Sunday, August 12, 2012

The House on the Edge of the Park (1980)

One of the things I love the most about films from the other side of the world, particularly Italy, is that most of them come with reputations that have followed them throughout the years. If you’re a die-hard horror fan, you’re totally aware of a little list coming from the United Kingdom called the “British Board of Classification Department of Public Prosecution’s List of Video Nasties” (or “The DPP list” for short), a list of 74 films that were banned overseas for their graphic content and subject matter. If you’re a horror fan, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Some of them are upheld with gusto and others fall flat on their face, depending on your own individual tastes. If you know the list well, you’ll wonder why some of them were even banned since they’re pretty tame, making it obvious that the persons prosecuting said films never took the time to watch them in the first place. 

This particular list has been somewhat of a challenge for horror fans that spend their time – and sometimes, their hard earned money –  to collect every single film on the original list. Some of them are hard to find since they haven’t received proper DVD treatments and collectors sometimes have no choice but to hunt down hard-to-find out-of-print VHS releases. I, myself, have 37 of the 74 films on the list, but only because some of them on the list are either of no interest to me or are so hard to come by that they aren’t worth hunting down.

Growing up in rural Texas in the 80’s, I don’t recall ever seeing this title sitting on the shelf of any grocery store or mom and pop video house. I didn’t even hear about this film until the early turn of the decade just as I’d been starting my collection of Euro-shock films – I didn’t get into collecting them hardcore until about 2004 but I had to start somewhere, did I? I read an article online about it and was immediately fascinated by the film’s concept and knew that I needed to hunt it down. I looked at a few sites over the internet but couldn’t find it – since, at the time it hadn’t been released properly on the DVD in the States – and I found one NTSC VHS version on eBay but it was going for ridiculous money so I passed. About a year and a half later, I was living in Missouri and whilst shopping at a best buy in Independence I picked up a DVD compilation with the title, “Great Horror Classics vol. 8” released by a little company known as Echo Bridge Entertainment. It was being sold at a very low price and the reason I’d picked it up was because it had Don’t Look In The Basement!. As I was at the cash register, I took a look at the list of films on the DVD and I practically shit my pants to read that House on the Edge of the Park was included. So that night, whilst on the graveyard shift at the local Courtyard by Marriott, I finished my work as soon as I could, popped this into my laptop and sat back. And did I mention that the DVD case labeled the film as being uncut and unrated?

The first thing I was treated to after the prologue was a fantastic montage of New York City, Twin Towers and all, with one of – if not the – smoothest and most memorable disco tracks ever to be dubbed onto a horror film. As I said in my reviews of Cannibal Ferox and New York Ripper there is something just fantastic about Italian exploitation films and their soundtracks that just run a shiver of awesomeness down my spine. This one which I lovingly refer to as “Do It To Me Once More” – since I don’t know it’s original title – is so great that once you hear it for the first time, you’ll want to listen to it again and again. But before this review goes into controversial length, let’s get to the film itself.

Die-hard exploitation fans already know this one well. The film opens up with the great David Hess playing a thug named Alex who follows a girl home from a disco and rapes her in the back of her car and leaves her dead. From the start you’ll wonder if you’re actually watching The Last House on the Left – part 2 as the character of Alex is pretty much a doppelganger of Hess’ character Krug from the original LHOTL (Just as his character in Hitch-Hike is, in actuality, both of those characters). Once he leaves the girl for dead, he and his cohort Ricky (Giovanni Lombardo Radice (John Morghen) in his first role) are out to find a place “to boogie” and while in an auto repair shop come across and meet Tom (Christian Borromeo of Tenebre and The Pleasure Shop on 7th Avenue) and Lisa (Annie Bell), a young couple who are having car trouble and come hoping that their shop is open and offer them money to give it a fix. When Alex and Ricky can’t get to the disco because of the inconvenience, they’re immediately invited back to the couple’s posh home to join a party that’s already underway. When they get there they meet Gloria (Lorraine Di Salle – Cannibal Ferox), her boyfriend Howard (Gabriele Di Guilio), and Glenda (Marie Claude Joseph).  After an icebreaker of some disco-dancing consisting of a horrible semi-strip tease for the ladies by Ricky and a poker game gone horribly awry, Alex pulls out a straight razor on the group and the fun begins.  Now, before I go on, I have to touch on the subject of Ricky’s dance. Seriously, this is one of the funniest and most preposterous full-body dry-heaves in horror history. It’s that hilarious that you’ll want to rewind it and watch it a few times. Though the top honor still belongs to Crispin Glover’s character in Friday the 13th – The Final Chapter, but this one comes in very close second. If his intention was to induce any sort of arousal, it’s an epic fail of mammoth proportions, even on this end of the viewing spectrum. And that’s pretty bad, because Ricky is pretty darn cute.

