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Corruption (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • Corruption (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: February 8th, 2022.
    Director: Roger Watkins
    Cast: Jamie Gillis, Michael Gaunt, Tiffany Clark, Vanessa Del Rio, George Payne, Samantha Fox, Kelly Nichols
    Year: 1983
    Purchase From Amazon

    Corruption – Movie Review:

    Directed by Roger Watkins (under the pseudonym of Richard Mahler), Corruption is one of those films that blends hardcore pornography with arthouse style to create something unique. If the film isn't heavy on plot it very definitely has a story arc to it but the emphasis here is as much on look and on mood as it is on plot or pacing.

    The movie begins in a boardroom. Williams (Jamie Gillis) stands with his back to a table full of suits looking out over Manhattan. He tells them that without honor, business is useless. From here, we follow Alan (George Payne), one of Williams' business associates, as he enters a clandestine brothel of sorts. He first enters a blue room where a woman (Tanya Lawson) will let him watch and even smell her but not touch her. He then moves on to a red room where a different woman (Mary Constantine) will engage in oral sex but nothing harder. After that, he moves into the third and final room, clad only in black, where a third woman (Tish Ambrose) makes him renounce love. Once he does, she lets him take her but won't allow him to finish inside of her.

    Williams goes home to his lady, Doreen (Tiffany Clark), and after they catch up on the day's events, they go at it. This is in strong contrast to the first three scenes with Payne, as there's passion and maybe even love here - or maybe not. But then this sequence mirrors the black room scene when Doreen won't let him finish inside of her. From here, Williams goes in search of Alan, who seems to have disappeared. He starts off at a seedy strip club (complete with a KISS pinball machine!) where he meets Larry (Bobby Astyr), his half-brother, and after they watch a dancer (Nicole Bernard) perform, Larry serves as Williams' guide. He takes him into a hallway where three doors, each with a peephole, lay waiting. Williams looks through the first door and watches (Alexis X and Sabrina Vale) indulge their desires. Through the second peephole he spies a dominatrix (Melissa Strong) degrading a man in a leather gimp mask but when the mask comes off, it's Williams underneath. Understandably upset by this, Williams doesn't want to go any further but Larry forces him to look through the third peephole where he watches a man clad in bizarre clown makeup molest a corpse. Like most things in this movie, the clown is, at least initially, not who he seems. While this is going on, Doreen's sister, Felicia (Kelly Nichols) gets kidnapped and the movie heads towards a conclusion as bizarre as it is unexpected.

    With Corruption, Watkins has made a pretty ambitious feature by any standard. The scope might not be huge and the budget might have been small but he uses some great locations to the film's advantage in big ways, the three different colored rooms we see early on being great examples of minimalist style employed very effectively. Where Watkins strives here is more evident in how the movie unfolds and how it depicts human interaction. Sex is not quite constant here but it's certainly frequent and it is, unlike in most adult features, shown here as cold and unfeeling even when various participants are acting out their own personal kinks. The performers are definitely getting off, that much is obvious, but they don't seem to care and there's an eerie sort of distance to most (though not all) of the coupling that occurs in the film.

    Again, Watkins seems to be going for something much different than you expect to get out an adult feature. The art direction here is top notch, there's some exceptional use of color throughout the movie but so too does the camerawork, courtesy of Larry Revene, make great use of some shadowy interiors. The pacing is odd, dreamlike, but the performances are strong. Gillis is in typically fine form here and if Payne is a little restrained compared to some of his move over the top work, he's pretty good in the part. Bobby Astyr has never been better, he's perfect as the shifty 'tour guide' while the female cast members all do top notch work as well. Kelly Nichols looks fantastic here and Vanessa Del Rio is genuinely elegant in her scene with Gillis towards the end of the picture.

    Watkins' film might leave viewers with more questions than answers, but that just gives us a film worth watching more than once, a picture that actually makes you think and pay attention and that really rewards multiple viewings.

