Corruption is an interesting film, it takes a classic horror theme and plants it firmly in the middle of a contemporary setting, in this case the swinging sixties. The subject is that of a brilliant scientist who sacrifices his ethical code in the pursuit of an obsession. The person in question is the renowned Sir John Rowan (Peter Cushing) and the object of his desire is a glamorous photographic model Lynn Nolan played by Sue Lloyd.
The film begins in a high-powered operating theatre where surgeon Sir John Rowan (Peter Cushing) is putting the finishing touches to a lengthy and complicated operation. He is a man at the top of his profession, whose work has been rewarded with a knighthood and whose lifestyle exemplifies a person of wealth and elevated social position. This is further emphasised as the camera takes us on a tour of Sir Johns study. The room is full of antique furniture and paintings; the walls are lined with polished wood bookshelves, full of leather bound volumes. After a hard day in the operating theatre a tired Sir John falls asleep in a large leather armchair. His rest is disturbed though by the sound of the phone ringing. On the other end of the line is his very attractive, but much younger fiancée Lynn Nolan (Sue Lloyd), she reminds him that they are due at a party that evening. He isn’t that keen but she persuades him to go, eliciting the verbal response from him, “You know I can never resist you.” This statement from Sir John is to prove pivotal in the events that follow.
Sir John and Lynn arrive at the party that is being held in a flat situated in a London side street. London is where most of the films action takes place. The couple delay for a moment in their open topped convertible car and we are treated to the lasting image of the very glamorous Sue Lloyd and Peter Cushing the epitome of the English gentleman indulging in a swift session of heavy snogging. The party beckons though and threatens to spill on to the street and come to the amorous couple when two young men are seen on a balcony swinging a young lady by her arms and legs, playfully threatening to throw her over the edge. This and the scenes inside the flat are intended to state clearly that this is the swinging sixties. Mini skirted maidens, men in brightly coloured silk shirts and beads, all of them dancing to an uninspired funky instrumental piece, their limbs flaying about with wild uncoordinated movements, inform us that this is where it’s at, that we are witnessing a happening. If this is what the sixties was really like, then as a decade its best forgotten.
Our amorous couple enter the flat to join the merry throng. On the wall is a huge portrait of Lynn who is a successful photographic model. John Rowan remarks on how beautiful the portrait is; the size of the image and the preceding comments both drawing attention to Lynn Nolan’s face. The picture was taken by trendy photographer Mike Orme (Anthony Booth) and this is his flat. Mike Orme greets Lynn with the words, “Lynn baby, what’s a girl like you doing a place like this.” John Rowan looks increasingly uncomfortable in the presence of Anthony Booths theatrically ridiculous hip sixties photographer. The situation is not helped when Lynn introduces them to each other. Cushing’s reply is an urbane, “How do you do.” Whilst Anthony Booths riposte as he eyes up and down this older man dressed in suit and tie is, “Well what’s this a raid?” This is intended to impress on us the contrast between the older mans more conservative way of life and Mike Orme’s let it all hang out hippy philosophy. It succeeds, but because of an embarrassing performance from Booth not helped by crass dialogue, aided and abetted by a mustard yellow jacket and a ridiculous moustache that looks like a slug just crawled across his upper lip, the character of Mike Orme becomes increasingly irritating and loses all credibility. Still the party must go on. Mike encourages Lynn to take part in an impromptu photo shoot in his studio, which is part of the flat. As a lover of the limelight Lynn throws herself with exhibitionistic abandon in to the photo session, posing and cavorting in front of the camera, uninhibitedly displaying her obvious sensual power. John Rowan is looking increasingly uncomfortable; he is clearly ill at ease with the young people at the party and becomes even more concerned when his future wife’s poses become increasingly erotic.
The contrast between Cushing’s older sophisticated gentlemanly character and the groovy young partygoers is well stated. It serves to illustrate the age difference between him and Lynn and the jealousy he feels when she makes a display of herself for the camera. When Mike in a frenzy of picture taking gets her to pull her dress straps down over her shoulders and then suggests that she takes her top off, John Rowan decides that thing have gone too far and its time for him to intervene. He tries with Cushing’s trademark politeness to tell Mike that it’s over now and even attempts to wrestle the camera from him. Mike is having none of this though and struggles with John, eventually punching him. As the two continue fighting they knock over a large spotlight that falls on to Lynn; it explodes in sparks and smoke. When the heavy light is lifted off her they discover that the right side of her face is badly burnt. A piercing scream from a young girl horrified at the terrible injuries she beholds, ends this scene.
Being a photographic model is an essentially narcissistic occupation. The woman’s ego is affirmed and bolstered by the attention she receives for her looks. When the looks go what is left? Lynn Nolan wakes up in bed screaming; she is in a room in Johns flat. Her head is swathed in bandages, the whole of the right side of her face being completely covered. Her sister Val Nolan played with competence by the lovely Kate O’Mara, has been keeping vigil at her bedside and tries to comfort her, telling her it was just a nightmare, but Lynn replies, “My nightmare doesn’t end when I wake.” Val tells Lynn that John is working very hard to discover a way of restoring her face, but Lynn feels it is all over and has given in to despair.
John Rowan is desperate to restore Lynn’s face. As a much older man he has left it rather late to find a partner and he will do anything to ensure that he and Lynn can be together and be happy. He begins to neglect his hospital work and spends all of his time in his study seeking a cure for Lynn. Shades of Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein character begin to creep in as he becomes more obsessed with his research, even refusing food cooked by Lynn’s sister in favour of working late in to the night. When you hear him say, “Living tissue can be restored without the pain of continual graftings. Plastic surgeons are only just beginning to rediscover the ground covered by the Egyptians, thousands of years ago.” You realise that although this film is in a modern setting and Cushing’s character is firmly set in the latter part of the twentieth century, the basic ingredients of grand gothic horror are now being laid.