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The Corpse (1969)

When it comes to oily weirdos, there are few actors who can out-smirk Michael Gough. Someone quickly realised this in the early 60s, and they shoehorned him into any film going. And much like Peter Cushing, he always delivers.

The Corpse (often shown under its alternative title, Crucible Of Horror, a title which makes no sense at all) appears to have been written and made solely with him in mind, putting his character Walter Eastwood firmly at the forefront of the whole picture. Even when he's not on screen, his presence can be felt towering over his put-upon family.

The Corpse is a peculiar example of that British horror film staple, the spooky suburban melodrama. It takes scenes of (almost) normal domestic life and suffuses them with a vague peculiarity that becomes more unsettling as the film moves on. Pete Walker would take up the baton thrown down by such films in the early 70s and run with it with productions like Frightmare and Schizo, but whereas his "kitchen sink horrors" are more firmly rooted in realism, The Corpse has an air of late 60s mysticism and experimentation about it that Walker's later films lacked.

"Let's kill him…"

It begins with Gough, huge eyebrows aloft, gardening. His teenage daughter arrives home on a bicycle and he immediately grabs its still-warm seat. This in itself would be disturbing enough, but the audience is also being treated to some inappropriate musical climaxes and bizarre close-ups on people's faces.

Walter runs his family (wife, daughter and son) with a rod of iron. His wife is a wet blanket, son is a carbon copy of Walter (even working in the same place) and daughter is a bit of a rebel. It appears that not only is she shagging Walter's friend from the golf club ("He just kissed me. He's got a moustache like a carpet sweeper") but she's also a thief. And even a good horse-whipping by dad won't calm her down. It seems to shake mum out of her reverie, though. After the daughter has fronted him out following the whipping ("I didn't want you to think me a coward…") and father and son have gone off to work, mum whispers: "Let's kill him…"

The Corpse is a very confusing film. It is never made clear whether what happens following the whipping really does happen (there's a gunshot but no blood, and the action is interspersed with what looks like, but might not be, a flashback to a rape). A body appears, then disappears, and the surprise ending is made even more surprising because it's left open-ended and ambiguous. No explanation is given for the goings-on in The Corpse, but a healthy dose of black humour helps keep things bearable.

Last updated: February 17, 2010

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