Tuesday, 29 July 2008

House on the Edge of the Park (1980)

Ceramic dog figurines.
Inexplicably popular amongst the New York elite.

With the remake of 1972's The Last House on the Left on the horizon I thought it would be a good idea to go back and revisit that film. Then I realised I'd already reviewed it, so I settled for the House on the Edge of the Park, a film that arrived eight years after The Last House on the Left graced the drive-ins of the USA, and tried to prove that anything that the Americans can do, the Italians can do sleazier and with more boobs. Helming this effort is Ruggero Deodato, purveyor of fine cannibal-based entertainments, teaming up with actor David Hess, who is essentially reprising his memorable role as a sadistic rapist psycho.

The film begins with Alex (David Hess) cruising down the highway while making faces at a fellow motorist, and just in case the casting of Hess wasn't enough of a clue, he cuts her off and then rapes/murders her in her back seat. At first I thought there was something wrong with my dvd player because during the act the film will occasionally cut to a black screen for a second or two. Afterwards he steals her necklace and wears it as a memento. So, it's pretty clear that he's not a nice guy. An indeterminate amount of time later he's getting ready to boogie with his pal Ricky (he says this about fifty times, so you know he loves to boogie and also possibly the night life). Ricky is played by Giovanni Lombardi Radice, who was last seen with an enormous drill bit through his head in City of the Living Dead. Like his character from that film, he's a few shingles short of a roof, so it's abudantly clear that he's our retarded sidekick who will be manipulated into doing horrible things.

Meanwhile, a pretty girl named Lisa (Annie Belle) and her even prettier boyfriend Tom (Christian Borromeo from Tenebre) are driving along making small talk about the party they are headed to. It's at an isolated house that is presumably on the edge of a park, but like The Last House on the Left it's location doesn't figure into the plot at all. They pull into a parking garage and announce that they have car trouble. Wait, what car trouble? Is it a parking garage or an auto repair shop? Oh well, no matter, because it turns out it's the very garage where Alex and Ricky are getting ready for their night on the town. He offers them forty bucks to fix his car (forty bucks?! My mechanic charges me a hundred just to open the hood) and pretty soon Alex and Ricky have invited themselves along to the party. Awk-ward! Before he leaves Alex grabs a straight razor from his locker, so you know he's got more planned that just boogyin'.

Soon after they arrive it's clear that every one of the five guests are the kind of bored rich fucks you just want to punch in the face on sight. There's even a bald girl with two-tone lipstick who shouts out "Hot diggity!" when they arrive. They all goad Ricky into dancing and performing a strip tease for them, and it becomes clear to Alex that they're just there for these snobs' entertainment. Alex follows Lisa into the kitchen and is seduced by the way she drinks straight from the bottle ("Looks like you're givin' it head!"). She starts flirting with him, only to reject him when things get heavy and she heads upstairs for a shower. Pretty weird behaviour at a party, I know, but David Hess has just been licking her thighs so it's understandable. Upstairs she invites him in to scrub her back then cockblocks him again. What a tease!

Frustrated, Alex heads downstairs to find the rest of them scamming Ricky at a poker game. Scamming a retarded guy, that's pretty low, so Alex starts a fistfight that leaves one of the guys (a caveman looking guy named Howard) bloodied and bruised. He even calls the bald girl a twat. Alex drags Howard outside and tosses him into the pool and pisses on his head while giving a hearty maniacal laugh. He's having a great time. After tying him up he sets about terrorizing the rest of the guests with his razor blade. Tom has no balls, so he does fuck all except sit there and glare for most of the movie. At one point Alex teaches him a lesson by bashing his face against a table so many times I lost count. I assumed he was dead but he only suffers a few cuts and bruises. He doesn't even lose consciousness. He may have no balls, but at least he's resilient.

In every film like this there's got to be a scene where the leader tries to force the retarded sidekick into raping one of the victims in front of everyone. It's a law or something. This film is no exception and naturally Ricky can't go through with it. She tries to escape later and when Ricky chases her down in the greenhouse and she fucks him right there in the geraniums. Maybe it was sudden case of Stockholm Syndrom or maybe she was seduced by his gentlemanly act of not-raping-her. Alex, however, is not a gentleman, and rapes Lisa in an upstairs bedroom. During the act some cheesy soft-porn music kicks and she gets a look on her face like she's totally into it. I don't know if this is supposed to be interpreted as just payback for giving him blue balls, but either way... not classy.