    Corruption – Blu-ray Review:

    Corruption arrives on region free Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer 'restored in 2k from 35mm archival elements' and framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. The presentation quality here, and in fact the entire disc, mirrors the 2015 release from the label. Detail is remarkably strong here while skin tones look perfectly natural - nice and warm, never too pink. Color reproduction is spot on and is consistently impressive while black levels stay deep and pretty pure throughout, which is important given how dark this film is. Thankfully the transfer avoids crush and provides pretty solid shadow detail as well. There aren't any major print damage issues to note outside of a few white specks now and again, just a completely expected bit of natural looking film grain. The transfer appears free of any edge enhancement, compression or noise reduction issues. The screen caps don't lie, the movie looks fantastic (though you do have to wonder what a new 4k scan could do with the elements).

    Audio chores are handled just fine by the movie's 24-bit DTS-HD Mono mix, in the film's native English. Dialogue is easy to follow and properly balanced alongside the film's score, which demonstrates good depth and more range than you might expect it to.

    As to the extras, VS have supplied an interview with Larry Revene who worked as Watkin's cinematographer on this film (and a few others). In this twelve and a half minute piece he talks about first meeting Watkins and how Watkins was a 'real' director who knew what he was doing, but how he was also open to input from the people he worked with. He then talks about using AGFA film instead of Fuji or Kodak stock and how that helped with the look of the movie, how Roger wanted a corpse to be used in the film, and then he shares some stories about Watkins' approach to directing the actors that he worked with. He then talks about working with Astyr, Michael Gaunt and Vanessa Del Rio. From there he talks about the different colors of the rooms in the opening scenes, working with 'sweet' George Payne (who he describes as 'the sex machine, not the actor'), Kelly Nichols and, before the piece wraps, a few more thoughts on his working relationship with Watkins and his thoughts on the man's filmography.

    Aside from that, we also get a still gallery and the film's original theatrical trailer, a still gallery of pressbook materials as well as some static menus and chapter selection.

    Oh, and once again, there's an Easter Egg here - a really, really big one, in fact.

    It's a raw scan of a little movie you might have heard of called Last House On Dead End Street. Now before you get all bent out of shape about the lack of a special edition, check out this screen cap of some text that prefaces the movie:


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    This movie was, until Barrel's DVD release years back (no long out of print), one of those rare films that everyone had heard of and no one had seen. The film's director, one Victor Janos, was a true enigma of the genre. At least, that was the case until Roger Watkins finally 'came out', so to speak, and admitted that Janos was a pseudonym that he had used. Not only was he the director and writer, but he also played Terry Hawkins (again under a pseudonym, this time Steven Morrison), the films central character. Originally entitled 'The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell', Watkins work print of the film ran 180 minutes, and seems to have mysteriously vanished. The film was used by the producers without his permission or notification and released as 'Last House On Dead End Street' to cash in on the success of the similarly titled 'Last House On The Left' by Wes Craven.

    So what's it all about? Simply put, it's pure nihilism on celluloid. The story itself is fairly simple: Terry Hawkins, fresh out of a year in jail, goes back to what he knows best - making dirty movies. He alludes to having made films before he went to jail for drugs, and now that he's back on the street, he's hoping to do it again and make some quick and easy money. Terry and his buddy, Ken (who we find out has also spent time in jail for sodomizing a cow while he worked in a slaughterhouse), coerce two girls into joining them and go out to make, as Terry puts it, something 'really weird' - a real 'snuff' film. The girls, wearing some odd theatrical masks, and Terry, in some sort of elaborate 'Greek tragedy' style theatrical mask, kill a blind man on camera while Ken films the whole ordeal. Once this is completed, they show it to some rich perverts 'who have nothing better to do but sit around and watch pornographic films all day.'

