FTP: House on the Edge of the Park (1980)

JANUARY 31, 2023


Unlike most “pile” movies, I remember exactly when I got House on the Edge of the Park – it was my prize for winning horror trivia at last year’s Overlook Film Festival (donated from the good folks at Severin). And it’d probably stay there for a lot longer if not for two things: the fact that I just this week booked a flight and hotel to *return* to this year’s incarnation of Overlook, and the recent passing of director Ruggero Deodato, who died in December at the relatively young age of 82. I must admit I’m not a huge fan of Deodato's work, but I was a fan of the man himself – he was a “character”, as they say, and there aren’t a lot of such types left (read: filmmakers who feel free to speak their mind candidly, not worrying about who might take offense to their personal beliefs). And so, knowing perfectly well I probably wouldn’t enjoy the movie all that much (what little I knew about it compared it to Last House on the Left, a film I have zero intention of ever revisiting), I pulled it out of the pile just to basically get through the movie and then dive into what I was more interested in: the interview with Deodato (presumably one of the last he ever gave for this sort of thing) and the full length documentary on the auteur, housed on a second disc.

But for context and such, I had to watch the film, which I must admit wasn’t as grim/unpleasant as I feared. It really never gets much worse than the opening scene, in which David Hess (as Alex, but basically just a slightly more personable Krug) rapes and murders a woman (the actor’s real life wife at the time!) in her car. After that it’s relatively tame by the standards of these things – without giving too much of its 43 year old plot away, there is only one other death in the film and most of the subsequent sexual scenes are “consensual” in the movie’s own weird way (one woman resists at first, then plays along and even kind of takes control, another goes all Stockholm and aggressively pursues the guy you assumed would be assaulting her). Gray area stuff, basically, as opposed to the fully abhorrent scenes in Last House and other films in this sub-genre. But even the Hollywood remake of Last House left me feeling more in need of a shower after than this did, which I wasn’t expecting.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s still pretty dark at times (Hess slashing up a late arrival to the party is pretty rough, but she survives), but instead of reveling in violence it’s a sort of home invasion thriller, where Alex and his buddy (Giovanni Lombardo Radice in his first film) are a pair of mechanics who are invited to a party by a snobby couple, as a sort of thank you for fixing their car. Once they arrive they realize they’re looked down upon by the socialites, but while Radice’s character (a bit of a simpleton) tries to fit in, Hess of course takes offense to their attitude and starts terrorizing them. But again, it’s not about a body count – in fact it actually gets pretty repetitive: someone tries to escape, Hess or Radice chases after them and threatens them, then they are dragged back to the living room with the others. There are isolated moments of humiliation (when one guy tries to overpower him, Hess roughs him up a bit, tosses him in the pool, and pees on him – I mean, if you HAVE to be peed on by your attacker, there’s no better place to have it happen, if you think about it. Just duck under the water!), but the average shot of the movie is everyone just kind of hanging out while Hess drinks their booze.

Ultimately there’s a twist of sorts, but it doesn’t do enough to change the fact that this is too clearly a quickly made movie without enough of a story or characterization to remain compelling throughout its runtime. The last thing you should feel with one of these things is kind of bored, but while I was grateful that it wasn’t assaulting my senses with unpleasantness, I just didn’t connect to it either. Radice’s character unsurprisingly starts turning on Hess’, but Deodato doesn’t go far enough with it – Radice never commits to siding with the rich folks, so his protests against his friend are about as effective as merely shaking his head in disappointment as opposed to making much of a difference either way. And Hess’ character is too generic a psycho to pull you in the way something like Henry or Red Dragon might, but Deodato doesn’t really add much dimension to the rich people either, so it’s just all rather flat. As repulsive as Last House is to me, at least it has the intriguing concept of the coincidence that the villains end up at the home of the girl they just killed – the similar element here is left as a twist in the final few minutes, so it’s too little too late.

But like I said, it was all just precursor to what I was more excited about: Deodato Holocaust, in which the director holds court and walks us through his career (kind of like that Friedkin doc). It’s a bit uneven, as he obviously spends more time on his bigger films (this, Cannibal Holocaust, Cut and Run) while glossing over others, but there’s a lot of great stuff in here, including a funny anecdote about something he has over James Cameron. I kind of wish his collaborators were on hand to offer their own stories, but perhaps now that he’s passed on they can be wrangled for something that mixes tribute with "now we can laugh about it" kind of stories like the ones he was always happy to offer about them. Indeed, I recommend watching his new interview specifically about House, because he withholds an actor’s name from a story about the man’s coke habit nearly derailing a production, but in the full length doc he’s happy to share (and I was surprised to see who it was!).

House’s disc also has an archival interview with Hess, a long one with Radice, and a historian commentary, which along with Deodato’s own interview fill in much of the film’s backstory and why it’s so threadbare (long story short: it was shot with leftover money from Cannibal’s budget, in two weeks). Radice’s dog makes an appearance in his piece, which is something I’m always delighted by in these things, being reminded that even though we look up to them and maybe stood in line for their autographs or something, they still get annoyed at their pets like everyone else. The soundtrack is also included, making this a fairly exhaustive package for a movie that should fully satisfy anyone who loved it. I, on the other hand, will see that it goes to a good home at a reduced price. I wouldn't even keep Last House if not for my love of Craven demanding a complete filmography on my shelf (Carpenter being the only other one); I certainly don't need to own a minor copycat.

What say you?


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