International Horror Film: House On The Edge of the Park (dir by Ruggero Deodato)

Or is it House Of The Park On Edge?

When this Italian thriller was first released in the United States in 1980, the film’s title was mistranslated by whoever put together the film’s American trailer.  In Italy, it was known as La casa sperduta nel parco.  When it was released in the United States, it was meant to be known as The House On The Edge of the Park but the trailer famously referred to it as being….

That the trailer was sent out with the title incorrectly translated tells you a lot about the American grindhouse film scene.  If a similar mistake had been made a with a big studio production, someone would have lost their job and a lot of money would be spent to put together a new trailer.  In the world of the grindhouse, it was probably understood that people would come to the film regardless of whether they even knew what the title was.  According to the book Sleazoid Express, House on The Edge of the Park was very popular in the grindhouse theaters of New York’s 42nd Street, where audiences loved the violence, the nudity, and the misogynistic dialogue.

Today, House on the Edge of the Park is remembered for being the film that brought together Ruggero Deodato, David Hess, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Christian Borromeo, Annie Belle, and Lorraine De Selle.  (The Anchor Bay DVD release featured interviews with Deodato, Hess, and Radice.  Radice and Deodato seemed a bit surprised and, at times, horrified that the film still had fans.  Hess seemed considerably less shocked.)  House on the Edge of the Park was the film that Deodato made after the subversive and satirical Cannibal Holocaust.  Though House on the Edge of the Park retains a subversive edge, it’s a much more straight forward movie than Cannibal Holocaust.  No one has ever mistaken House on the Edge of the Park for a documentary.

David Hess, who may have written songs for Elvis and Pat Boone but who is destined to always be remembered for his performance as Krug in Last House On The Left, plays Alex.  Alex owns a New York City garage.  Alex owns a canary yellow suit.  Alex likes to dance.  Alex is also a serial killer who, when we first see him, is forcing a woman (played by Hess’s wife, who is credited as Karoline Mardek), off the road so that he can assault and murder her.  As the film begins, Alex and his sidekick, Ricky (Giovanni Lombardo Radice, appearing in one of his first films and stealing the show with his demented energy) are getting ready to go “boogie.”  Two rich kids, Tom (Christian Borromeo, my blonde Italian horror crush) and Lisa (Annie Belle), pull into the garage.  Ricky fixes their car.  Tom and Lisa, whose white dress is to die for, are insistent that Alex accompany them to a party at a house …. a house on the edge of the park!

Already at the house are Gloria (Lorraine De Selle), whose red dress is to die for, and Howard (Gabriele Di Giulio), who is apparently Gloria’s boyfriend.  Also waiting at the house is Glenda (Maria Claude Joseph), who appears to just be hanging out because she has nothing better to do.  (There’s a lot of talk about boredom and ennui, amongst the rich young people of House on the Edge of the Park.)  When Tom and Lisa show up with Alex and Ricky, a very familiar class dynamic plays out.  Alex and Ricky are very blue collar.  Alex is earthy and says whatever pops into his head.  Ricky is dependent on Alex to tell him what to do and is also too slow to realize that the rich people are talking down to him.  Ricky is taunted into dancing and then into playing poker.  Ricky loses his money.  Alex discovers that the game is fixed.  Violence follows, with Alex holding the house hostage with the help of the increasingly conflicted Ricky.

Of course, it turns out that there’s a twist and that it wasn’t just coincidence that led to Tom and Lisa pulling into Alex’s garage.  Of course, the twist itself never really makes sense.  The entire film centers around Tom finding time to retrieve something from his office.  It takes him forever to do it because Alex keeps watching him and beating him up.  But there’s actually several moments in the film in which Alex is distracted and he even leaves Tom alone at one point.  You have to wonder just what exactly Tom was doing during all that time.

It’s a deeply misogynistic film, one that features an inexcusable scene in which Gloria and Ricky have consensual sex just a few minutes after Ricky tries to rape her.  (Even if you can see beyond the idea of the sophisticated Gloria falling for a rapist, who stops to have sex while there’s a madman threatening to murder all of your friends?)  Before the party turns violent, Lisa flirts with Alex and, at one point, even showers in front of him.  Her actions make even less sense once it is revealed that Tom and Lisa always knew who Alex was and what he was capable of.  Indeed, the film is sometimes so offensive that it feels almost like a parody of an offensive film.

And yet, there are things to appreciate about the film.  Deodato plays up the class warfare aspect of the story, with Tom and his friends initially condescending to Alex and Ricky, just to discover how little power they actually had once Alex got the upper hand.  Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Lorraine De Selle, Annie Belle, and Christian Borromeo all give good performances, even when their characters are required to do things that don’t make any sense.  David Hess is a force of malevolent nature as Alex.  The house is lovely and I especially liked the pool, though I would suggest changing out the water before taking a swim.  The location shots of late 70s New York are interesting to look at, especially if you’re a history nerd like me.  Riz Ortolani’s soundtrack will get stuck in your head.  I defy you to watch this film and not end up singing that “Do It To Me Once More” song.

In the end, House on the Edge of the Park is not a film that I can really recommend, unless you’re a fan or a student of Italian horror.  In that case, you have to watch the film, if just because of the familiar faces in the cast and the fact that it was directed by Deodato.  Still, if anyone ever told me that this was their favorite film, I would probably immediately start eyeing the exit.  Towards the end of the movie, Gloria says that there has been enough violence and I agreed with her.  That said, violence against Alex is totally acceptable.

The film itself is destined to live forever as an internet meme, as a GIF of David Hess screaming in slow motion has recently become quite popular on Twitter.  There’s just no escaping the House of the Park on the Edge!

One response to “International Horror Film: House On The Edge of the Park (dir by Ruggero Deodato)

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 10/17/22 — 10/23/22 | Through the Shattered Lens

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