DVD Review: The House on the Edge of the Park

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Review: The House on the Edge of the Park (18) / Directed by: Ruggero Deodato / Written by: Gianfranco Clerici, Vincenzo Mannino / Starring: David Hess, Annie Belle, Christian Borromeo 

Ruggero Deodato’s career as a filmmaker is overshadowed by the colossus known as Cannibal Holocaust (1979). Thirty-two years on it still polarises opinion, remains a cult classic and one of the most powerful uses of the found footage aesthetic.

Yet his 1980 effort, The House on the Edge of the Park, is equally controversial. Back during the Video Nasties era it was banned outright and added to the Director of Public Prosecutions List.

In 2002, the film, re-submitted for the DVD market, passed with a staggering 11 minutes worth of cuts. Nine years on and it’s still not completely out of the woods because this new Shameless Screen Entertainment release is missing thirty-seven seconds. What is most remarkable about Deodato’s film is how tame in comparison the material is to some features passed in recent times. So what’s the beef?

The major point of contention is the use of a cutthroat razorblade brushing against a victim’s breasts, nipples and in individual shots removed – pubic hair. This sort of sadomasochistic-tinged terror, according to the BBFC, is beyond the pale and not fit for the eyes of the masses.

It is quite clear, too, the length of the assault on poor Cindy (Brigitte Petronio) sits uncomfortably. There’s a similar scene, in a different context however, in Lamberto Bava’s Demons, where a woman has cocaine scrapped off her breasts by a thug using a razorblade. He touches her nipple several times and it looks like she’s getting off on it too. What hurts Deodato’s picture, in contrast, is the everyday world setting.

In many ways it is very easy to dismiss House for being a cynical, nihilistic portrayal of humanity wrapped around a flimsy notion of class conflict. This is no Marxist tract.

Where House really draws the viewer into its lurid set up is the unrelenting psychological horror. This is eventually scuttled by an awful third act plot twist that doesn’t make the blindest bit of sense.

Alex (David Hess) and Ricky (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) are two disco-loving psychos invited to the home of rich youngsters after they fix their broken down car. Given we’ve already seen Alex rape a young girl in the pre-opening credits sequence we know where the story is headed.

Hess is brilliant as the utterly cold lead villain. Alex stands next to Krug in Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) as the actor’s most famous screen role. He’s a smooth-talker and Ricky is the slightly dim-witted sidekick. Radice over acts horrendously at times, but it’s an entertaining performance nonetheless.

Deodato shot the picture in a mere three weeks and it might be testament to his ability as a craftsman that the movie works so well. The script by Gianfranco Clerici and Vincenzo Mannino is the major weakness and the director, in the past, has claimed he doesn’t even remember making the movie at all. What’s three weeks out of a lifetime?

Over the years, given its troubles with the BBFC and cult status, the Italian cult icon has understood he’s made another flick which has entered the canon of cinematic controversy. It’s a great one-two punch. 

Punctuated through the rather play-like narrative are stylistic devices which appear unsettling and off-kilter. Jump cuts, lullaby melodies and intense suspense. The pared-back tone and near-solitary location setting further help things to constrict around the viewer.

Much like Professor Monroe’s pat observation at the end of Cannibal Holocaust, Deodato posits a similar note here and we’re left to wonder who the real monsters are. It’s a laughable conclusion given what has occurred actually makes a mockery of several characters’ ordeals. Are these rich kids completely insane like Alex? They’d have to be to undergo what they’ve been through. Sadistic or what?!

The rich characters make fun of Ricky and fix a card game to fleece the guy of his money. Alex cottons on to this and that’s the turning point for things getting nasty. 

The moments of discomfort include the dodgy rape-turned-sex scene between Alex and Lisa and the torture of Cindy whilst her captor sings a lullaby. This juxtaposition is horrible yet one of the film’s more memorable parts. Riz Ortolani does a fantastic job with the score and creepy theme. Indeed, it is a stylistic continuation from Cannibal Holocaust where the most transgressive horrors are accompanied to Ortolani’s romantic music.

The new DVD features solid video interviews with David Hess (who suddenly passed away on 8th October) and Ruggero Deodato. There’s also a transcript of the BBFC decision and the thirteen individual cuts it wanted made before re-release.

An original theatrical trailer and filmed introduction, again by Hess, are complimented by a fantastic filmed discussion between the BBFC, Professor Martin Barker, Prof. Julian Petley, Deodato and Giovanni Lombardo Radice. The quality of the recording, made during this year’s Cine Excess conference, isn’t great but this is fascinating stuff.

The House on the Edge of the Park is total, unabashed exploitation cinema. The transfer looks grubby and clearly taken from an old beat up print. Cynical, despicable and utterly horrid from start to finish yet also well constructed and effective, like Deodato’s 1979 cannibal movie, this one is a mass of contradictions.

 'The House on the Edge of the Park' is re-released on DVD Oct 31st

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