Written by: Gianfranco Clerici, Vincenzo Mannino
Directed by: Ruggero Deodato
Starring: David Hess, Annie Belle, Christian Borromeo, and Giovanni Lombardo Radice
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
House on the Edge of the Park will likely always be known as “that other movie” for more reasons than one. For director Ruggero Deodato, it was the immediate follow-up to his unquestionable masterpiece, Cannibal Holocaust, a film remains the Italian sleaze-maestro’s legacy. Likewise, David Hess’s defining role came eight years earlier in Craven’s Last House on the Left, where he played slime ball antagonist Krug. The paths of each cult figure crossed when Deodato decided to finally cash in on the “house movie” craze nearly a decade later, and the result was perfunctory for both men.
Hess is yet another creeper/rapist/murderer named Alex who operates a garage along with his buddy, Ricky (Giovanni Lombardo Radice). When a snobby, yuppie couple shows up with car trouble, they agree to help out in exchange for an invitation to their party. Because they’re stupid, the couple agrees to these terms, so all four head off to a huge house party in New Jersey (but not before Alex grabs a straight razor). When they arrive, the festivities are swiftly interrupted when Alex and Ricky decide to terrorize the large group of friends by raping the girls and beating up the guys.
Perhaps best described as a more gratuitous, filthier, and pointless version of Last House on the Left, this effort is a thoroughly Italian (read: tasteless) take off of Craven’s film. Taking only about two minutes to feature both a rape and a strangulation, it hits the ground rolling in sleaze and grime. You would probably expect this much, and Deodato fulfils these expectations aggressively: girls are humiliated and violated, guys are urinated on, and just about everyone is subjected to edge of Alex’s razor. In short, this stuff was torture porn before it became cool to “enjoy” watching people suffer for 90 minutes. And that’s pretty much what House on the Edge of the Park is: an hour and a half of pure, hellish torment, as Deodato empties out the bag of sadistic tricks and only rarely stopping short (except, oddly enough, when it comes to body count and gore).
What you might not expect, however, is how dull, artless, and occasionally silly it all is. Without any sort of context or empathetic center (we’re given no reason to care for these snobby victims, particularly when they kick off their festivities by humiliating Ricky first), it’s just a bunch of empty pseudo-snuff whose impact is progressively diluted as the film wears on. Craven at least was exploring some interesting territory by examining the disturbing levels an average family would take to exact revenge, and this is what so many of his imitators missed out on: it wasn’t the rape and violence perpetrated by the bad guys that was most unsettling in Last House. Deodato seems content to revel in that stuff here, and he unsurprisingly can’t help but get heavy-handed towards the end when one of the characters wonders about what their own eventual turn to violence means to their soul. After so much mindless bludgeoning, this just feels like a tacked on attempt to get heady at the last minute; in reality, this is mostly shallow, though you can occasionally see it dipping its toes into some class struggles (Alex and Ricky are working class, their victims are bourgeois scum).
These struggles are buried deep within the morass that is House on the Edge of the Park, however. If anything, the recently deceased Hess is sufficiently deranged; Alex is a bit more of a suave version of the goony Krug (if you can imagine that) and sometimes feels like a perverse version of Tony Manero (it must be the occasional disco music and Hess’s own New York roots). No less maniacal and sadistic than the villain that made Hess famous, Alex is truly sick and deviant, taking delight in his various torments (in fact, it’s almost so over the top at times that one wonders if Deodato is just testing limits--if it weren’t so tedious, some of it would be quite laughable). Perhaps the most memorable scene in the film comes when a virginal girl (Brigitte Petronio) shows up, and he’s all too eager to greet her. Petronio seems so legitimately terrified that it qualifies as one of the few instances of genuinely fine acting the film has to offer.
The relationship between Alex and Ricky is interesting in that it almost certainly carries homosexual undertones. This element sometimes feels tossed in to prey on homophobia and increase the perversity factor, but if there’s actually any kind of arc to be found within the mayhem, it’s between these two. Keen viewers will recognize Radice as the weirdo who got a drill to the head in City of the Living Dead, and he’s no less odd here, as he lives only to please Alex; sometimes he comes across as an little brother who wants to impress him. But his refusal and initial inability to bed the girls certainly opens the door for the gay reading, and this is not to mention the film’s climax (whose potency is unfortunately stunted by some pretty bad acting). Other familiar faces abound here as well, such as the fiercely sexy Annie Belle, whose character seemingly enjoys being degraded, adding one more layer of grime and sleaze.
All told, House on the Edge of the Park will likely leave you aghast and suitably pummeled by nihilism. Any feelings of entertainment will be fleeting and often unintentional (it’s hard not to chuckle at how earnestly bad some of the acting is), which would be fine if the film left you with anything to chew on. For the most part, however, this just feels like Deodato (ahem) cannibalizing a movie and spitting the scraps back out. Once banned in the UK as one of the many “Video Nasties,” House on the Edge of the Park is readily available on DVD thanks to Shriek Show, who put together a decent release in terms of presentation. Featuring a nice (if not somewhat soft) anamorphic transfer and a clear mono track, the film looks and sounds fine; special features are more sparse and are limited to an interview with Deodato and a trailer. Definitely seek out this release instead of sticking with the public domain versions, which could be cut; in fact, go ahead and grab the “Psycho Killer Triple Feature” from Shriek Show, which also includes Beyond the Darkness and Delirium: Photo of Gioia, both of which are minor sleaze landmarks. On its own, Deodato’s house is one to give a cursory visit, as, at best, it’ll always just be “that other movie where David Hess played a psychotic rapist.” Rent it!
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