The semi-obscure 1968 British horror film Corruption belongs to a small, but strangely pervasive, cycle of horror movies that explore the subject of plastic surgery. The film that kick started this trend was Georges Franju’s beautifully composed art/horror hybrid Eyes Without a Face (1960). Franju’s excellent and troubling production was marked by a formal precision that mirrored the cut of Dr. Génnesier’s scalpel; but even so Franju’s film was still marketed as an exploitation picture in the US where it was released under the unforgivable title of The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus. The influence of the film however was quite notable; the prolific Spaniard Jess Franco quickly recycled the themes in his surprisingly tight and atmospheric The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962), returned to them in several sequels, and capped of his interest in cosmetic surgery with the indifferent Faceless (1988). The Italian horror/science-fiction picture Atom Age Vampire (1963) was equally unexceptional, though it did give Mario Bava an opportunity to hone his skills as a producer. Other interesting examples such as Circus of Horrors (1960) and The Blood Rose (1969) took the device of plastic surgery down intriguing avenues; the former for example saw Anton Diffring play a typically cold and implacable surgical genius, who uses his gifts to extort, blackmail and control people under the canopy of the big top. More recently another Spaniard Pedro Almodóvar returned to the topic and bridged the art house gap with Eyes Without a Face with his considerably more tedious entry The Skin I Live In (2011).
The ensuing plot follows a well trod course as Rowan attempts to restore Lynn’s badly burned face, but the screenplay by Derek and Donald Ford still manages a few surprises. The first is Rowan’s decision to resort to the murder of a prostitute in order to lay his hands on another pituitary gland, after the failure of the first. The second is Lynn’s transformation from a helpless victim of circumstance to an accessory to murder, and eventually to a position where she is blackmailing Rowan to murder for the precious glands. Lynn plays on Rowan’s guilt, and manipulates him into performing heinous crimes that go against all of his heart felt beliefs and values. Rowan’s descent into madness is gradual, the pressure builds as Lynn continuously chips away at him, and as a result Rowan gets increasingly sloppy which motivates their decision to leave the city and spend some time at a seaside cottage. This shift is both welcome and unwelcome. It gives the film some much needed space and offers a pleasant contrast to the claustrophobia of the first half. But the change in locale makes no difference to the plot which just continues on as it had done before. The highlight of this second half is a sequence in which Rowan, replete with his surgical bag, boards a train and carefully selects a carriage which contains a single female occupant. The tension is increased by Rowan’s steely eyed stare which never leaves the women, and her own anxious gaze which flits from the sleazy surgeon, to the leather bag at his feet. The decision to shoot the murder with a fish eye lens adds little to the proceedings; aside from making Cushing look sleazier and sweatier than he ever has before.
© Shaun Anderson 2012