Exploitation filmmaker Roger Watkins ensured himself a place in Grindhouse Valhalla with his uncompromisingly nasty 1977 debut feature THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET. It’s inevitable that Watkins will be known for that film by most exploitation film fans, both because of its notorious reputation and because most of his other films are difficult to track down. Cult film preservationists and home video imprint Vinegar Syndrome has been working on a definitive restoration of LAST HOUSE for years, and for their final release of 2015 they released Watkins’s 1983 surreal adult horror film CORRUPTION in a Blu-ray/DVD combo set. This release was the first chance many fans of Watkins have had to see one of his adult films, and it does not disappoint.
As CORRUPTION opens, Williams (Jamie Gillis) and his assistant Doreen (Tiffany Clark) sit in a conference room discussing some sort of business with the intimidating Franklin (Michael Gaunt). It’s never clear exactly what they’re talking about, other than that they are involved in a transaction with serious consequences for Williams if he does not deliver. Alan (George Payne) arrives at what appears to be an abandoned building where he must retrieve the object at the center of the transaction by passing a sexual gauntlet of three different women. But instead of delivering the object, Alan disappears. Williams is chaperoned by his half-brother, a small-time crook named Larry (Bobby Astyr), into a bizarre underworld to find Alan or face Franklin’s wrath.
It’s almost impossible to imagine people watching CORRUPTION in porno theaters of the early 1980s. This is a film that features hardcore sex, but presents it in a deeply unsettling context. It feels much closer in tone and content to David Lynch’s LOST HIGHWAY than any of its adult-film contemporaries: the characters find themselves in bizarre situations under the threat of mortal danger, although their motives and goals are unclear. Alan reappears later in the film, transformed into a necrophile with a top hat and harlequin face paint, forcing Williams to pass another sort of gauntlet. This is a nightmare world of sex and death, shot beautifully by cinematographer Larry Revene and set to a creepy electronic score by James Flamberg. It is, in short, an astonishing and exceptionally dark piece of art/horror that also happens to feature hardcore sex.
Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray/DVD release of CORRUPTION presents the film in a 2k restoration from the 35mm camera negative, and it looks amazing. This is by far the best home video presentation any of Watkins’s films have ever received. The disc includes the film’s theatrical trailer, an artwork gallery, and an interview with cinematographer Larry Revene about working on the film. The first pressing of the release, limited to 2000 copies, also includes a pretty incredible Easter egg hidden on the main menu: THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET. While VS works on a full standalone restoration, they included a scan of a film print for fans who have been waiting for it. The print used for the scan has issues typical of prints that played extended runs on the grindhouse circuit in the 1970s, but it still looks great and hints at what the final restoration may have in store. CORRUPTION caps off an incredible year for Vinegar Syndrome with one of their very best releases yet.
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