I am forever grateful to the late great Roger Watkins. It was love at first sight when the god-knows-what-generation bootleg VHS of The Last House on Dead End Street (1977) first flickered to life on my long gone cruddy old TV. Despite the fact that I could barely make out what was happening on screen, Last House got — gets — under my skin like few other films. I put it right up there with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. But I always wondered that if, like Texas Chain Saw, it was something of a fluke. The perfect blend of passion, fresh creativity, and a low budget. I figured it was time to dip into the sadly limited back catalogue of Roger Watkins, which consists mostly of classic hardcore porn. With ultra-knowledgable smut hound Robin Bougie being a fan of his pornographic work and Jamie Gillis in the lead, I go in with very high expectations…
USA, 1983, Roger Watkins
After this odd opening of unnerving business dealings, we follow Alan (the always entertaining George Payne), an associate of Williams, as he makes his way through what appears to be a dark labyrinth-like brothel. He begins in a blue room. A scantly clad woman (Tanya Lawson) asks him to sit and watch while she masturbates, only requesting him to leave his seat to smell her vagina. He then makes his way to another room, this time bathed in red. A woman (Marilyn Gee) demands and receives oral sex. He makes his way to the final room — a black room.
The woman (Tish Ambrose) in the room, dressed in matching black, promises him power, but only if he can renounce love. He says he will. They fuck. The grim soundtrack gurgles out dark synth chords. She tells Alan not to come inside her. Alan leaves looking like an entirely different man.
We return to Williams. He’s home with his girlfriend Doreen (Tiffany Clark) after an exhausting day of business negotiations. They have slow, dispassionate sex. Doreen requests that Williams does not come inside her, an echo of the previous sex scene.
Williams heads to a dingy strip club in search of Alan. There he meets his half-brother, Larry (clown prince of porn, Bobby Astyr). They watch the stripper (Nicole Bernard) dancing to her audience — which consists of Williams and Larry. Larry says he’d drink “a mile of piss” to see her pussy.
Larry takes Williams on a hunt for Alan. They enter a hallway with three red doors, complete with peepholes. Williams watches two lesbians (Alexis X and Sabrina Vale) go at it through the first peephole. In the second room, it gets little kinkier. A dominatrix (Melissa Strong) makes a masked man bark like a dog and “suck her boots”. She tears the mask off, and he’s revealed to be Williams, or at least someone who looks exactly like him, because how could it be him?
Williams, watching through the peephole, understandably finds this quite disconcerting. Larry forces him to look through the last door. A female corpse is laid out on a table. A cackling man in mime make-up fingers and fucks the body occasionally mumbling “cold… cold.” Things only get stranger when we find out who the corpse-fucker is.
Wow. Corruption is fucking incredible. Dripping with style, the film is shot with atmospheric lighting and beautifully framed images. The pacing is slow, but, with its considered editing, Watkins creates a seriously unnerving tone that seems to give a sad middle finger to 80s corporate culture.
Matching its high production values is its ensemble cast. Gillis gives a typically brilliant performance. He is easily my favourite classic male porn star, and this is only further confirmation of his skills as an actor. Astyr is fantastic. He plays to type, but adds a sickening layer of sleaze to his persona. Payne is as fun as ever, but sadly his screen time is limited. The legendary Vanessa Del Rio pops up for a much welcomed cameo.
The sex scenes never feel as if they are gratuitously interrupting the story. The sex ranges from cold and clinical to steamy and emotional. Some scenes are shot with buckets of fog and hazy blue-tinted lighting, others — like Del Rio’s scene — with warmth and shadows. Watkins covers an impressive range of fetishes, they are all executed with class.
The story is about as impenetrable as Last House initially appears. Blanks are left to be filled in. Not everything is said aloud. Its mysterious presentation does not hinder it, it only makes it all the more fascinating. Roger Watkins is one heck of a director. If you have even a vague passing interest in Last House or classic porn, check this out!
Like much of porn’s greatest hits, Corruption is not yet available on DVD. Its VHS release is hard to come by. Let’s hope that a company like Vinegar Syndrome blesses us with a release one day.