(A.k.a. LA CASA SPERDUTA NEL PARCO)
"Sweetly, oh sweetly ...".
Alex (David Hess) is a dangerous man. Just how dangerous he can be is illustrated vividly in the pre-credits sequence where he rapes and strangles a girl (Karoline Mardeck) in the back of a car.
When he's not violating innocent females, Alex makes ends meet as a mechanic at a New York garage. But not on a weekend: that time is reserved for partying. As the film starts proper, we observe Alex grooming himself in preparation of a night on the tiles with his simpleton pal Ricky (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) when a posh young couple pull up at the garage in a swell-looking motor.
Initially reluctant to help them out on his own time, Alex's tune changes when he learns that the couple - Tom (Christian Borromeo) and sexy Lisa (Annie Belle) - are on their way to a house party in an exclusive area. After fixing their trivial engine problem, Alex invites himself and the sheepish Ricky along for the ride.
Once they arrive at the house, a plush affair set back from the main road and hidden away by privacy-assuring trees, the foursome hurry in to join the party. In truth, it's a rather sedate shindig: only three other guests are present, but at least they do include the seriously sultry Gloria (Lorraine De Selle).
Alex is most pleased - he's remembered to bring along his trusty cutthroat razor blade and intends on having some fun at the expense of his rich hosts.
While Ricky busies himself by dancing like a tit to some truly horrific disco beats and stripping off to the raucous approval of the other partygoers, Alex tries his charms on Lisa. Well, who wouldn't? Trouble is, she is a terrible cock tease and keeps leading him on so far...only to blow cold when he gets too up close and personal. Its not a particularly wise move as we know from the thug's introductory scene.
It doesn't take long before Alex starts to tire of his posh hosts and their merciless mocking of the retarded Ricky. Predictably, the air turns hostile. At first its nothing too bad; a bloody nose here, some shouting and hair-pulling there. But when demure young neighbour Cindy (Brigitte Petronio) makes a house visit, events take a turn toward the decidedly more ugly ... and the only way this night can end is in extreme violence.
Already courting minor notoriety on the back of his 1970s gut-chomper JUNGLE HOLOCAUST, Ruggero Deodato consolidated his reputation as a purveyor of prime Italian sicksploitation with this instantly infamous 1980 effort. Of course, his subsequent film CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST would go several steps further, going on to be one of the most enduringly controversial horror films of all time.
HOUSE, however, shouldnt be overshadowed by Deodato's later flesh-eating epic. It's a harrowing, stylish and deceptively well-made thriller in its own right.
The casting is an obvious strong point, with a veritable who's who of infamous cult horror movie actors lining up to take part. Hess basically reprises his psychopath persona from THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and HITCH-HIKE, and delivers in a manic style that only he seemed capable of pulling off with credibility. He is genuinely scary on the screen; a convincing sleazeball. Radice, meanwhile, in his big screen debut, demonstrates the edgy energy that would later punctuate the likes of CANNIBAL FEROX, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and STAGE FRIGHT.
De Selle, Borromeo, the lovely Belle ... Deodato is fortunate to have such a classy cast at hand to breathe life into Gianfranco Clerici and Vincenzo Mannino's pulpish, angry screenplay.
The director is also aided by slick editing, nice lighting and a superbly paradoxical score from the ever-reliable Riz Ortolani. Yes, the disco tunes grate but it's almost as if they're meant to ("do it to me once more, love me more and more" ... fuck off!). Deodato works with his scriptwriters intelligently to keep the lines of morality blurred throughout this troublesome beast: Alex is reprehensible, certainly, but is he any more loathsome than the upper class snobs he despises? They're not afforded sympathetic characters, and this is intentional - something that becomes increasingly apparent as the film unfurls.
A biting social commentary; a tensely claustrophobic thriller; a class struggle paired down to its basest terms: HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK is all of these, as well as being a weirdly schizophrenic film that clearly owes to Craven's aforementioned LAST HOUSE while reaching out for its own identity by way of weirdly ill-fitting sex scenes and a show-stopping torture set-piece midway through that feels totally wrong in its randomness.
The film remains a curiosity even today, challenging perceptions and posing moral conundrums that make its violence (a lot of which is not overtly graphic) seem harsher than it is. Perhaps this is why the BBFC still have issues with this former video nasty to this day - the last time it was submitted to them, by Shameless Entertainment in 2011, it suffered 42 seconds of cuts to the aforementioned torture sequence (that's nothing: Argent's release in 2002 was butchered by a whopping 11 minutes and 43 seconds!).
