42nd Street Cinema

The House on the Edge of the Park (1980)

One of, if not the nastiest of the Video Nasties, Ruggero Deodato's The House on the Edge of the Park/La casa sperduta nel parco. Considered a cash-in on Wes Craven's seminal The Last House on the Left (1972), including David Hess playing a similar role. I'm not sure if this is entirely true, as most of the Italian 'rip-off' films were made a year or two after the original. So in that case, why would Deodato wait 8 years to rip off Craven? Perhaps it was because Aldo Lado got in there first with Night Train Murders/L'ultimo treno della notte (1975), which on it's release in the USA was marketed as Last House - Part II and The New House on the Left. Whatever the reason, I'm glad Deodato made this.
Produced by Franco Di Nunzio and Franco Palaggi, who also worked as producers on Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and, written by longtime collaborators Gianfranco Clerici and Vincenczo Mannino.

Created during the boom of European exploitation films, The House on the Edge of the Park is a morally repugnant tale of rape, murder and revenge. I would like to say that, a film such as this wouldn't be made in the present time. However, with a remake of the 1978 I Spit on Your Grave on the way, it's hard to make such a sweeping statement. It became apparent that Deodato enjoyed pushing the boundaries of filmmaking; within the same year he crafted two of the most shocking films cinema had seen. Unlike other directors who choose to 'shy away' from violence through methods of either shooting or editing, Deodato leaves very little to the viewer's imagination.

Starring: David Hess, Annie Belle, Christian Borromeo, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Marie Claude Joseph, Gabriele Di Giulio, Brigitte Petronio, Karoline Mardeck and Lorraine De Selle.

The film opens with Alex (Hess) driving along a highway in New York, suddenly he forces a woman's car off the road, before raping and strangling her. Cut to, Alex finishing work at a garage, which he co-owns with Ricky (Radice), who's overly excited to go out and 'boogie'. As they're leaving the office, a decadent couple named Lisa (Belle) and Tom (Borromeo) roll in complaining of car trouble, after Ricky fixes their car for free, Alex essentially invites himself (and Ricky) to the couple's friend's house party.

Upon arriving at the party, Alex acts courteous albeit in a condescending manner. His attitude begins to slowly change, when he observes how the other guests slyly mock Ricky while he's dancing. Lisa begins intensely flirting with Alex, who tries to have sex with her only to be rejected...much to his frustration. Later, the guests invite Ricky to play a poker game, they begin to take advantage of his partial retardation and dupe him out of all his money. This incenses Alex to the point of losing his pleasant facade and showing his true psychopathic nature. He starts to beat up the male guests and sexually degrading the females, encouraging Ricky to do the same.

At the point in the film when the "Cindy" (Petronio) character is introduced, the sexual humiliation and debasement heightens. She is the only truly innocent character in the entire film who just blundered her way into a horrible scenario. Though her age is never disclosed, the shock, sadness and helplessness affixed upon each characters face speaks volumes, and the viewers guess is possibly reinforced by Alex discovering that she's a virgin. It sets an uneasy atmosphere, that almost poses a question of just how much the viewer can handle and why they are continuing to subject themselves to such extreme depravity.
The scene culminates with Hess' character Alex stripping her right down to her birthday suit and continuously slashing her arms, chest and thighs with a straight razor. The entire sequence is also made especially tough to watch by the occasional quick cut to Cindy's sweaty and teary screaming face.

Ricky attempts to persuade Alex to stop, only to be lashed out at and be severely wounded by an enraged Alex. This leads to an interesting scene in which Alex finally shows some compassion and humanity as he gets down on his knees cradling the wounded Ricky, or perhaps it's just because he wants forgiveness from his only real friend.

Eventually, the guests find a gun and without hesitation pull the trigger on Alex and with it, comes the brutal truth: the girl that Alex raped and murdered at the beginning of the film was the sister of Lisa's boyfriend, so he formulated a plan to lure him to their house and provoke him to get violent, as a means of justification for shooting him in self defense. Once Alex is shot in the genitals, he falls into the pool and is then finally finished off with a shot to the head, Ricky's life is spared and Tom and Lisa phone for the police.

The House on the Edge of the Park is a grim film with no true heroes, very few morals and an intense later half. Hess is essentially reprising Krug, which isn't a bad thing, as he plays the role so well. Radice in one of his finest roles, portraying an energetic simpleton who is either completely manipulated by Alex or just as psychotic. Belle is stunning as the seductive Lisa and is it me or does Borromeo appear older in this, compared to his role in Argento's Tenebrae/Tenebre (1982).

In closing, it's not a film for everyone, but if you're one of the few who love exploitation films, this is a must.


Phantom of Pulp said...

This review gets to the crust of why this film is so damn good.

And thanks for not taking the usual predictable reviewing direction of criticizing the sexual violence -- it is an exploitation film afterall, and a damn good one. Why are people even watching this if they're offended by such material?

Personally, I love it, but am also a huge supporter of NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS. I actually think these two hold up much better these days than the original LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (a remake of VIRGIN SPRING, anyway!)

Nick Cato said...

I met Deodato at the April 2010 Chiller Theatre convention in NJ---he didn't speak a word of English but was quote gracious anyway!

R.K. Hook said...

Loved the review. However, even though it's stated that this film was made eight years later, I still can see the blatant rip off theory. I guess the fact that David Hess literally returns as Krug from Last House rectified on the fact that they may have been cashing in on Last House. To be fair though, I want to view this film again. This time with a more open mind as I think Deodato is a great filmmaker.

Keep up the good work. It's always a pleasure reading these reviews.

R. Sterling Gray said...

This one always disturbed me a tad more than last house on the left. Not totally sure why. Great review.

Antony One said...

Good story line. Good glmpse into a decandent world slashed by razor bladed Hess, portaying a set of emotions, of a well thought out movie

Anonymous said...

I have just been talking to Giovanni Lombardo Radice and he has a meeting with Deodato this week about a possible sequel, with Radice reprising the role of Ricky, newly released from Prison.

geralmar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
geralmar said...

I read somewhere that the woman Hess rapes and strangles at the beginning of the movie was his real-life wife. Another layer of sleaze if true.

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