But, as Alex watches from the sidelines, he looks like he doesn’t like one bit of Ricky getting all the attention. Hello, is that jealousy calling? So what does he do? He takes Lisa over to the kitchen to work his magic on her. When she rejects him, Alex grows tired of the situation not going in the way he wants it to so he turns the tables and makes the group pay. Acting as Ricky’s coach – since it’s apparent that he’s a few floats short of a parade and pretty na├»ve in the sex department – he coaxes his partner to cohort in sexually violent atrocities and acts of humiliation that terrorize the group.  

The rest of the film becomes scene after scene of humiliation and sexual titillation.  It does push envelopes but only manages to push them to just the end of the table. Why this was so outlawed and banned is still a question I’d love answered. Though the BBC had issues with glorified sexual violence, this one, in some respects, was more bark than bite. There were boobs-a-plenty and even male nudity to an extent, but it really doesn’t deliver in the exact manner that you think it’s going to. When you really sit down and analyze the film, it’s never explained why Alex goes on his rampage. It would have been great to see what his motivation would have been. And though you have to take it at face value – in other words, Alex did it because he could – there has to me something more in his backstory that would explain what would drive him to do the things he did to the group.

And it all reaches the boiling point once the character of Cindy is introduced. By no fault of her own, she is thrown into the vortex of Alex’s disturbed mind and sadly, she gets the brunt of it. This scene on its own is probably the most difficult to watch, as Alex disrobes her, humiliates her, and slices her naked body with the straight razor over and over again as the others watch in horror. For being the 70’s I could only imagine audience’s reactions to this. But, here is where the film takes its pivotal turn. Ricky sees what is happening and attempts to be the voice of reason to Alex’s disturbed mind. He tells Alex that one day he is going to go too far, that he is going to someday be unable to stop and tries to convince his friend that there is still time to turn around. But Ricky himself goes too far, by reminding Alex about “the girl from last year” – obviously referring to the start of the film and the altercation between Alex and the girl he followed from the discotech. This becomes the final straw for Alex and it is at this moment when everything goes awry. In a fit of rage, every ounce of Alex’s anger culminates into one strong swing of the razorblade and without even thinking (possibly) he slashes Ricky right across the chest, knocking him to the floor.   Ricky, in total shock and disbelief, lies there with blood on his hands and on his body and Alex slowly begins to break, and here is where everything unravels. Alex, instead of taking responsibility for his own actions, tries to pawn them off on Ricky as being the cause of what just happened. Why did you make me do this, Ricky?  And speaking of this scene, it’s here where Alex begins to show an emotional side not previously seen – In the scene where Ricky attempts to rape Gloria and Ricky barks back at Alex, Ricky apologizes for having yelled at him, and Alex accepts his apology and kisses him on the cheek, not once, not twice, but three times. He goes on by telling Ricky – as Ricky is lying on the floor covered in blood – that It’s always been just you and me, kid and You can’t leave me now, Ricky. It makes you wonder just what kind of a relationship they really had. Especially since it was hinted at in the beginning of the film, when Alex becomes jealous when Ricky dances for the group and gets all the attention.

