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Schlock & Awe: CORRUPTION Made Peter Cushing Ashamed

Schlock & Awe: CORRUPTION Made Peter Cushing Ashamed

Most people who read this column—and this site in general—probably already I am a massive fan of Peter Cushing. The actor always brought a level of class and legitimacy to all the movies he did, and he never assumed he was too good to be in horror and sci-fi movies, even though most of the time he demonstrably was. I’ve written about quite a few Cushing films in this column, from the great (Frankenstein Created Woman) to the decidedly not great (The Blood Beast Terror). But out of all the low-budget genre movies he did, he was only ever ashamed of one…the seedy, icky 1968 film, Corruption.

Cushing was known for being a very genteel person (truly listen to any interview with him to know how soft-spoken, polite, and just kind of adorably austere he was) and would often eschew taking roles in movies that were too salacious. Famously, in one of his Frankenstein movies, he’d routinely apologize to his lead actress for having to be rough with her when the script called for it. He never would have taken the role in Corruption were it not for his beloved wife who was in failing health and had mounting hospital bills. He did it for his dear Helen. But, as you can see from the trailer above, Corruption might well be one of the scuzziest British horror films of all time, full of gratuitous sex and violence and creepy menace toward women. You can imagine Cushing apologizing throughout the entire shoot.

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This poster cracks me up. What a tagline! “Corruption is not a woman’s picture!” What a way to sell the movie to anyone. I’m sure they were using the constant brutality against women to get butts in seats, and might even have banked on women wanting to go see it with their beaus, since, as the rest of the slogan reads, “therefore no woman will be admitted alone to see this super-shock film!!” I mean, can you even imagine such a blatantly sexist tagline today? Well, you might be able to, but it would be met with outrage, surely.

And here’s the thing… it’s definitely a very misogynous movie, but it’s actually far less graphic than a lot of movies that would come after. It was shocking at the time, and it’s always weird to see Cushing as anything other than gentlemanly, but it’s definitely a major product of the late-’60s.

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Anyway, let’s get to the plot. Cushing plays Sir John Rowan, a prominent and successful plastic surgeon who has a gorgeous young fiancée named Lynn (Sue Lyon), who works as a fashion model. At a raucous swinging London party—where Rowan is easily the oldest person there and feels very out of place and uncomfortable with all this counterculturism—he starts to become jealous of a sleazy photographer who is taking increasingly inappropriate pictures of Lynn, who seems super into it. Rowan has enough and he begins to physically accost the photographer, only to have a hot lamp get knocked over right on to Lynn’s face, badly burning and scarring her.

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Overcome with guilt and his almost unhealthy fixation on Lynn, Rowan decides he can fix her face using experimental laser surgery, however he needs fresh glands (yes, apparently the glands are what’s important in your face skin) and decides, naturally, that only murdering young, beautiful women and removing their face-glands can help his love. After killing several woman, he is able to fix Lynn’s face, and everything seems to be fine, but while on holiday, her face begins to revert and Rowan begrudgingly has to try to kill again, now because Lynn angrily wants her beautiful face back.

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Unfortunately, the girl they choose—a rather spacey, hippie chick—is a part of a dangerous gang of psycho burglars who decide to take revenge on the couple who roughed up their gal. The finale of the movie involves every character getting killed (including a pair of incredibly boring young lovers who have been concerned about Rowan from the start) by, of all things, the surgical laser going crazy and zapping everyone and burning the cottage down… but then maybe it was all a dream?!

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Weird ending aside, the bulk of Corruption‘s plot was taken from the 1960 French medical horror film, Les yeux sans visage, or Eyes Without a Face. In that movie, a surgeon takes to killing girls to harvest their face to repair his daughter’s horrible scars, which were the result of a car accident where the doctor was driving drunk. What I think makes Corruption work on its own, though, is having it be a stuffy, middle-aged square who is killing in order to, essentially, cling to the allure of youth, personified by his fiancee, whose beauty, we discover, is pretty much only on the surface.

The fact that youth is something to both covet and fear speaks to the world of the late-’60s in Britain, which were much, much more permissive than the staunchly conservative country had been to that point. Corruption as a movie features intense violence and gore, which were very edgy at the time, which adds to the F-U nature of the story which demonizes both repressed middle-aged men and raucous, lawless youths. Pretty much nobody is spared, and even the boring couple—who are the only truly “good” characters in the movie—get laser-beamed the same as the guilty parties.

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There are two versions of Corruption; one in which Cushing’s character terrorizes fully-clothed women with toned-down gore, for the British release, and one where his victims (played by different actresses) are nude and the gore is heightened, for the international release. To his credit, Cushing’s performance in the movie is strong and believable, but I can only imagine how much blushing and apologizing he did to his disrobed co-stars following these scenes. Just like the character in the movie, it’s amazing what people will do to help the people they love.

Images: Columbia Pictures


Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He writes the weekly look at weird or obscure films in Schlock & Awe. Follow him on Twitter!


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