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Peter Cushing has played his fair share of mad scientists over the years but none of them have been as ill-prepared for the consequences of their experiments as Sir John Rowan, the surgeon he plays in Corruption (1968, aka Carnage aka Laser Killer). A highly derivative horror thriller that borrows heavily from Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face , Jess Franco's The Awful Doctor Orloff  and others of its ilk, the movie follows the misadventures of a doctor who is exploring experimental skin graft surgery techniques using pituitary glands. When his fashion model girlfriend Lynn (Sue Lloyd) is severely burned and permanently scarred by a high intensity photographer's lamp during a drunken shuffle, Dr. Rowan tries to restore her former beauty with his new technique which he's not quite perfected. You can guess the rest. Things don't go well and soon the good doctor is roaming the streets looking for fresh victims as "donors" for his patient. Eventually Lynn becomes more than a willing accomplice in his search for new human guinea pigs and the movie builds to a mad climax in a remote seaside villa involving a gang of hoodlums and a haywire laser beam.
Unlike the atmospheric, period settings of the many Hammer horror films in which Cushing appeared, Corruption is set in the time it was made - the swinging sixties - and attempts to spice up the proceedings with mod fashions, a bohemian party scene, unsavory sexual situations, and more gore and violence than any previous Cushing film had featured. As a result, the movie veers between the unintentionally funny (the head in the freezer scene always draws laughs) and the sleazy (Rowan's encounter with a prostitute who has a disturbing collection of dolls in her room). Cushing would later say, "It was gratuitously violent, fearfully sick. But it was a good script, which just goes to show how important the presentation is."
On top of Corruption's imitative storyline, it also borrows the elliptical nightmare structure of Dead of Night , presenting the whole story as a fever dream experienced by Dr. Rowan. The major flaw of the film is the fact that both Rowan and Lynn are completely unsympathetic characters and deserve exactly what happens to them in the course of their increasingly desperate behavior. From the get-go, Rowan seems perfectly willing to sacrifice his ethics and reputation for his vain girlfriend, whose interest in him appears to be purely monetary. Lynn, for her part, becomes so obsessed with restoring her beauty, that she blackmails Rowan into further crimes, threatening to reveal his past murders to the police. It all topples over into complete foolishness with a home invasion of some Clockwork Orange type hooligans, featuring a particularly laughable, over-the-top performance by David Lodge as a Neanderthal moron named Groper.
The film's abrupt changes in storyline and tone are often jarring but actually provide some unpredictability amid the clichés. Cushing would later comment, "The company that made the film split up halfway through as certain individuals could not agree on what should and should not appear in the final print. What you saw was the final result of their bickering. Audiences did not get the idea that it was supposed to be based on a dream, which in fact did not justify some of the scenes that were presented. With any film you participate in, the company, if they so wish, can destroy your original interpretation of the role."
Corruption was not the sort of picture that critics are ever kind to and the reviews were typical for its genre. Variety called it a "Fair horror picture...Made in England on a low budget, Corruption suffers from poor writing, plus often sluggish direction by Robert Hartford-Davis." The New York Times review by Vincent Canby was slightly better as he noted, "Peter Cushing brings a certain seedy grandeur to his role. The contemporary setting, however, works against the kind of tale that was even a bit silly in the pre-heart transplant era."
Peter Cushing fans will want to see Corruption regardless of the reviews and it does have enough dotty pleasures to satisfy fans of sixties horror films which often become exercises in camp excess.
Producer: Peter Newbrook
Director: Robert Hartford-Davis
Screenplay: Derek Ford, Donald Ford
Cinematography: Peter Newbrook
Production Design: Bruce Grimes
Music: Bill McGuffie
Film Editing: Don Deacon
Cast: Peter Cushing (Sir John Rowan), Sue Lloyd (Lynn Nolan), Noel Trevarthen (Steve Harris), Kate O'Mara (Val Nolan), David Lodge (Groper), Vanessa Howard (Kate).
by Jeff Stafford
The Complete Peter Cushing by David Miller (Reynolds & Hearn)