But here is where the film finally reveals its twist. As Ricky lies there in his own blood, Tom secretly goes over to a drawer and pulls out a gun and pulls it on Alex, telling him that the entire night had been a setup and that the girl that Alex raped in the beginning of film was, in fact, Tom’s sister. Do you smell pre-meditated revenge? I think so! If you paid attention at the beginning, Alex takes a pendant that the girl was wearing and places it on himself. So it’s here that Tom takes up all of his nerve and shoots Alex in the leg, then the shoulder. But the best part of all, the coup de grace, is when he takes the final shot and shoots Alex in the groin! What transpires here is one of the most frightening, most disturbing screams in the history of horror cinema and you have to experience it for yourself to believe it. It will stay inside your head for hours after you’ve heard it and it’s one of the effective scenes in the entire film.  Alex, gasping his final breaths, manages to climb out of the pool and it is here where Tom rips his sister's pendant from the killer and reclaims it, tossing him back into the water. Once Alex is face down in the pool, Tom hands the gun to Lisa, who takes a shot at him. She, in turn, hands the gun to  Howard, who takes his chance in taking his own revenge for Alex having tied him up for most of the film. Once Alex is finally dead, Howard, offers the gun to Gloria, who refuses.

Once the denouement begins, we still see Ricky bleeding inside and Howard goes to finish him off, Ricky pleads for him to shoot him, to which Gloria convinces him not to do it. The film ends here but you are left to wonder about the deeper aspects of the film: Did everyone that attended the party know what was going to happen and know that Tom and Lisa had the entire night planned? Were the other members that were present family members/friends that had hoped to get revenge on the death of Tom’s sister at one point or another? If so, were they really willing to risk their own safety and lives for the sake of retribution? As interesting as those musing are, for me, the biggest question of all is: How did {Tom and Lisa] know who Alex was in the first place? Did they see the murder occur? Were they all at the same disco that night and just happened to remember his face? How was it that they knew exactly where to find them and how is it that they were so confident that the duo would actually accept their invitation? I know that your suspension of disbelief has to be in its highest mode if you’re going to pose these questions, but all in all the film works, even if it does on the smallest level. For the reputation the film has carried throughout the decades, it isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be. But don’t let that stop you from watching it at least once. It’s a great piece of cinema made in a style that isn’t made this way anymore. The Shriek Show disc was beautifully re-mastered – in Anamorphic Widescreen - in both picture and sound and it looks fantastic. The major difference between the version on the EB disc and this disc is that the EB disc has the original Italian title cards in place and the latter replaces them with ones in English. There is an interview with Hess himself that’s a little on the bizarre side – watch it and you’ll see what I mean – that is worth watching. And for those of you who are wondering, both prints are uncut.

This is one that is essential viewing if you’re a fan at all of Italian exploitation cinema. I’m not sure how available the SS disc is, as I haven’t seen it on store shelves for a least a year. I do know it’s on Netflix so if you get  a moment, seek this one out. It’s worth looking at and will remind you of the days when exploitation cinema was at its absolute best. Oh, and if you don’t know already, there will be a House on the Edge of the Park – Part 2 coming out either later this year or next year. 

Yes, you read that correctly. David Hess was originally attached to the project but sadly passed away a few years ago. From what I’ve read, HOTEOTP part 2 will take place thirty years after the original, with Ricky – Yes, Radice will be reprising his role -  having served his time in prison for the events that happened in the original and the film taking place just as he is being released. Ricky will once again get mixed up with the wrong people and repeat the cycle all over again. Surprisingly, Rugerro Deodato will sit in the director's chair for this sequel, which honestly, I'm excited about. If you’ve seen the original and love it as much as I do, you just have to be curious on how this is going to be pulled off. We’re not holding out breaths, though, since films like these always end up being duds. But for this one, I think I’ll keep my fingers crossed. 

1 comment:

GroovyDoom said...

Thanks for your in-depth review of this film. I had seen the poster for the upcoming "Part 2", but I had no idea it was actually a sequel to this 1980 film, or that Ruggero Deodato was directing it! How cool.