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Robert Hartford-Davis’ film Corruption (1968) is one of the most infamous shockers produced in Britain during the sixties. Peter Cushing plays a gifted surgeon, Sir John Rowan, who in a freak accident disfigures his fiancĂ© Lynn Nolan (played by Sue Lloyd), an up and coming model, at a party. It doesn’t take Rowan long to put his considerable talents to use as he devises a procedure to heal Nolan’s epidermis by harvesting epidermal glands from other women. At first he salvages the glands from a corpse but when that doesn’t prove to be a long term solution he and Lynn begin to target prostitutes and drifters. Little does the murderous couple know that one of their victims belonged to a gang that is determined to even the score.

Nasty surgeries, organ harvesting, stabbings, and strangulations are the spectacles offered by Corruption in gory detail, especially by the standards of the late sixties. The misogynistic nature of these images and the sexual politics of the film are more startling and memorable than any of the murder scenes or operating tables. In fact, the original one-sheet poster for Corruption warns that “Corruption is not a woman’s picture!”. I can’t for the life of me think of a sleazier film that I have seen Peter Cushing in. As repulsive as Corruption is it does balance the sadism with a strong dose of dramatic justice where we, the viewers, see Rowan and Nolan get just what they deserve when Rowan’s surgical laser goes haywire and kills almost everyone.

Most “shockers” do little more than this adjective would suggest, but Cushing and Lloyd elevate the material with their performances. Few actors were ever as capable as Cushing at bringing a slow descent into madness to the screen (he is the definitive Baron Frankenstein after all). Lloyd is just as good and compliments Cushing’s tendency to internalize by externalizing her character’s mania with wonderfully over the top facial expressions and wild gestures. As a duo it is Cushing who brings dramatic intensity to the film while Lloyd lends it energy and volume.

Obviously a film like Corruption isn’t going to be for everyone. Though, in my opinion, it is often as fun as it is icky. I just wish that Mr. Hartford-Davis’ direction had been a little more stylized. Prior to Corruption he had directed almost exclusively “hot topic” pictures about teenagers gone bad. Working in the horror or thriller genre his workman-like approach to directing leaves some of the films feeling flat. On occasion he seems to flirt a little with either the Hammer Horror house style or the more expressionistic stylings of Mario Bava to no great effect.