Color, 1980, 91 mins. 36 secs.
Directed by Ruggero Deodato
Starring David Hess, Annie Belle, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Christian Borromeo, Lorraine De Selle, Marie Claude Joseph, Brigitte Petronio
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Code Red (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Shriek Show (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Cinekult (Blu-ray & DVD) (Italy RB/R2 HD/PAL), Shameless (DVD) (UK R0 PAL), Vipco (UK R2 PAL), EC (Holland R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1)
This obvious European riff on Wes Craven's Last House on the Left, known in Italy as La casa sperduta nel parco, ranks just behind director Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust as his most familiar and notorious work. In a highly appropriate piece of casting, thespian incendiary device David Hess (Last House's psychotic Krug) takes center stage as a scenery-chewing brute hell bent on making life rough for a bunch of bland yuppies, and while Deodato's opinion of this magnum sickus has waffled over the years, the film itself remains a vital contribution to early '80s shock filmmaking.
Alex (Hess), a lowlife mechanic, is preparing to head out in his best disco duck suit for a night of boogie action with his mentally deficient pal, Ricky (Giovanni Lombardo Radice, a.k.a. John Morghen). However, a couple of rich folks stop by the garage at the last minute and ask for help with their car. After Alex and Ricky reluctantly help out, the boring couple asks them to tag along for a little party out in the suburbs. The party proves to be pretty bland, mostly consisting of poker games and bad dancing, though rich brat orchestrator Tom (Tenebrae's Christian Borromeo) doesn't seem to mind Alex and Ricky taking advantage of a few female guests. Pretty soon Alex is spinning out of control, raping and tormenting his hosts in a self-destructive orgy like an uncontrolled animal.
While Hess' relentless performance ultimately drives the film, European sleaze fanatics will be more interested in the supporting players. Radice, the oft-abused star of Cannibal Ferox and Lucio Fulci's The Gates of Hell, walks his usual thin line between endearing and hammy, while fellow Cannibal Ferox alumnus Lorraine De Selle appears as the glowering Gloria. Considering the film's horrific reputation, it's surprising that the actual body count including the rape/murder prologue only amounts to two. Most of the violence is psychological, though Hess does provide a grueling and appallingly gratuitous straight razor torture scene on visiting "virgin" Cindy (Petronio) just for kicks. This dubious scene aside, House is far less harrowing than Craven's model, not necessarily a bad thing. Composer Riz Ortolani's contribution consists primarily of two insanely catchy songs, one of them a bona fide disco classic, while cinematographer Sergio d'Offizi (Cannibal Holocaust, Don't Torture a Duckling) gives the sordid subject a suitably stylized, quasi-American visual gloss. Much of the attention directed towards this film focuses on the surprise ending, which rips open an alarming number of holes in the plot but does provide a memorable and strangely resonant final scene. Not a classic by any means, but they sure don't make 'em like this anymore.
The House on the Edge of the Park was most widely discovered in the U.S. by '80s horror fanatics thanks to Vestron's fuzzy but uncut VHS release. The first laserdisc and DVD editions came from Holland's EC Entertainment, and while the transfer was an improvement, it suffered from soft detail and blunt splicing of the Italian opening and closing titles into the print. The EC disc also contains a German audio track. Despite its extreme subject matter, House only encountered notable censorship difficulties in the U.K., where it was finally unleashed on the public via Vipco's watchable but trimmed transfer, neutered courtesy of the BBFC. (Not surprisingly, poor Cindy's ordeal wound up mostly on the editing room floor.) The first American digital release courtesy of Shriek Show's DVD sports a crisp anamorphic transfer, completely uncut, with much better audio than the crackly Dutch disc. Detail is much stronger than prior video transfers, and colors look nicely balanced and vivid. The only drawback is some occasional motion artifacting and ghosting, likely the result of PAL conversion. All of the DVD editions include the lively and very sleazy European trailer, which features most of the film's copious frontal nudity (except for Hess's), the usual violent highlights, and frenetic editing that would make Russ Meyer proud, as well as a humorous mangling of the film's English title. The Shriek Show disc also contains video interviews with Ruggero Deodato (8m40s) (who characterizes Hess as a good coworker but "too greedy" and revises his previously negative comments about the film) and the always entertaining and colorful Radice (16m31s), who offers amusing backstage stories involving his sex scene with pal Lorraine de Selle (Cannibal Ferox) and his rapport with his other actors. However, the real centerpiece is a 39m2s interview with Hess, who offers some extremely candid observations about the film. He painfully dodges a question about the opening (and fairly explicit) rape scene with his real-life wife (who also appears for three minutes solo at the end of the interview), but otherwise it's fair game as he alternately praises and bashes his fellow actors, professes to a no-faking sex scene with Annie Belle (though attentive viewers will find this highly doubtful), and offers sometimes contradictory views of this film's relationship with Last House on the Left. The DVD also features a gallery, a hidden trivia game, and bonus trailers for Eaten Alive, Zombi 3, Zombie 4: After Death, and Seven Blood-Stained Orchids. Casey Scott also contributes some affectionate liner notes, though the dismissal of the film's cinematography isn't entirely justified considering the effective, sometimes eerie results achieved by filming within such a confined, stylized space. A 2011 UK reissue from Shameless adds Hess and Deodato interviews and a piece about the film's censorship, but thanks to the continuing absurdity of the BBFC, the film itself is still cut.
