The House on the Edge of the Park (1980)

This article was written, edited, scheduled, and completed prior to the unfortunate passing of supporting star Giovanni Lombardo Radice.

Welcome back for another B-Movie Enema review. This week, I’m taking a look at 1980’s The House on the Edge of the Park.

This is one, and let me know if you’ve heard this line before, that I remember catching a part of on Bizarre TV. I don’t remember anything that I saw, but I remember this movie’s lead star, David Hess. Hess is quite the recognizable guy if you’ve seen Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left. Let’s face it, most of you reading this blog have seen that one. But Hess would basically go down in “infamy” as Krug, the leader of a group of nogoodniks who kill two innocent girls just looking to score some weed before going to a rock concert.

Beyond that, Hess also would become best known for playing scuzzy villains. In House on the Edge of the Park and Hitch-Hike, he plays guys who either murder people or take them hostage… or, well, both. Most of the other movies that he appeared in just had him play bit parts as in the case of his reunion with Wes Craven in Swamp Thing. But he actually had other talents as well. He directed the Christmas slasher To All a Goodnight. Despite being recognizable for being the leader of a horrific gang of rapists and murders in The Last House on the Left, Hess actually was quite the singer and songwriter.

Yeah… Say, you know that song by Elvis that’s called “All Shook Up”? Hess recorded it first. He’d later write a couple songs for Elvis. There’s a British pop song called “Living Doll” that Hess did a cover of. But maybe his most famous song he wrote that gets used often for movies and such is “Speedy Gonzales” which was made popular by Pat Boone. If you think that song is about the Loony Tunes character, it kind of is. Mel Blanc, the mouse’s voice, was even used in the song as performed by Pat Boone. Hess would also score the soundtrack for Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever.

Now, as recognizable and interesting as Hess is, the director of this film is even more interesting – Ruggero Deodato. Deodato will forever be remembered for, famously or infamously (depending on your point of view), for Cannibal Holocaust. I have so many feelings about that movie. Maybe surprisingly, my feelings are actually quite positive for a few reasons. First of all, it has perhaps one of the most beautiful pieces of music that serves as its theme song composed and performed by Riz Ortolani. The second thing I can say about the film is that I think it is actually exceptionally well made piece of mondo cinema. Does it have stuff in it that I cannot truly support? Yeah. We see people actually kill no less than six live animals on film. That’s awful, but the movie as a whole being this grizzly exercise of violence and hubris on the part of our characters makes it a movie that many horror fans should at least try to watch once in their lives. I’ve sat here many times over and over again trying to figure out how I could potentially feature the movie on this blog. It’s a divisive one for sure and it’s hard to say if I really want to dip my toe into that pool.

That said, Cannibal Holocaust had two major effects. First, it was the first found footage horror film. Without it, there’s no Blair Witch and there’s no activity of the paranormal types. The second effect is something that very nearly landed Deodato in a world of hurt. You see, the actors in the found footage bits were told to basically stay out of the public view. The plan was to make the actual “found footage” bits truly a document of the last days of these people’s lives as they journeyed into the jungle. When the film came out, being the first of its kind, it worked exceptionally well. So well, in fact, that Deodato was arrested for making a snuff film. Deodato was brought up on charges of murder and obscenity. Back then, I’m not sure which charge was worse… Hmmm. I’m only partly kidding there.

Anyway, to prove his innocence, Deodato brought the four actors out of hiding to have them appear on a televised interview. He also then proved the most striking image of the film, the woman impaled from ass to throat on a pole, was all smoke and mirrors as she was sitting on a bike seat atop a metal pole and a prosthetic was constructed to come through her throat. Despite successfully defending his innocence in the murder charges, the film was banned in several countries before 1984, thus, for decades, making this a hush hush underground movie that slowly gained a very small, but very loyal, following. Over the years, as our censorship laws laxed here in the States, it became more and more available for viewing. You can go to Shudder right now and watch it in its uncut glory.

