Sunday, July 5, 2015

Corruption (1983)

Corruption (1983) is an amazing, bleak, and surreal adult film from director Roger Watkins (under his pseudonym Richard Mahler), known primarily as the director of Last House on Dead End Street (1973). 
In the film’s only establishing shot, Corruption opens on a cloudy skyscraper, accompanied by Jim Flamberg’s John Carpenter-esque score. (*)  In an all-white corporate boardroom, a businessman named Williams (Jaimie Gillis) assures Franklin (Michael Gaunt) and Frederick (Michael Morrison) that he will honor the contract that he holds with them.  Despite the fact that Williams verbally assures his colleagues, he seems none too happy that his appointment to perform his end of the bargain is impending.  “We still have some time,” says Doreen (Tiffany Clark), Williams’s girlfriend.  Cut to a warehouse where Alan (George Payne) encounters “the person sitting at the front desk” (Samantha Fox).  Alan has arrived to pick up something for Williams; but before he can receive the item, the woman at the desk tells him to travel into the back room.  As Alan travels through the interior, he moves through three rooms of three different colors (blue, red, and black, respectively) and is ultimately seduced by the three women within (Tanya Lawson, Marilyn Gee, and Tish Ambrose, respectively).  He returns to the front desk where the woman is absent, but the object for which he has been searching sits atop of the desk available for him to take.
Of course, Alan never returns the item to Williams which prompts him to visit a dark bar whose only occupants are Williams’s half-brother, Larry (Bobby Astyr in a particularly effective sleazy role) and a dancing woman (Nicole Bernard).  Larry promises to take Williams to Alan, and they descend into the catacombs of the bar.  Larry forces Williams to peep into three doors where he witness three sexual acts of various perversions.  Williams eventually confronts Alan who, by now, has been very much corrupted.  “I want what is mine,” says Williams.  Alan refuses to relinquish the goods.  Doreen’s sister, Felicia (Kelly Nichols) gets a nasty visit from Franklin which prompts Williams to cut a deal with Larry to take care of the situation.  Williams seeks solace in the arms of Erda (Vanessa del Rio).  Williams gets what is his by the end of Corruption, but it is a pyrrhic victory.
Watkins’s Corruption is an avant-garde tale of power, pleasure, and love (or specifically, its absence).  The film is meticulously composed by Watkins (photography by Larry Revene); and despite the austerity of the sets they are wholly effective.  The entire film is full of cryptic and elliptical dialogue,—“What do you want?”  “I want what is mine.”—and the plot moves in the same manner: scenes take on resonance after being informed by later ones.  Two powerful examples:  In the first, after Williams has fucked Doreen but before he has gone to the bar to find Alan, he stops and peers into Felicia’s room.  (Her room is painted purple.) Williams watches her as she admires herself in the mirror and then stays to watch Felicia get herself off.  Beyond its prurient interest, the scene seems rather innocent.  Its resonance comes later when Franklin comes to visit Felicia with the most salacious intentions:  Felicia becomes a victim of Williams’s dealings, despite the fact that she is wholly independent and collateral to all of his doings.  In the second, as Doreen is undressing in front of a disinterested Williams, they engage in this conversation:

Doreen:  “Do you love me?”
Williams:  “You know I do.”
Doreen:  “Why?”
Williams:  “I don’t know.  I guess it’s because you don’t ask for much.”
Doreen:  “But you give me everything I want.”
Williams never tells her that he loves her.  When he visits Erda late in the film and after their bout of lovemaking, Williams tells her that he loves her, she responds with a smile and says only, “You needed me.”  (Incidentally, Nichols’s solo scene and Gillis and Del Rio’s scene are the only two sex scenes that are not completely cold.)  The absence of returned love is forcefully evident from Alan’s encounter with the Girl in Black (Tish Ambrose), detailing the high price for power.  “Would you renounce love?” She asks.  Alan, by now completely seduced by his surroundings, answers yes.  “Then come over here and fuck me,” she says.  A nasty, yet highly seductive exchange.
Watkins proves very adept at symbolism and paints quite a bleak and dark picture of humanity.  Most of Corruption would appear allegorical if there were not such an overwhelming realism to the proceedings.  Jim Flamberg’s score and Larry Revine’s photography are tops.  This film predates some of David Lynch’s films and their images.  The dancing woman in the bar (Nicole Bernard), who, as Larry remarks, seems never to stop dancing is evoked in the joyride/”Candy-Colored Clown” dance on the car hood in Blue Velvet (1986) and also in the red-lit bar setting, where Laura and Ronette plan their fateful rendezvous, in Twin Peaks:  Fire Walk With Me (1992).  Roger Watkins is one of those rare filmmakers who is so evidently talented but whose work is so bleak, unbecoming, and dark that few should see it.

*  “Back to Dead End Street.  The Ultimate Interview with the Director of the Ultimate Nihilistic Horror Film Roger Watkins.”  Ettinger, Art.  Ultra Violent.  Issue 4.  Ed. Scott Gabbey.  Palm Bay, FL.  2002: p. (approximate number, no pagination) 37.

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