Directed by: Ruggero Deodato
Written by: Gianfranco Clerici & Vincenzo Mannino
Music by: Riz Ortolani
Starring: David Hess, John Morghan (Giovanni Lombardo Radice), Annie Belle, Christian Borromeo, Marie Claude Joseph, Gabriele Di Giulio, Brigitte Petronio
Taglines: “Delivers Shocks To The Maximum … Pushes The Limits Of Acceptability”
“David Hess … star of “Last House on the Left” is loose again … DON’T GO IN THE PARK!”
Two rich kids have problems with their car and go to a nearby mechanic, the two guys there coincidentally about to go out on the town. They agree to fix the car and the couple gratefully invite them along to a small private party in progress back at their place. Unfortunately, one of the mechanics is a psychotic rapist and killer who plans to use the guests for his own amusement.
The House On The Edge Of The Park is a difficult movie in many ways. One of a number of movies to be made off the back of the success of Wes Craven’s The Last House On The Left, Deodato’s movie is much more accomplished and brutal, yet equally much more flawed. Fresh from the notorious Cannibal Holocaust and free from the traditional restraints of Hollywood movies, Deodato manages to sidestep the flaws of Craven’s movie (such as the ill-advised attempts at comedy and the sudden lurches in tone every few minutes), but manages to make many of his own.
The movie starts intriguingly enough. We see Hess driving around, until he spots a woman he likes the look of. Unresponsive to his advances, he runs her off a deserted road and rapes her, killing her in the process. Meanwhile, the background music is a strange lullaby-esque ballad. The dissonance between these two elements is strangely effective, and helped by the relatively retrained cutting – we get glimpses of what’s happening rather than the traditionally leering Italian camera-work.
Then, the movie goes quickly downhill for ten minutes or so. The dialogue is both badly dubbed and full of atrociously attempted disco-era slang (presumably what the Italian crew thought that “hip” Americans sounded like, this being filmed in New York). Hess dons a hideous disco suit, while Morghan goes along. It’s effective in introducing the dynamics between these two villains – Morghan is a soft-hearted foil who tends to go along with whatever Hess goads him into – but it’s rough going. Eventually, our other leads turn up and unconvincingly talk the pair into helping them and coming to the party. There, we meet other guests including some sexily dressed women (including a sassy bald black chick) and it’s clear that most of them are there to act either as bait or fodder for Hess’ character.
Luckily, the movie rights itself until the ridiculous twist ending that nearly derailed the movie for me. This hour is full of innuendo that gradually escalates into violence and rape, as the two men disable and attack their hosts. This is reluctant in the case of Morghan, and he gives a great performance as the slow.-witted accomplice. While Hess is basically reprising his role as Krug from Craven’s movie in which he was so memorable, Morghan gives Hess not only a resisting conscience but also a reason to go overboard when things finally get out of hand. His performance alone is reason enough to see this movie.
When Hess goes nuts, he really does it, exacting violent humiliation, torture and mutilation onto his unfortunate victims. Morghan’s character, meanwhile, goes through an upsetting series events. At first he
Sadly, the movie derails itself at the climax (SPOILER). The premise is that the couple holding the party are the siblings of the woman we saw raped and murdered in the opening sequence. The party was held to lure them, and for them to exact their revenge when Hess was at his weakest, allowing them to claim it was self defence against intruders. The problem, of course, is that this makes absolutely no logical sense. There were no witnesses, no evidence and as far as we know no police investigation into the murder. Yet, the couple have managed to correctly identify the killer, with enough surety to arrange a fatal trap for him. Then, they wait a ridiculous length of time before the trap is sprung. But the time they decide to wreak their vengeance, one of their friends is dead, two badly injured and at least one of the women raped (and all of them molested). It beggars belief that the trap would not have been sprung as soon as Hess started to turn menacing, let alone wait until they were literally crawling through the aftermath before giving him a rather weak death. Perhaps they were waiting for Morghan’s character to prove himself just as despicable, lest he should be allowed to live and tell the truth, but it’s still incredible.
Overall, then, it’s a good movie, as grubby and grimy as these things should be. The stupid twist and the badly realised period elements are off-putting, but the power of the second act and the lead performances is undeniable. It’s also sadly the last great work that either Deodato or Hess were involved with. They collaborated again in the weak slasher movie Body Count a few years later, but Hess soon stopped making movies until the recent Smash Cut, while Deodato virtually quit after making the action movie Cut & Run (which has its fans, but I’m not one of them).
As you might guess from the tags on this post, The House On The Edge Of The Park has had a rough ride regarding censorship. The fact that it not only has scenes of explicit rape and explicit violence, but both often combined with females sometimes depicted as willing victims (albeit for explained ulterior motives) or sexual mutilation, managed to push all the wrong buttons for censors, and continues to do so to this day.
When the movie was first submitted to the BBFC back in 1981, it was outright refused a certificate and thus effectively banned from UK cinemas. Thanks to the loophole that existed before the 1984 Video Recordings Act, however, it soon found its way uncut onto home video. Inevitably, this led to its inclusion on the DPP’s “video nasties” list, and thus remained banned until 2002.
When resubmitted to the now more liberally-minded BBFC, it was granted a certificate, but not before heavy cuts were demanded. The version currently available on UK DVD is the VIPCO 2002 release, cut by a whopping 11 minutes and 43 seconds! Generally speaking, the movie is missing most of the footage depicting rape, humiliation and mutilation. It’s still surprisingly effective, but UK viewers would be best served tracking down an import – the US Media Blasters and Dutch EC Entertainment releases are both uncut with a few interesting extras.
Given the current state of the BBFC, for which the only truly hot issues are animal and/or child abuse and sexual violence, it’s unlikely that The House On The Edge Of The Park will see the light of day uncut in the UK, but then I’d have said that about The Last House On The Left and the hardcore version of Caligula a few years ago. Both of those are now uncut in the UK, so who knows.
UNCUT REGION 1 DVD