As mad scientist flicks go, Corruption is something of a forgotten classic in its own crazy manner. You get the great Peter Cushing out of his usual period piece horrors playing a successful plastic surgeon in a more modern 60’s setting, some surprisingly shocking (by mid 60’s standards) content and a laser gone haywire in a finale that may elicit some chuckles from forward thinking Star Wars fans. If you’ve ever wanted to see Cushing go full-tilt, over the top into scenery chomping territory, this one won’t disappoint one bit. While there are some slow expository moments here, the overall film is an interesting slice of horror that while not wholly original, ends up being pretty memorable on a few fronts.
After the swingin’ credit sequence, we meet Cushing’s Sir John Rowan and his pretty younger fiancée Lynn (Sue Lloyd) at a pretty raucous party. While the good doctor struggles with the mingling, Lynn, who just so happens to be a model, is in the middle of an impromptu photo shoot when Rowan rushes up to stop the snapping away before his squeeze loses all her clothes. Before you can say “Watch out for that hot studio lamp!”, Rowan accidentally knocks said lamp over and it lands on poor Lynn, burning half her face. Ouch! Fortunately, she’s engaged to a very capable plastic surgeon, right? Unfortunately, conventional surgery won’t work this time, so Rowan decides to use Lynn as a guinea pig to try out a little something he’s been working on in secret.
If you’ve seen Georges Franju’s Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without A Face), you can probably guess things up to a point, For everyone who hasn’t, Répétez après moi, s’il vous plaît:
“What could POSSIBLY go wrong?”(dot dot dot)
Rowan’s technique uses a laser in combination with a pituitary gland, the first of which he steals from a recently deceased woman at the hospital he works at. He actually lies to acquire it and we all know what happens when you start off a new project with lies, kids. The procedure works amazingly well, but within a few days, Lynn’s face is back to its disfigured state. Desperate for a solution and wracked with guilt, Rowan decides to get his next gland from a living subject… after he’s killed her, of course. Here’s where you get to see Cushing in absolute human cuckoo clock mode, as director Robert Hartford-Davis uses odd camera angles and VERY effective fish eye lens closeups of Cushing making some wild faces as he does his dirty work. While tame by today’s standards (ANY episode of Hannibal is much gorier than this), one can only imagine audiences of the time spitting out or almost choking on their popcorn when the good doctor gets all grabby-stabby.
Keeping things all in the family, Rowan enlists the willing assistance of Lynn’s sister, Val (Kate O’Mara) with his experimental surgery. The new gland works better, but yes, it also fails. Rowan ups his murderous ways, but Lynn’s sanity has taken a hit from stress due to all those surgeries. The couple decide to take a break to the seaside for a bit of rest and Rowan figuring out what to do between murders. Of course, they encounter a lovely lass named Terry (Wendy Varnals) who just so happens to need a place to crash for the night. She’s taken in with intent to dispatch, but manages to survive the night thanks to a bit of hesitation on Rowan’s part. Faster than you can say “Plot twist!” it’s revealed that Terry isn’t quite the innocent hippie chick she comes off as and yep, our mad scientist and his main squeeze end up being victimized themselves.
Er, try not to feel too sorry for them, though.
That trailer above and yep, that first poster actually give away the ending (and you thought modern trailers were lousy about that stuff!). But the ride is very much worth taking just for the shocks. There’s also a bit of offbeat humor once the gang Terry’s part of enters the picture. You know something bad is going to happen, but the third act goes off the rails entirely when that unpredictable laser decides it wants a speaking part. What’s great about this scene is the total chaos on display with some wacky editing and dramatic music to keep you glued to the screen. I won’t spoil what happens after that other to say some of you will be scratching your heads while others will be wondering what the heck that almost hour and a half was all about.
Oh, yeah. We haven’t even gotten to the stunningly brain-dead (by today’s standards) marketing done for this film. The funny thing here was the tagline made me laugh out loud when I saw that image, which later got me to sit down and watch this on TCM when it popped up a few weeks ago. So I guess it was pretty effective in getting gentlemen as well as ladies back then curious enough to want to pop down to their local theater with a few friends in tow something to talk about afterwards. Of course, “Corruption Is Not A Woman’s Picture” wouldn’t fly at all today as a selling point. I know we all know plenty of female horror fans who would just say “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!” as they slammed down that ticket money with a grin. I kind of doubt cinemas back in ’68 turned ladies away either. Common sense dictates no matter what sex you were, a theater turning down your ticket money as a promotional gimmick probably wasn’t a good idea for their bottom line. Anyway, go check this one out either on disc if you can find it or when it turns up again on TV.