However, sadly, I would argue the masterful promotion of the movie as being truly found footage of the death of these people proved to really do a lot of damage that couldn’t be undone for Deodato. It followed him through the rest of his life. Sure, he did recognizable movies after Cannibal Holocaust (I mean the main topic for today’s article is one of them), but it’s hard to say he ever really lived up to some of his filmmaking prowess he displayed prior to Cannibal Holocaust being made and released. Deodato died at the very tail end of last year.

I can’t say I’m surprised he wasn’t shown in the In Memoriam segment of the 95th Academy Awards last month.

Now, to tie the two leading names together, Hess and Deodato, The House on the Edge of the Park is actually a loose remake of Last House on the Left. However, upon first reading the script, Deodato felt the movie was too violent. Now, mind you, the guy who made Cannibal Holocaust felt THIS movie was too violent for his tastes. He states that he recognizes he made violent movies all his life, but he often injected a lot more “softness” to his violence. I guess if you say so, Ruggero. But what are we waitin’ for? Let’s get into this flick and see how Deodato handles that violence and the loose adaptation of a Wes Craven classic.

The movie launches right into David Hess, as Alex, driving through New York City. As he drives along, he sees a cute blonde with a short haircut. He begins honking at her and trying to get her attention, but she doesn’t really seem to pay him much mind. He ends up driving quickly past her and then cuts her off to force her to stop. He runs out of his car and gets into the passenger side of her car. Apparently they saw each other at the disco previously and he wants to know if she remembers him.

He claims he just wanted to say hello to her, but he also holds his hand over her mouth and tells her to shut up. She struggles but he over powers her and brutally rapes her in the backseat of her car. As he attacked her, he also strangled her. He then removed her locket to keep as a trophy. So far, this is seemingly pretty standard David Hess character work here.

I mentioned earlier that Riz Ortolani was the music guy for Cannibal Holocaust. He also does the music here. During this opening, the haunting “Sweetly” plays that he co-wrote. The song is performed by Diana Corsini and plays in contrast to the terrible crime shown.

But you know what’s not terrible? Giovanni Lombardo Radice, playing Ricky, getting ready for a night out at the discos with Alex. He is really feeling it with his snazzy outfit he’s got on tonight.

It’s one year after that opening scene. Alex and Ricky work at a garage. According to Ricky, the cops had been there previously looking for a stolen car that just happened to leave the garage before they even got there. Alex makes it sound like he was at a bar with a cop and talking to him about something that ultimately scared the cop that something awful was going to happen to his young daughters. Seems as though Alex is a real squirrelly fella.

A couple, Tom and Lisa, on their way to a party, come into the garage before Ricky and Alex leave. Tom says the car is acting funny. There’s a thought that it’s having electrical issues. Alex says that’s going to take a few hours to fix and he and Ricky are on their way out the door to go boogie. Tom tries to overpay Alex to do the work, but Alex really doesn’t want to delay his boogie, but Ricky wants to take a look anyway. As he does, Alex chats up Lisa, played by Annie Belle.

Belle got her start in film in the mid 70s. She retired after 1989 to work as a social worker with those who suffer from mental illness. She is from Paris and often did more erotic stuff. She was in an Emmanuelle film which really upped her profile in Italy and made her a go-to actress for Italian filmmakers. While those movies basically buttered her bread, Belle is not shy to say that she doesn’t hold a very high opinion of most of the movies she appeared in. In fact, she calls this one quite cruel, but also admits that she found it an interesting picture.

We’re going to circle back around to Belle and Hess here in a bit.

Ricky discovers the problem with the car being a loose alternator wire. He gets it fixed up quickly, but Alex says it’s too late to go to the disco. Instead, he wants to go to the party that Tom and Lisa are going to. Lisa’s fine by this as long as Alex asks her to dance. Also, apparently, Tom is fine with this wild, curly haired goof going to the party. What he’s not too sure about is Ricky, who he thinks is a freak and messed up in the head. Alex sticks up for him and says he’s fine. After all, he promised Ricky he’d take him out tonight.

