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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Retro Review: House on the Edge of the Park (1980)

I'm always thrilled to come across a '70s/early '80s exploitation horror flick with which I was totally unfamiliar. This was one of them, until it was brought to my attention by the delightful Vault dweller Marilyn Merlot--who, like me, shares an admiration for the work of one David Hess.

My first reaction when reading about the film was, how the heck had I gone so long without ever seeing or hearing of this? That thought was further magnified after actually seeing it. This is a film that is entirely of its time. No film like this could ever be made today, for a variety of reasons. And although I have some issues with it, more thematically than artistically, I can't deny its effectiveness.

There's something about films of this era that will always draw me in. It is my favorite era for motion pictures, horror or otherwise, with the 1930s being a close second. There's a rawness to movies like House by the Edge of the Park that is unmatched in horror of any other era.

So let's talk about this gem of an exploitation picture. This was the film that Ruggero Deodato made right before shooting the infamous Cannibal Holocaust--even though it was officially released in Italy nine months after Cannibal Holocaust. And perhaps it's the close proximity to that quintessentially controversial movie that causes House by the Edge of the Park to get a bit overlooked when it comes to amazingly offensive cinema.

Make no mistake, this is not a movie for everyone. Much like CH, it took a full five years for it to be released in the U.S. Banned in Singapore, Finland, the U.K., Canada and Norway; denied ratings classification in Australia and also released unrated in America. One of Britain's notorious "video nasties". Chock full of rape, torture and sadism.

I cannot deny that this movie enthralled me. I found it distasteful at times, but nevertheless I was fascinated by it, and also cannot deny that it is a fine little piece of filmmaking, for what it is. But there can be no question that it was designed to titillate, and to do so using some very questionable means. More than most of the movies today that get labeled "torture porn", this is a movie I would certainly classify as such.

The main problem I have with it is in the depiction of rape. This is the kind of story in which the rape victims actually start to "enjoy" themselves and give in willingly to their rapists. In other words, at times it feels like some guy's warped sexual fantasy, and I found it pretty damn uncomfortable in parts. There's a certain hypocrisy here, in much the same way that Deodato does it in CH--on the surface he's condemning the callousness of these characters, but truth be told, he wants you to get off on watching what they do.

It walks a dangerous moral line, that's for sure. And yet, I'd rather have a horror flick like this which challenges me and makes me uncomfortable than most of the cookie-cutter, soul-numbing drek we get spoonfed these days.

I'm going on the record that I love David Hess. Loved him in Last House on the Left, and love him here. I'll be honest--there isn't much difference between Krug and his character here. It might as well be the same exact character, in fact. But there's something about Hess' acting style that makes me want to keep my eyes on him any time he's on screen.

It's a broad style of acting, with overdone emotions and histrionics, almost like something out of the hammy method-influenced generation of actors of the 1950s and early '60s. He feels like an anachronism, an actor plucked out of an earlier era, which is ironic given the intense and graphic nature of the material he appears in. He's funny and terrifying at the same time.

The story is a straight-up home invasion nightmare that makes The Strangers look like What About Bob. With a script from Gianfranco Clerici and Vincenzo Mannino--the men responsible for CH, in addition to Lucio Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling and The New York Ripper--you'd better believe this is some raw and unflinching stuff.

And yet just as with CH, we get a jarringly contrasting score from Riz Ortolani that on the surface feels like it in no way belongs with a film like this, but which actually makes it that much more disturbing. I'm thinking specifically of the sing-songy, nursery rhyme-style "Cindy" theme. It takes a twisted mind to pair up this music with this movie. That said, I could've done without "Much More", Ortolani's cheesy attempt at disco. I mean really, I expect more from the guy who composed the Oscar-nominated standard "More" for Mondo Cane...

While I'm not sure what it says about me, I admittedly eat stuff like this up. Maybe it's because it disturbs me--maybe I find it somehow cathartic to deal with material like this in a relatively safe way. It definitely disturbed the hell out of the Mrs., who, even though she only caught bits and pieces of it, found herself questioning why I would even take an interest in watching. It's the kind of movie that definitely provokes strong emotion.

Stepping back from it, I can certainly see how people would have problems with it. Much of the movie is simply one tense, gut-wrenching rape or near-rape after another. And when you watch a rape scene in which the supposed victim begins to "get into it", there's no denying it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. And yet, I somehow relish the power the movie has to provoke strong emotion, even if that emotion is disgust. Maybe it's the wrestling background in me, but I'm much more impressed by a movie that can stir up strong feelings than one which leaves me completely apathetic.

House by the Edge of the Park is typical of the nihilistic grindhouse cinema of its time, in which brutal violence is met with brutal violence, sex and brutality are merged, and in the end we're just left with an overall sense of hopelessness in humanity. If that's your bag, check it out. But don't say I didn't warn you!


Unknown said...

Great review and thanx for shining a light on one this exploitation gem--which is also one of my favorites. Hess may be limited in his acting, but (like you mention) he has incredible screen presence. You're right, there is just something about that era of filmmaking. It draws me in as well.

le0pard13 said...

Thanks for the review, B-Sol, and the warning. I've always heard about CH as a video nasty. Don't know if I could get chance in my house to see it, but I appreciate your thoughts on Deodato's films. My thanks.

BJ Colangelo said...

Damn he looks like Andy Sandberg.

kindertrauma said...

I prefer this movie to LHOTL, Giovanni Lombardo Radice is awesome. I got to meet him once and he was the greatest guy in the world.-Unk

Anonymous said...

I loved this movie, too. It really pushes the comfort level, like you said. I'm surprised you haven't seen it already!
Also, if you love Hess, have you seen Hitch Hike? You should check it out; not as sleazy as this one, but still pretty good!


B-Sol said...

BJ, I never noticed, but you're right! A beefier, evil Andy Samberg...

Hudson, haven't seen Hitch Hike, but heard a lot of good things.

Evil said...

BSOL thanks for the review. Just checked it out, very disturbing but well made for what it is. Keep up the awesome site

Madbikerteknik said...

Thanks for touching on this schlocky gem. But how can you not like "Much More". I love it and the yuppie dancing with multicultural bald minorities and effeminate men.

"Do it to me once more".....

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