Saturday, 26 November 2011

The House on the Edge of the Park (1980)

Country: ITALY

La casa sperduta nel parco

Although Italian director Ruggero Deodato has directed over twenty films in a career spanning four decades, his reputation almost entirely rests on two films that emerged in 1980. Both Cannibal Holocaust and House on the Edge of the Park introduced audiences to a brand of cinematic sadism the like of which was (and still is) exceedingly rare. There had been hints of course in Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (1976) and more specifically Jungle Holocaust aka Last Cannibal World (1977), but little could prepare audiences for the diabolical double that heralded in the 1980’s. Some filmmakers pride themselves on stylistic audacity, or perhaps a visionary and artistic attitude to persistent thematic preoccupations, or maybe even the articulation of social or political allegories. In the most famous films by the dim witted Deodato he seems more concerned with either repulsing his audience, or boring them to death. Cannibal Holocaust provides the former, House on the Edge of the Park the latter. Cannibal Holocaust is at least an important film, one that generated heated debate over questions of realism, censorship, and exploitation. A deceptively well made and well written picture that critiqued film itself as a means of representation. House on the Edge of the Park however is a mindless and emotionally hollow exercise in cinematic cruelty. The question of how Deodato could descend from the nightmarish brilliance of Cannibal Holocaust to the tedium and stupidity of House on the Edge of the Park in such a short space of time remains a mystery.

In the United Kingdom this was one of the most notorious films that was successfully prosecuted during the brief ‘Video Nasty’ hysteria of the 1980’s. Its inclusion on the DPP’s final list of 39 titles ensuring its status as a cult curiosity. In the intervening years it is this that has turned out to be one the most damaging side effects of the ‘Video Nasty’ era. Films that are amateurish in execution, lack any redeeming quality, and worst of all actively insult the intelligence of the viewer like this one does, continue to gain exposure due to the controversial exploitation elements that seem to excite a certain facet of horror fandom. The film opens with a rape and murder and goes downhill from there. The movie seems to be at pains to communicate that the narrative is set in the United States. The exterior shots of New York City are profuse, shot in such an inky and murky fashion as if to hint at the seething perversity that underlies the towering architecture. But I found myself wondering why Gianfranco Clerici and Vincenzo Manino chose to set their vile narrative in New York. This is essentially a home invasion horror movie, and if it communicates any message, it is entirely about class. In essence the film could have been set anywhere in which an inter-class rage could be realistically articulated…so why not set it in their native Italy? That it is set in New York adds nothing to the film. It is a pointless use of location and yet another layer of incompetence.

The requisite atmosphere of sleaze is created by the leering repugnance of David Hess. One gets the impression that one of the main concerns of the writers was simply in trying to top the depravity of Hess’s character in The Last House on the Left (1972), in this they succeed admirably. He plays a psychopathic car mechanic, and the screenplay invests no time in offering to the audience even a cursory motivation for his behaviour. Sure, one could argue that during the home invasion he is the walking embodiment of a repressed underclass - but that doesn’t explain the rape and murder that opens the film. This ultimately undoes any statement the filmmakers wish to make about class. He is quite simply a murderous sadist devoid of motive. His simple sidekick Ricky (Giovanni Lombarde Radice) is more complex and problematic. Because of his slight mental retardation he is easily coerced, not just by Alex into joining him in his own brand of squalid sadism, but also by the bourgeois young folk, who laugh as he performs for them, before cheating him out of money in a rigged game of poker. But he is also performing for Alex, and is equally exploited by his best buddy. Alex expertly ignores this hypocrisy as he commences a variety of sexual degradations.

Equally hypocritical are the rich young people who are created to represent suburban America. If they are not snorting coke, they’re mocking a retard. The problem is that not a single member of the tormented group are sympathetic. They are as repugnant as Alex, so it’s nigh on impossible to give a damn about them. The only character who elicits sympathy is Cindy, a latecomer to the party who is tortured with a cut throat razor. This is the films most horrifying moment - the saccharine melody of Riz Ortolani’s song offering a sick counterpoint to the young girls torture. Of course Deodato is not content with eagerly showing two or three slashes of the razor, or even five or six…after ten or so slashes Deodato finally decides we’ve got the message.

So amid the rapes, and the beatings, and the petty destruction of property, the writers pull out one of the most unsuccessful ‘twists’ in modern cinematic history. A plot point entirely created to explain away why the vapid rich folk do not rush Alex, who is after all, only armed with a razor. Everyone who watches this film would think its five on two, but without this ‘twist’ Deodato does not have his 90 minutes of cruelty and sadism. If this insult isn’t enough the protracted death of Alex is almost unbelievable in its absurd stylisation. Easily the most disgusting aspect of this film is a slow motion close up of Hess’s gaping mouth as he falls into a swimming pool. Almost every aspect of this film fails, with the notable exception of Ortolani’s music, and the horrifying torture of Cindy. But the worst crime of all is how boring The House on the Edge of the Park is.

© Shaun Anderson 2011


  1. But I think this is the key to Italian exploitation films, in the competitive world of the cinema to latch onto a particular aspect of an original and make it bigger. Last Shark=bigger shark, for example. In this instance it is little more than an attempt to outdo Last House on the Left. I would say mission accomplished on that score, but while Deodata does succeed here in that simple mission what he makes is not a patch on Late Night Trains.

    I like Hess though, and that, for me at least, is where House on the Edge of the Park scores Brownie points, without him, and to a lesser extent the weedy Radice this would not really stand out amongst a long line of identikit home invasion flicks. I think when I reviewed it I described the film as "unapologetically generic".

    As with all the nasties there is a certain nostalgia value in revisiting titles such as this, memories of the horror section in the back room of the village video shop before the DPP shit.

  2. You're right of course about the key to Italian exploitation films is how they latch onto a popular success. I totally agree about LATE NIGHT TRAINS, I prefer it to both EDGE OF THE PARK, and LAST HOUSE. But I can't help wondering how you can go from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST to something of such low quality in the space of time Deodato did...a matter of months!

    Hess is the dark life and soul of this film, and it would be a poorer picture without him (if that is possible), unapologetically generic does just about sum it up. I shall head over to IFR to have a read of your review...many thanks for stopping by!


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