They get to this house out in New Jersey where a trio of friends, Gloria, Howard, and Glenda, are a bit surprised by these two newcomers that tagged along with Tom and Lisa. Lucky for them, Giovanni Lombardo Radice is still on fucking fire in this movie and puts on some serious dance moves to win over the room.

Now, Alex gets upset with Ricky for dancing like an asshole in front of what he thinks are rich folks. Sure, Ricky begins stripping, but it’s not like Glenda and Howard and Tom aren’t encouraging him. Lisa pulls Alex away to calm him down. She calms him down by taking him to the couch where he can feel up her thighs and she can tease with her stockings and garter.

There is something kind of interesting here with Lisa and Tom. She’s clearly interested in Alex in some way. She has no issue with him touching her. She wanted him to dance with her at this party. She very clearly, right in front of Tom, takes Alex to a couch where he has access to her. Tom sees all this. How Lisa and Gloria talk about these two guys also comes across as them being almost playthings for them. Alex is also trying to protect themselves from these more socialite folks who seem to be toying with them, but he’s okay once he is able to put his hand up Lisa’s dress and press his thumb against her lady bits.

Alex might be somewhat correct about his concerns over these five rich people. They want Ricky to get drunk and then they want to take him for everything he has in a game of poker. If that’s something he should be really worried about, he let’s it go so he can try to score with Lisa. She’s not entirely against him sticking his face in her crotch, but decides to go take a shower. He follows and joins her.

There is something extremely erotic about Annie Belle. Her incredibly short hair is stark and it gives her this very defined look. Yet, her glances and the way she watches and communicates with people is extremely thick with this sensuality that makes it look like she is always in control of the situation no matter who she’s around. Now, I do realize that I’m saying this while in the midst of a scene in which she’s enticing a raping, monstrous David Hess character, but I am beginning to wonder if maybe Hess is being played here when he normally plays the room expertly.

Well, this ultimately turns out to swing back to Alex’s favor when Lisa rebuffs his advance to get in the shower with her. This frustrates Alex to no end, and it begins to lead to him doing what you get David Hess for in these types of movies.

Rejected, Alex goes back downstairs and soon discovers that Tom, Glenda, and Howard are cheating Ricky at poker. This kicks off a fight between Alex and Howard. Howard lands a few shots but Alex is too much for him. Tom then jumps in but is no match for him either. Howard grabs a bottle of vermouth and plans to smash Alex in the head with it, but that’s when Alex pulls a straight razor and holds it to Tom’s throat.

With Tom and Howard subdued, Alex has Ricky start back up the game so he can get all his money back and more. Ricky maniacally laughs and takes all their money on what he says is a royal straight that he doesn’t actually have. He thinks it’s time to blow this shithole, but Alex says the best is yet to come. He tells Ricky to pick his favorite girl to fuck. He’s going to take Gloria to one of the bedrooms, but Alex says he should just do it here in front of everyone and take her slow so everyone can watch. Alex is going to keep everyone in check.

When Howard jumps Alex, Alex is able to easily stop Howard and Tom from getting the razor. After roughing up Howard for a second time, he dumps the loser in the pool. There, Alex whips his dick out and pisses on Howard. He and Ricky strap Howard to the legs of a table. Now it’s time for the type of parties that Ricky likes.

I will give this movie some definite props. The movie is undeniably ugly and violent. Alex is an awful person. He manipulates Ricky who is either young and dumb or has some sort of mental deficiency. He just assumes that Lisa wants to fuck him without any provocation. However, you also cannot deny that Tom, Howard, Lisa, Glenda, and Gloria are treating them like assholes for no reason. Okay, so they showed up at this party. Yes, it was a set up by Tom and Lisa to bring a couple townies to this upper class affair, and, yes, they absolutely picked one of the worst people to bring here. However, they seemingly had bad intentions to humiliate whoever was brought here.