    Terry manages, through Ken, to get the film shown to Steve and Jim, two small time porno peddlers who are trying to deliver something a little different to their audience but coming up empty handed. Jim has been having trouble getting anything other than 'bad porno' made, and hasn't been able to find anything interesting or different to film as of late. The two discuss this as they watch some lesbian porn (involving Jim's wife) and some female masturbation footage in the private screening room that Steve has in his house. These two are into some pretty odd stuff, as we see Steve's wife, Nancy, being whipped by a hunchback in the next room, wearing 'black face' style make up, in front of an anxious and excited audience. But when Steve and Jim try to steal away Terry's work without paying him for it, they end up on the other side of the camera and star in their own sick and twisted film, with Ken behind the camera, and Terry and the girls (again wearing the masks) playing judge, jury and executioner.

    Terry calls them up and tells them to meet him 'at that house' and to bring along 'Suzy' (who we've never heard of before) and he'll make it worth their while. It's here that the film takes a sharp left turn straight to Hell, as the unlucky bastards who tried to rip Terry off are disposed of, all 'on camera', with nothing left to the imagination climaxing in the infamous 'surgery' and 'deer hoof' fellatio scenes.

    Sure, the film has definitely got some gory moments in it and it's certainly not for the squeamish, but you've had to have seen a lot worse as far as on screen blood and guts is concerned. What really makes this film so effective is its atmosphere, which is, quite simply, just plain evil. Going in, you need to know that this film was shot with almost no budget. In one interview Watkins claims that it was shot for $1500 and in another, he claims he was given $3000 but that $800 of that was spent on drugs and that the balance wasn't used. And the film really does look and feel like the low budget production that it is. The fact that all of the sound was captured off the floor as it happened with a tape recorder and then dubbed onto the film in post-production adds to this and gives reason to the speculation that this was a foreign film, which was a common adage when it was released.

    The actors and actresses were all amateurs when this was made, and they look the part. In one scene, where Terry is torturing one of the men, you'll see the girls 'acting' in the background on camera, jumping around, flinging their hair from side to side, and giggling, all the while with their masks on. Not exactly Oscar caliber performances, but this type of behavior just adds to the overall weirdness that seeps out of this movie like a torrential sweat.

    There is also an admitted Manson family influence on the film, and it's not hard to spot. From Ken's 'beatnik' dialogue, to the perpetuation of the snuff film myth and especially in the unusual chants in the back ground (“Terry is the answer”) during the ritualistic murders at the end of the film, the comparisons to Manson are easy to make and are definitely sound. Adding to the nihilistic tone of the film is the fact that there is essentially no character development throughout the film. You know everything that you need to know about Terry and Ken in the first five minutes of the movie, and it doesn't really matter that you don't know anything about their female partners in crime, because it wouldn't add anything to the movie anyway.

    The lack of character development, the amateur acting, and the genuinely bizarre low budget production values and inebriated state of the filmmakers at the time of the shoot makes 'Last House On A Dead End Street' a very effective, and utterly sleazy work of hateful and exploitive art. While each of the aforementioned attributes on their own would probably have made the film a complete and utter mess, for some reason here they all work off of each other. They heighten the viewing experience making the film truly both unique and impressive in its own perverted and sickening way.

    Note that the 2015 release was a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. This reissue ditches the DVD but includes a limited edition slipcover designed by Haunt Love that is limited to 3,000 units and which can be purchased directly from Vinegar Syndrome’s website. The reversible cover sleeve art that is included with the disc mirrors the 2015 release as well, though the ExploitationTV logo has been removed from the back and the spine and the disc now comes in a clear case instead of a blue one. These are all very minor differences, to be sure, but differences none the less.

    Corruption - The Final Word:

    Corruption is one of Roger Watkins' finest moments, a smart and artistically challenging film for grown-ups with solid performances and strong direction. Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray reissue is top notch, presenting the film uncut and in excellent shape and with some pretty choice extras as well.
    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Corruption Blu-ray screen caps!

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