Diabolik

Color, 1968, 91m.
Directed by Robert Hartford-Davis
Starring Peter Cushing, Sue Lloyd, Noel Trevarthen, Kate O'Mara, David Lodge, Vanessa Howard
Grindhouse Releasing (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Sony (Brazil, Portugal R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Corruption

While Hammer Films was trying to cope with the increasingly lax censorship it had Corruptionhelped inaugurate in the late '50s, other European horror films were pushing the envelope further with graphic imagery designed to see just how far the public would allow filmmakers to go. Few examples are more fascinating than the British horror/sleaze offering Corruption, with genre icon Peter Cushing charging into some of the nastiest territory of his career (rivaled only perhaps by the following year's Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed).

Here Cushing plays Sir John Rowan, a surgeon whose skillful use of lasers and scalpels can apparently perform miracles. His abilities are soon put to the test when his beautiful fiancee, Lynn (Percy's Lloyd), attends a swinging London party and, due to a scuffle involving a girlie photographer, has her face horribly disfigured by a scorching hot flood light. He manages to temporarily restore her flesh to its original perfection but soon discovers that he needs the living tissue of other women to sustain her, leading to the brutal murder of a prostitute. As his macabre quest leads to even more violence, Lynn's sister (The Vampire Lovers' O'Mara) and her doctor beau (Trevarthen) start an investigation of their own, leading to a seaside confrontation involving John's laser and some marauding hippies.

Obviously the narrative of Corruption isn't the most original in the world, riffing on a plot already well explored in Eyes without a Face and The Awful Dr. Orlof while pilfering a twist ending dating back in British horror to a certain '40s classic. What makes it such as astonishing film is its go for broke plunge into exploitation waters, piling on crazy plot twists, seedy sex, and nasty brutality with a glee far beyond what most viewers expected. The version released in Great Britain and the United States by Columbia Pictures was berserk enough, but its reputation soared even more when horror fans found out an even more graphic cut (in the tradition of Continental versions of films like Devil Doll and The Hellfire Club) was released in France under the title Laser Killer, containing a much nastier version of Corruptionthe prostitute murder complete with lingering topless nudity and the shocking sight of Cushing Corruptionbrutally killing her and smearing blood over her torso. The film is also a fantastic snapshot of late sixties trendy London pop culture, loaded with psychedelic colors, pretty models (including a great early turn by Girly's Vanessa Howard), and jazzy music, a sibling of sorts to The Sorcerers and Curse of the Crimson Altar. It's also fascinating to exploitation fans as an early effort by writer brothers Derek and Donald Ford, who were fresh off of such films as A Study in Terror, The Yellow Teddybears, and The Black Torment, the latter two directed by this film's helmer, Robert Hartford-Davis (who went on to The Fiend). Significantly, Derek would continue with more British sex films including the outrageous Diversions, a blend of gory horror and pornography still waiting to find the cult following it deserves.

For reasons never really made clear, Corruption was extremely elusive on home video and never earned an American release on VHS. However, Sony did strike beautiful new prints of the general release cut for repertory screenings in the early '00s, and a fine version mastered from that source turned up once on Turner Classic Movies and a very brief DVD release in Portugal. However, anyone interested in the stronger alternate variant had to make do with cruddy bootleg copies taken from a muddy French SECAM VHS, at least until Grindhouse Releasing stepped in with their very surprising special edition, the answer to many a horror fan's prayers.

Most importantly, the Blu-ray/DVD combo release from Grindhouse contains both the U.S./U.K. version and the more explicit French one, separately encoded and both looking excellent. The quality is comparable to the aforementioned new prints with blazing colors in the model party scene and fine detail throughout; if you're familiar with the impressive presentation of other Sony catalog titles, this is cut from the same fine cloth. It's worth pointing out that these are completely different edits of the film, with the more graphic one actually running shorter despite the rougher hooker murder and a handful of other brief violent extensions. The DTS-HD mono audio sounds terrific as well, and an isolated music and effects track is included along with an enjoyable audio commentary featuring English Gothic author Jonathan Rigby and Cushing biographer David Miller. They tackle everything from the real state of surgical lasers at the time to the credits of everyone involved, with an understandable focus on Cushing's life and career weaving throughout (including his research methods and insistence on holding scalpels correctly). They also chat about the rare novelization of the film, including its amusing misspelling of said laser and dramatic expansion of several characters.

As for video extras, the rougher scenes are also presented separately for those looking for a quick comparison, while the film's promotion is covered with the U.S. and international trailers ("No woman should come alone!"), Corruptionfive TV spots, and two radio spots, plus a trio of galleries (color, black and white, and promotional). Actor Billy Murray appears for a 13-minute video interview in which the EastEnders star recalls working with the "gentleman" Cushing and staying in touch with him, as well as shooting alternate takes of some shots and the movie magic used to cover up real stitches on his face during filming. Jan Waters (the prostitute in the U.K. version) also gets a nine-minute chat about her early role here, discussing the frequent (difficult) rewrites and the use of cue cards to get her through her scene, while actress Wendy Varnals (who quit the business shortly after this) talks for sixteen minutes about her role as an imperiled young thing, running through scary cliff sides and doing her own adrenaline-fueled stunts on the shoot and discussed her brief career ups and downs. There's also a vintage 1974 audio interview with Cushing at Pinewood Studios, running seven minutes, in which he talks about his overall feelings about horror films and the state of the industry. Also included are the director's shooting script (as an online DVD-Rom pdf), bonus Grindhouse trailers (The Swimmer, Gone with the Pope, An American Hippie in Israel, Pieces, The Big Gundown, Death Game, Cannibal Holocaust, Poor White Trash 2, and many more), liner notes by the extremely divisive Allan Bryce, and exceptionally sleazy reversible cover art that's probably too hot for most retailers and reproduced as a fold-out insert poster inside, perfect for shocking unprepared house guests. Easily one of the most significant British horror releases in the Blu-ray era, this is definitely one for the ages and, in its own bloody and twisted way, a little miracle most fans never expected to happen.

Reviewed on September 29, 2013.