To this point in the movie.

It’s one of these movies in which you find yourself kind of reluctantly siding with the awful, violent criminal. Okay, sure, I don’t want these women to get raped, and I don’t want these rich assholes to get anything more than they deserve for trying to humiliate these two grease monkeys Lisa and Tom picked out from a garage. However, I’m okay with them getting what’s coming to them for being these types of uppity cunts.

Oh don’t look so surprised, David Hess. You’ve probably already said cunt several times in this movie.

At least to this point of the movie you find yourself reluctantly siding with Alex.

Ricky stops trying to rape Gloria because of she’s afraid. Alex tries to get him to keep going, but Ricky tells his friend to shut up… That really pisses off Alex. Alex slaps Ricky around and tells him that he’s his friend and he doesn’t need to scream at him. He then tells Ricky to get back at it with Gloria, but he just can’t.

Alex then decides to show Ricky how to rape a women and grabs Lisa by the hair to stand her up in front of him.

Okay, so I realize that just a few paragraphs ago I said that this is a movie that you almost side with the violent criminal, but this is not one of those moments. This whole getting Lisa to suck his cock against her will and ultimately fucking her is not one of those moments. This is when you say, “Yo, dude… You’ve done enough to get back at them for the humiliation.”

Alex is still playing games, though. Just as Lisa is about to go in and take him, Alex pushes her back. Glenda runs off to turn out the lights and try to get back control of the place. Alex goes off to look for her while Ricky holds the rest of the party at bay with a broken bottle. Glenda very nearly makes it out the front door, but Alex spots her and stops her. While Ricky absentmindedly watches that interaction, he doesn’t see that Gloria is slowly creeping toward the the phone to call for help. When Tom tries again to over power Alex, Alex grabs him and smashes his face against the poker table. Gloria tries calling the police, but Alex stops her and then follows a fleeing Lisa upstairs to prevent her from escaping.

Alex proceeds to rape Lisa. This… is an interesting sequence. In one way, it’s handled visually almost sensually instead of violently. It’s like a scene in which these two people who didn’t so much like each other, but had a ton of sexual tension, are finally getting their release. We see them kissing each other. We hear mildly romantic music from Ortolani. It’s shot like an actual love scene with Lisa even rolling on top of Alex, kissing him. It’s also interesting because, according to Hess, the pair actually were filmed having live, penetrative sex during this scene. I don’t really have any reason to disbelieve him, but I found nothing from Belle that corroborated the claim.

After returning downstairs, Alex then asks Lisa if she’s ever made it with a woman. He forces her to make love to Glenda. Suddenly, someone buzzes the front door. Gloria reveals that the young girl at the door is Cindy, the neighbor’s daughter. Alex has Gloria answer the door but wants her to keep quiet about what’s going on. Cindy comes in saying that her boyfriend didn’t want to come party with the rich folks.

Cindy gets one good look at Alex and thinks he’s a stud. When Ricky comes around the corner, and before the door could be shut and locked, Cindy sees the broken bottle in Ricky’s hand. Gloria takes off out the door and screaming for the police. Ricky chases after her and stops her from calling out to a man walking his dog. Ricky tells Gloria he doesn’t want to harm her and seems to build a little trust with her. Well, a lot of trust with her because she fucks him for being kind to her while more pretty Ortolani music plays.

Back inside, Alex cuts Cindy’s blouse open and tells her to strip off the rest of her clothes. This part is particularly gross. He laughs and teases her with the razor while forcing to put Cindy for the others inside on display while she cries. It’s long past having the upper class people get what they have coming to them for humiliating Ricky and attempting to do the same to Alex. This is now coming to a head.