HOUSE first made its upgrade to blu-ray courtesy of Italian distributors CG Home Video, in 2013. Forming part of their CineKult range, their release was nice-looking and uncut. But it came with Italian audio only, albeit the dubbing was decent and it proffered the option of English subtitles. As confirmed in the extras here, the film was shot in English (even though the European actors have been overdubbed by American voices in post-production).
An English language blu-ray release was sorely needed. And here it now is, courtesy of Code Red.
Their US release is region-free and, once again, presents the film uncut: the running time is 91 minutes and 37 seconds. I was told this disc contained a transfer from the same master as the Italian disc and while that's most likely the case, it does have differences.
First off, we have a different aspect ratio here: 1.85:1, as opposed to 1.66:1. I no longer have the Italian disc to run side-by-side comparisons unfortunately. But there's no obvious lack of information or tight framing; everything looks natural.
The back cover on this release advises of "exclusive colour correction" having taken place. And, yes, it does have a slightly different, deeper and marginally darker appearance than my recollection of its Italian counterpart. Also, whereas the latter opened with its domestic title on the opening credits - LA CASA SPERDUTA NEL PARCO - we get the English-language title on screen here.
There's a more obvious layer of fine grain evident on this occasion, suggesting that - while CG's transfer looked awfully good at the time - this transfer is less compromised by noise reduction, and more natural-feeling as a result.
Images are generally sharp, colours are accurate, flesh tones ring true and darker scenes boast impressive stability. Nice work, Code Red.
The film is presented in full 1080p HD, as a nicely sized MPEG4-AVC file.
English audio gets the mono DTS-HD treatment. It's generally satisfying, but there is some undeniable low background noise, no matter how subtle, evident. It's nothing to wet your pants over, but it's definitely worth picking up on from a reviewer's point of view. Dialogue remains clear and clean, but the audio track certainly hasn't worn as well as the sterling visual presentation.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. From there, a static scene selection option allows access to the film via 8 chapters.
Extras begin with a great 8-minute interview with Deodato. This originally turned up on Shriek Show's 2002 DVD of the film (Shriek Show main man John Sirabella gets a credit on the back of the box).
In it, Deodato speaks fluently and honestly about how he regarded the film as a lesser one while shooting it, feeling anxious about the amount of violence in the original script and why David Hess, though a friend, was a pain to work with. In Italian with English subtitles.
The interviews with Radice and Hess are also ported across from the Shriek Show disc, and are well worth owning.
Radice gets 16 minutes of screen time, his interview being conducted in well-spoken English. He's generous with sharing his good memory, relaying stories with wit and candour. "I don't know the meaning of the word shame" he assures us while reminiscing of performing a sex scene in freezing cold conditions. Most interesting is his account of how he got into the acting profession in the first place. Radice speaks highly of Hess.
The 35-minute featurette with Hess is a hoot. He's at ease in his home while speaking enthusiastically about his recollections on set. He suggests that he saw a possible homosexual connection between his and Radice's characters, while remaining coy about whether the girl raped in the opening scenes -Mardeck - was his wife at the time of shooting.
He goes on to discuss the discomfort of hurting people on camera, before dispelling the urban myth about a deleted scene in which he's supposed to have yanked a tampon out of Cindy's knickers. Hess is animated while remembering his co-stars and describes the film as being "about external beauty and internal ugliness".
Shot at various spots around his house and garden (including the conspicuous placing of the "Architects of Peace" book during the first few minutes), this is a wonderful way of remembering a guy who was no doubt larger than life.
The above interview was originally 39 minutes long on DVD. That's because it incorporated a 4-minute interview with Mardeck confirming her position as Hess's wife. It's included here as its own entity.
We also get the film's original theatrical trailer, boasting the illiterate title HOUSE ON THE PARK OF THE EDGE. As with the aforementioned featurettes, this is presented in standard definition. The running time on this one is 2 minutes and 41 seconds.
Finally, there's a 52-second gallery of 10 stills (cover art and the like).
HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK looks great on Code Red's region-free blu-ray. It's nice to finally have it in HD with its English soundtrack - specifically Hess's voice - intact. Along with 70 minutes worth of illuminating bonus material. Well worth the upgrade.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Code Red|
|see main review|