrical it could still be considered a lost pioneer. It seems to be an unlucky little gem that never seemed to obtain the attention it so rightly deserved. Whether this is due to copyright, legalities or notoriety I cannot comment, as there is much speculation and very little fact on this subject. What I am certain of though is some genre fans are deprived of an arguably ‘lost’ classic that is crying out for the digital treatment, a host of extras and a new beginning - where is Blue Underground when you need ‘em ? GO FIND IT!!!!

OUTSTANDING MOMENT

Whilst preparing a light snack, one of the hoodlums assisting in the terrorisation of Sir John and Lynn, find a rather unpleasant surprise in the refrigerator..…………………

The Country; Britain

The Year; 1967

The Director; Robert
Hartford Davies

The Music ; Bill McGuffie

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