Eventually a tardy guest named Cindy shows up, and when Alex terrorises her, strips her and starts cutting her up with his razor, it's the last straw for Ricky. When he tries to intervene Alex slashes him across the chest. The wound doesn't look fatal, but this doesn't stop Alex from launching into a tearful death scene, cradling Ricky in his arms and sobbing. It's somewhat less than heart-wrenching, but Tom finally mans up and uses the opportunity to grab a pistol from the desk drawer. He shoots Alex in the leg and shoulder, sending him stumbling backwards through the glass door and into the yard, and it's here that Tom reveals the film's big twist, which I'll come back to later. Tom punctuates his speech by blasting Alex right in the balls. This illicits the most cartoony, slow-motion scream I've ever seen. He opens his mouth so wide I could count his fillings (lay off the sweets, Hess). He falls backwards into the pool and several of the guests take turns shooting him. The battered Howard lifts him out of the pool and holds him so close I though he was going to start making out with him, but he just tosses him back in the pool and shoots him. He doesn't piss on his head though, he's not going to stoop to his level.

Now, I guess we are supposed to symphathise with Alex at this point, realising that the victims are a bunch of cold-blooded murderers and really no better than Alex and Ricky. But really, Alex has raped or attempted to rape several women by this point, beaten two of them to a bloody pulp and psychologically tortured them for hours on end, so it's hard not to feel like justice has been served. They were rich assholes, but they didn't deserve that. The only time the party guests get close to crossing the line is when Howard goes to shoot Ricky (yeah, he's still alive) but is convinced to let him live. Plus it's hard to buy Tom as a stone cold killer when he looks like an even girlier version of Cillian Murphy.

Okay the big twist? All aboard the non-stop express to Spoilertown! It turns out that the woman Alex raped and killed at the beginning of the film was Tom's sister and the party was all a set-up so they could goad him into action and then shoot him in "self defence". I don't think I really need to explain why this is dumbest plan in the history of planning. Their decision to let Ricky live will probably have some repurcussions, but Tom seems pretty satisfied with the outcome. In the understatement of the year, he notes that it was more difficult to get at the gun than he thought it would be. Next time maybe you should carry the gun on your person, champ. Just a helpful suggestion. I don't know how they figured out Alex was the rapist, either. I thought maybe he noticed his sister's necklace around his neck, but that couldn't be true because he says that the engine trouble was part of his plan. Oh well, the world is full of mysteries.

With Deodato as a director it probably goes without saying, but the execution is extremely tacky and exploitative. Almost every women in the film strips down bare-ass naked (yay!), usually in the context of a sexual assault or rape (boo!). He isn't subtle about it either, some of the shots of nipples were so close up you could count the bumps on the areoli. There's only one death, but the beatings are very brutal and bloody. Acting is not so great, but with David Hess his ocasionally hammy acting works in the movie's favour. When he's putting on his nice-guy act at the beginning of film it's so obviously false it makes him seem pretty creepy. I'm sure this guy is nice enough in real life, but between this film and The Last House on the Left, I don't know if I'd invite him around to babysit my children. I'm not sure I'd trust him to water my plants. He'd probably rape them.

Obviously the film tries to set-up a bit of class warfare, the rich snobs versus the working class Alex and Ricky. Like an 80s college movie, only with rape and brutal beatings instead of a yacht race or zany fundraiser. The problem is that the punishment Alex dishes out is so extreme compared to the crime (of being assholes) that it's hard to care about him when he finally gets his comeuppance. There was the same problem in The Last House on the Left, but it's even worse here and there isn't even the comical sight of a middle-aged man running around menacing people with a chainsaw to make up for it. At least this film doesn't have an awful comedy subplot about a bumbling sherriff, so score one for Deodato. This is not a bad entry in Deodato's catalogue, especially since he managed to punch out Cannibal Holocaust in the same year. It was a complete flop artistically, but I can't say I didn't enjoy it. If you enjoy watching tasteless filth and depravity, you might enjoy it too.

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