Corruption (1968) / The Big Gundown (1966) Blu-rays Review: Two Points for Grindhouse

In the latter half of 2013, cult indie label Grindhouse Releasing unveiled their first Blu-ray title – the mind-numbingly awesome 1972 psychedelic romp, An American Hippie in Israel. Shortly thereafter, Grindhouse continued what had already amazingly become a winning streak with two more equally devilishly delicious ditties: the sleazy 1968 British horror/thriller Corruption, and the 1966 Italian spaghetti western The Big Gundown. Their astounding transfers and bonus materials aside, the only thing these two moving pictures from the latter half of the ’60s have in common are blood and typecasting.

But in the case of Corruption, we have a prime example of a grandiose performer being cast in a vein similar (though altogether different) to that of his previous most-recognized work, only to dive into something far, far darker. Even for the late ’60s. Here, the one and only Peter Cushing – still amidst his now-legendary career in Hammer horror films – takes a break from playing a crazed vampire hunter or a mad doctor to play a crazed mad doctor who hunts down victims in an almost vampiric manner. When his own jealousy causes the face of his ultra-mod fiancée (Sue Lloyd) to be disfigured in an accident (at a psychedelic party, nonetheless), plastic surgeon Sir John Rowan discovers a new technique in laser surgery.

Trouble is, this new advancement requires the gland of a living patient – which, once taken, will result in the donor no longer being alive (or “dead”, as some British medical examiners prefer to call it). As such, it’s not a very feasible operation to perform, but that does not stop Sir Rowan from kidnapping and killing in the name of love. And it almost works for everyone (except the now-dead folk, mind you), until our twisted hero and his gal-pal retreat to a seaside cottage, only to be tormented by a roaming group of marauding, rampaging “hippies” – which makes room for one of the craziest bloody finales featuring an out-of-control surgical laser any lover of bizarre horror movies could ever ask for. If you can imagine Paul Naschy remaking Eyes Without a Face in swingin’ sixties-era London, you might just begin to cover it.

For its release in certain international countries where such things as bloodshed and nudity were in much higher of demand than for that of the repressed British folk that made the film, several alternate scenes were shot for Corruption, which – among a few miscellaneous minor cuts – included a drastically different murder scene. In the UK cut, Cushing simply kills a prostitute. In the International version, he slices her throat, mauls her exposed love pillows, and fillets the filthy fille. And when you stop to consider how Cushing always kept his dignity onscreen – no matter how ridiculous the story may be – it’s easy to see why American distributors boasted the tagline “Corruption is not a woman’s picture!” Fortunately, Grindhouse has included both versions here for future generations to prosper over in their remarkable Blu-ray/DVD Combo set.

Screenwriting siblings Derek and Donald Ford penned the script for this sin-sational cinematic experience into depravity, which also features David Lodge, Noel Trevarthen, Anthony Booth, Kate O’Mara, and young Billy Murray. Jan Waters and Marian Collins play the doomed prostitute in the UK and International versions (respectively). Director Robert Hartford-Davis later directed Cushing in the drive-in favorite Incense for the Damned (aka Bloodsuckers), and – aside from several other nifty underrated horror entries, also helmed ’70s blaxploitation features Black Gunn with Jim Brown and The Take with Billy Dee Williams. There, you now have two Star Wars references, kids.

Alas, there aren’t many connections between The Big Gundown‘s cast and crew and that George Lucas epic. Sure, it would have been cool to see Lee Van Cleef play Obi-Wan. And yes, Lee Van Cleef’s stereotypical bounty hunter persona from his Sergio Leone westerns with Clint Eastwood may have truly all but inspired the character of Boba Fett, but that’s really not the subject of discussion here, people – though that previously-mentioned element of typecasting is. And it’s in regular non-atypical-whilst-still-remaining-stereotypical form here, as well. And, in case you have absolutely no idea what I just said, The Big Gundown (La Resa dei Conti) finds Euro-western icons Lee Van Cleef and Tomas Milian at their very spaghetti western character acting best.

Working on the side of the good guys in this tale, Lee Van Cleef takes top-billing as Jonathan “Colorado” Corbett a legendary, aging gunslinger who works as a bounty hunter for hire. Having delighted his present employers with his latest assignment, Colorado is promised a lucrative career in politics providing he can track down the Mexican bandit Cuchillo (Tomas Milian), who is wanted for the raping and murder of a 12-year-old girl, and is now making a run for the border. But it is with this particular bounty that Colorado’s usual bag of tricks does not apply: Cuchillo is quite the wily little devil, manipulating everyone he meets into protecting him, whether it be by his charm with the ladies, or his skills with both blade and bullet.

And, as the physically and psychologically draining game of cat-and-mouse set near the Mexican/American border of Western Europe progresses, we learn that there is much more to Cuchillo than meets the eye. Sergio Sollima – who had previously directed James Bond rip-offs and those beefcake-aplenty peplum flicks that seemed to overrun theaters and television screens during the ’60s – co-wrote (along with Once Upon a Time in the West‘s co-scriber Sergio Donati) this highly enjoyable, memorable entry to the violent western subgenre, which still managed to make a impact upon the world despite being release the same year as Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Sergio Corbucci’s Django (and yes, all Italian western filmmakers are named Sergio).

Co-starring here are Nieves Navarro (oh be still, my beating heart!) as a wicked widow, Spanish character actor Fernando Sancho (who was in everything), Luisa Rivelli, Roberto Camardiel, Tom Felleghy, Walter Barnes, Gérard Herter, and Pietro Ceccarelli. Carlo Carlini (Death Rides a Horse) was cinematographer, and Ennio Morricone added yet another magnificent and original score to his résumé with this one – including the theme song “Run, Man Run”, a collaboration with lyricist Audrey Nohra and singer Christy (Maria Christina Branucci). A Van Cleef-less sequel with Milian reprising his role – aptly entitled Run, Man, Run! – was released two years later (you know, when Corruption was shocking moviegoers).

Like Corruption, Grindhouse Releasing gives us two versions of this spaghetti western favorite (Leonard Maltin considers it one of the finest in the field) in their extraordinary 2 Blu-ray/DVD/CD (!) set. Blu-ray #1 (as well as the DVD) includes an expanded version of the US edit (which was trimmed drastically during its initial release), Blu-ray #2 offers up the even-longer Italian-language cut (with optional English subtitles), and the CD is exactly what any good lover of fine film music would hope it would be: the complete Morricone score.

Both Grindhouse releases include liner notes/booklets, music/effects audio tracks, audio commentaries, new interviews with select cast members, a slew of production stills/trailers/TV spots, as well as the occasional oddity (e.g. alternate footage for Corruption). My personal favorite bonus feature of all has to be an archival audio interview included with Corruption of Mr. Cushing as recorded from 1974, three years after his beloved wife passed away. Though it has nothing to do with the feature film itself, it is nonetheless fascinating to hear the late actor discuss his views on modern cinema from both sides of The Pond – wherein he praises Gene Hackman as one of the finest actors around (hear, hear!).

Corruption is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with 1.0 DTS-HD MA audio, while both cuts of The Big Gundown are shown in their intended 2.35:1 aspect ratio with 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtracks. Oh, and did I mention both releases are Region Free?

Talk about a bloody good time for all. Highly recommended. Both of ’em.

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Luigi Bastardo

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