Ricky and Gloria had sex. The tender kind too. Whether she did this to manipulate him or if it was simply something she did honestly because Ricky is nothing like Alex is unclear. However, she pleads with him to not go back inside. She wants to get help from the police and rid everyone of Alex. Just as Ricky tells her that he can’t rat on his friend and that he’ll talk to Alex to leave everyone alone, Alex comes to the door and overhears Ricky wavering a bit. Alex gives Gloria a slap for the trouble she almost caused. He then tells Ricky that he’s got prime virgin flesh here with Cindy.

We’re not out of the woods yet on the gross stuff.

Alex suggests that he and Ricky both do Cindy. Ricky says that he’s gotten his rocks off with Gloria and it was great. Even Gloria enjoyed it. He suggests that maybe they should just leave. They had their fun. It’s time to go. Alex declines the offer by grabbing and squeezing Ricky’s nuts. Alex throws Cindy down and cuts her on the arm, breasts, stomach, and legs. Ricky begs Alex to stop and even tries to remind him of a girl from last year. When he approaches to try to get Alex to stop, Alex stabs Ricky with the razor by accident.

It’s a sad day when the boogie ends for Giovanni Lombardo Radice.

Realizing what he’s done, a regretful Alex cries for hurting his friend. Well… He asks Ricky why he made him cut him with the razor. Eh… close enough I guess.

While Alex cries over his seriously injured friend, Tom sneaks off to locate a pistol. Alex lunges toward Cindy to start taking out his revenge for what he believes is this group of uppity pricks turning them against each other. However, Tom’s got the gun and stops Alex. He begins putting bullets into the rapist’s body.

Tom reveals that the girl at the beginning that Alex raped was his sister. This entire thing was a set up, but not what we originally thought. It wasn’t to humiliate a couple townies from NYC. It was to get revenge. Tom knew there would be violence and that he would happen to find a gun to shoot him in self defense. Tom shoots Alex one more time in the dick forcing him into the pool out back. Lisa takes the gun and shoots him again. Howard feigns assistance to help Alex out of the pool, but only pushes him back in to leave him to drown and shoot one more bullet into him. Gloria ultimately refuses to take a shot for herself.

As Tom starts to get his story straight for the cops, Howard goes inside with the plans to kill Ricky, but he’s saved by Gloria and Tom who convince him that Ricky was an innocent idiot and not the one who hurt any of them that night. Tom calls the police after telling Lisa that he couldn’t help but notice how much she enjoyed this whole cat and mouse game. The credits roll over the lifeless David Hess in the pool.

The House on the Edge of the Park is a movie that kind of runs you through the wringer. It’s a movie that is undeniably dirty and violent. However, it’s also undeniably well scored and shot. This is an exploitation film shot like a tense drama and knows how to linger on both the ugly and the gorgeous. Holy cow is Annie Belle every bit as sexy as David Hess is ugly and the camera knows how to shoot both of them. You feel a little uncomfortable at times wanting to continue to watch this, but you are rewarded by the fact that no one dies. There is only one actual death in this movie and it is front-loaded. There is violence. There’s rape. There’s terror. There are no other deaths at the hands of the bad guy. This is a movie that is showing a coordinated and well-plotted out revenge plan.

Oh, and that twist at the end? The ol’ switcheroo about who is really in control? It’s well done and a victorious moment. Ruggero Deodato knows exactly what he’s doing with every single frame of this movie. To add a beautiful score from Riz Ortolani, it’s inspired. Because, at the end of the day, this is a movie about beautiful revenge. Even if that revenge has to first take some ugly lumps and a lot of violence to get that pay off.

It’s time to pack things up for this week’s review. Next time, I’m doing something I’ve done before on in an episode of B-Movie Enema: The Series, but I’ve actually never done before in blog form… cover an animated movie. If you think about all the possible animated movies I could cover on this site, then you better believe the first one’s gotta be Fritz the Cat. So, see you around next week for some cat scratch fever and a slice of comic book history to boot!

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