The first Blu-ray release of the film came out in Italy in 2014 with a tremendously flawed transfer riddled with that perpetual local annoyance, rampant scanner noise, which results in a coarse and artificial image that looks like it's been layered with a distracting Photoshop filter. The English track is missing here, but oddly enough, it does have the Italian track with optional English subtitles. The subsequent U.S. Blu-ray from Code Red in 2016 tries to mitigate the damage as much as possible with a great deal of additional color correction and more balanced black levels, but there's only so much you can do with such a deeply compromised master. It's still watchable, and relatively speaking it's more detailed, but the room for improvement is massive. Like the Italian disc, it's also moderately windowed on all four sides for no good reason; in this case the presumably textless opening credits of the master have been augmented with new, digitally-created English credits that don't look convincing at all; fortunately the Italian closing titles remain intact. The DTS-HD English mono track sounds modest as well, with hiss and crackling throughout. Extras are essentially the same as the Media Blasters release, namely the three video interviews and the English trailer.
Anyone pining for a good HD presentation of this film finally had their prayers answered in 2021 with a three-disc set from Severin Films consisting of two Blu-rays and a CD, which features a desperately needed new 4K scan of the main feature from the camera negative. Everything about here improves significantly: natural film grain, solid color timing, no more scanner noise, original main titles... you name it, this is the one to get. It also features quite a bit more image info on the edges, which helps several shots that looked a little too cropped before. The usual English mono track is here (DTS-HD MA 2.0) with optional English SDH subtitles, with the Italian track thrown in as well if you feel like comparing. (No translated sub options for that one, but no big deal since this was shot in English anyway.) A new audio commentary with Cinema Arcana's Bruce Holecheck and Ultra Violent's Art Ettinger is tons of fun, which shouldn't be surprising if you heard their prior work on The Untold Story. Extensive in-person interactions with Deodato and Radice are a plus here as they run through the history of the film and its ties to other Deodato titles and genre works in general, with some hilarious observations along the way. (Don't miss the bits about Radice's dancing or Hess' final slo-mo sign-off at the end.)
In "The Man Who Loved Women" (31m40s), Deodato gives a new account of making the film including his memories of Hess (with a really poignant story about his passing), the real-life case that inspired the script, his wrapping up of Cannibal Holocaust in New York at the time (which, incredibly, he finds much tamer than this film), the two-week shooting process at night, his change of heart about the film later, and lots more. "Lights On" (12m3s) features cinematographer Sergio d'Offizi covering the scouting and lighting of the villa, the techniques used to achieve the striking and stark visual design with ambient light sources, his annoyed reaction to another interview about the film, and his harmonious relationship with Deodato. Of course, Radice has to turn up for a new interview-- and that's what you get in the great "Like a Prairie Dog" (37m8s), whose title refers to the main animal influence he used for Ricky's physical demeanor. He also talks about his initial forays into stage and screen acting, the two roles he snagged from Michele Soavi (including this one), his strong friendship with De Selle, and more. Extra points for his scene-stealing canine who pops up throughout. "External Beauty & Internal Ugliness" (22m53s) is a more professionally edited and linear recut of the preexisting Hess interview, while "House Sweet House" (26m13s) features omnipresent set designer Antonello Geleng chats about jumping into this film immediately on the heels of Cannibal Holocaust, his opinion of the film upon revisiting it now, his double duty doing costumes on this film, the budgetary constraints that led to some compromises, and the inspiration of the New York crime film The Incident. The trailer isn't carried over here (despite being excerpted in some of the extras), but you do get a 6m34s gallery of promotional art and stills (many pulled from Ettinger's collection, complete with some wild autographs and one hell of a kicker at the end). Be on the lookout for a little Easter egg, too.
The second Blu-ray is devoted to Deodato Holocaust (71m33s), a 2019 Brazilian documentary by Felipe M. Guerra that amounts to a feature-length interview consisting of multiple sessions with the man himself in a screening room and his home. Peppered with extensive archival footage, photos, and promotional material, it confirms that there is indeed a need for another Deodato interview as this one focuses on his entire life in filmmaking with a great deal of attention paid to the days before he became a director, honing his craft from maestros like Roberto Rossellini, Sergio Corbucci, and Mauro Bolognini. Obviously there's attention given to his major features ranging from Jungle Holocaust to Raiders of Atlantis and Cut and Run, but a lot of the fun here is seeing some of his early TV commercials and getting scoop on the sometimes overlooked outliers like Zenabel, The Concorde Affair, and Waves of Lust (the latter turned into a starring vehicle for his wife at the time, Silvia Dionisio). It's engrossing and enjoyable throughout, though the filmmakers severely overuse a loud, fake memory card glitch transition throughout that wears out its welcome very, very quickly. Also included are a trailer and several deleted bits from the Deodato interviews (29s, 35s, 3m11s, 3m8s, 1m21s, 1m25s, 1m26s, 2m18s, 1m5s, 1m1s, 2m1s, 24s), with highlights including the near casting of Charlize Theron in his TV African series and a funny montage of cell phone interruptions. The initial pressing also comes with a bonus CD featuring the entire (but very short!) Riz Ortolani soundtrack, consisting of the same six tracks as the 2020 Beat Records release. As part of the title's Black Friday launch, it's also available in a lavish Bundle on the Edge of the Park.
Severin Films (Blu-ray)
Code Red (Blu-ray)
Media Blasters (DVD)
Updated review on November 25, 2021.