Thursday, 11 August 2011

Video Nasty #25 - House on the Edge of the Park

Ruggero Deodato's home invasion thriller from 1980 never quite lives up to its ferocious reputation but it comes close, with its humiliating psychological abuse and one harrowing sequence of sexualized brutality. Perhaps the true force of House on the Edge of the Park can be measured by the fact that it's been 25 years since the film has been seen uncut in the UK. Back in 2002, VIPCO, trading on the Video Nasty infamy released the film on DVD with a massive 11 minutes of cuts. At the time of writing Shameless have resubmitted the film to the BBFC, hopefully securing an uncut release.


In the film, set in New York, Alex a disco dancing mechanic (played by David Hess, stepping right out of Last House on the Left) and his dim-witted sidekick Ricky (a debut making John Morghen) wind up at the house of some affluent Park Avenue types having a small get-together. Initially, the hosts are amused by their less than sophisticated guests but the mood darkens considerably when Alex, a sadistic sociopath, seen earlier raping and strangling a woman, breaks out a switchblade and subjects his hosts to a night of terror and violence…


Of all the films on the Video Nasties list, House on the Edge of the Park is one of the hardest to like. Technically, the film is as accomplished as any other Deodato film, made with the director's usual muscular style. It has a nice Riz Ortolani score (and some decent Abba-esque Euro-pop fluff thrown in to the mix), and visually the film which takes place for the most part in one location, is tight and claustrophobic. But like Deodato's previous film, the flawed masterpiece Cannibal Holocaust, House on the Edge of the Park is so morally confused it's hard to see the film as little more than Exploitation Cinema at its most cynical, with little to say about the class war. In the scene where David Hess rapes actress Annie Belle - playing the spoiled rich bitch role, half way through her violation, she begins to enjoy it. In another moment John Morgen's character, regretting the abuses dished out to their captives is rewarded for his compassion when Lorraine de Selle offers him her body (so he can lose his virginity). Not surprising the BBFC were still finding problems with the film in 2002. To paraphrase one New York Times writer - "You don't have to be a sadist to enjoy House on the Edge of the Park but it helps".1


Which brings us neatly to the film's most notorious sequence. At one point a teenage-looking Barbie doll calls around to the house and is made to suffer the wrath of a clearly unhinged Alex, as he strips her naked and proceeds to slash her breasts and body with his razor. It's a chilling scene, made all the more objectionable by the fact that the actress playing victim looks uncomfortably young. It's worth noting that this bit of psychosexual mania was co-authored by Gianfranco Clerici who wrote Lucio Fulci's slasher epic The New York Ripper. Worth mentioning also that the film contains a twist in the final scene that throws a new slant on the everything seen up this point in the film, making the film seem over more pungent. So much so that Deodato interviewed for Gorezone #17 (Spring 1991) dismissed the film: "Oh yes, that was violent. I forgot that film. It was shot just after Cannibal Holocaust. I don't like the movie"


House on the Edge of the Park is available uncut in the US courtesy of Shriek Show and features a very nice, crisp anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. The mono audio is serviceable and dialogue is clear. Aside from some Shriek Show trailers, the disc features a long, extended 36-min interview with David Hess who discusses his approach to the role, his fellow actors and claims that his sex scene with Annie Belle was real (which I find hard to believe, unless Deodato used a different take for the film). John Morghen turns up for a second interview to discuss the first of his famous roles. A third interview, this time with Deodato is also present but the English subs can't be activated due to a technical fault with the disc. Finally, the international trailer has been included and is worth seeing if only for the mix up on the film's title card - House of the Park On the Edge (sic).

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Notes
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1. This quote was originally attributed to a New York Times review of Performance
"You don't have to be a drug addict, pederast, sado-masochist or nitwit to enjoy Performance, but being one or more of those things would help."

8 comments:

  1. A great review as always! It's a fun thing you do to go through all the video nasties, makes me wanna see them again! Thank You!

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  2. And thanks for the great comment Jesper. I was afraid people were totally bored with the Video Nasties series by now !

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  3. I'm not sure it is possible to become bored with reading about these movies! After all these years there is still something so morbidly fascinating about them (for me anyway) and the power they were once thought to wield. Having seen a fair few since they've subsequently secured releases, most of them don't live up their fearsome reputations. However, titles like The New York Ripper are still insidiously unsettling and it is easy to see why they caused such an almighty fuss.

    How's your head after watching all these films, Wes? Any violent urges? ;)

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  4. No murderous urges so far James, although Devil Hunter almost tipped me over the edge. The most noticable effect of all this Video Nastiness is a longing to watch Eric Rohmer films... y'know, something calm and quiet, with no sharp objects to be seen...

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  5. I remember loving all the excess of the nasties first time round, I think this was the first one I saw where everyone watching were silent throughout the film. Deeply unpleasant but as you say very accomplished, a pretty potent combination! Great review Wes.

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  6. Yeah, it really is a humourless film. If you could stomach David Hess for 4½ hours, Last House on the Left, House on the Edge of the Park and the 1978 crime flick Hitch-Hike would make an interesting triple bill...

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  7. I remember this was available for rent in one of my video stores but I skipped it. Bet it was cut to pieces on that VHS. I just watched The New York Ripper on Halloween - so I guess I have some idea how nasty this would be. I would watch it as I like Hess.

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  8. Yeah, a very grubby, sleazy film for sure, and certainly in good company with The New York Ripper - what a double-bill that would make !

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