Color, 1983, 78m.
Directed by Roger Watkins
Starring Jamie Gillis, Michael Gaunt, Vanessa Del Rio, Kelly Nichols, George Payne, Nichole Bernard, Tiffany Clark, Tish Ambrose
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
A director of many names and many mysteries, the late Roger Watkins only achieved recognition in the current millennium when he was revealed as the auteur behind one of the most bizarre and extreme horror films to grace American flea pits and drive-ins in the 1970s, The Last House on Dead End Street. That film's eerie aesthetic, a mixture of strong back lighting and deep shadows, created a distinctive look that turned to be Watkins' artistic signature when he was also revealed to be the director of several '80s adult films under the unlikely pseudonym, "Richard Mahler." Not surprisingly, these films were also very grim and disturbing for the most part, with highlights including Her Name Was Lisa and Corruption, the latter finally given an uncut, immaculate Blu-ray release as a surprise Black Friday title (not limited quantities) for 2015 from Vinegar Syndrome.
Our film takes place in a sort of dreamlike criminal netherworld where several men are either on a mission or engaging in an unspoken power struggle. At an office building, Williams (Gillis) is sent on a retrieval mission by Franklin (Gaunt) into a creepy warehouse filled with color-coded rooms, all of them containing something sexual in nature. Before he gets there, Alan (Payne) also goes there on a mission through three different women (Tanya Lawson, Marilyn Gee, and Tish Ambrose), the last of whom demands he renounce love forever before they can couple on a bed. After watching a solo routine by Kelly Nichols, Williams consults with his skeevy criminal brother, Larry (Astyr), at a dive strip bar that leads him into the warehouse, where he either watches or engages in a variety of scenarios including a leather S&M routine and a lesbian encounter in a shower between Alexis X and Marisa Batencourt. Most memorable is a truly creepy necrophilia routine on a sacrificial altar involving Payne (in mime makeup and a top hat) and Nicole Bernard, whose eyes leak tears of blood. What it all means is up for speculation, but you could easily read it as a supernatural Twilight Zone scenario with characters navigating the circles of hell with no escape (including a twist ending that only makes sense from this point of view).
Definitely not your average adult film, Corruption belongs to that amazing wave of stylish '80s hardcore that merged fashion layout sensibilities with experimental film techniques, a la Nightdreams, Cafe Flesh, and the later films of the Dark Brothers. This one treads even further into horror territory than most with Watkins' trademark shadowy aesthetic giving even the most straightforward scenes an air of unease, and apart from one third act encounter between Gillis and the always great Vanessa Del Rio, the sex scenes are more unsettling than erotic. That's exactly how it was intended, and the result is a film that will stick in your memory for quite some time to come. Adding to the chill factor is a wild soundtrack mixing classic music with a score by "Andrew James" (aka Hollywood music supervisor James Flamberg) that openly apes Ennio Morricone's The Thing and Franz Waxman's Dial M for Murder!
Thankfully the Blu-ray release of this nearly forgotten horror/porn hybrid by Vinegar Syndrome restores the film to its original visual intensity, virtually lost in the old VHS edition (which also ran three minutes shorter, including some trims to the already mild S&M scene). The colors here look truly incredible with an often blazing intensity, and the amount of detail in even the darkest scenes is very impressive with no significant damage in sight. Gorgeous all around, and the DTS-HD MA mono track sounds nice as well. The main listed extra here is the 12-minute "Through the Lens" featurette with regular Watkins cinematographer Larry Revene talking about the open creative process of making their films, the new type of film they used for the first time to achieve those deep blacks and punchy colors, and the contrasting personalities of Del Rio, Gaunt, and Payne. The memories of Roger are the most poignant, covering both his creative zeal and the destructive manic depression that halted his film career. Also included are a gallery of ad art and stills (comparing this to Flashdance, weirdly enough) courtesy of Ultraviolent magazine and the wordless theatrical trailer.
But that's not all, folks. If you look really, really hard, there's also one heck of an Easter egg in here: The Last House on Dead End Street in its entirety! The film has been out of circulation for many years since its DVD release from Barrel Entertainment, and here you'll find an HD transfer, heavily damaged but as complete as any out there with higher resolution for the reinstated footage that was much lower generation on the old DVD. Still potent and highly disturbing, Watkins' claim to fame has aged remarkably well and clearly anticipates the wave of extreme horror and found footage films to come in the following millennium, while its visual audacity remains undiminished. You can click on the link above in the first paragraph for a more thorough rundown of the film and its video history, but suffice to say this hidden bonus should be enough to get the attention of more than a few people. In addition to the image to the left, you can see sample frame grabs from this transfer by clicking here to see images one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven.