Color, 1980, 91m. / Directed by Ruggero Deodato / Starring David Hess, Annie Belle / Shriek Show (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Vipco (UK R2 PAL), EC (Holland R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1)

An obvious European riff on Wes Craven's Last House on the Left, this graphic yet stagy shocker (known in Italy as La casa sperdula nel parco) ranks just behind director Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust as his most familiar and notorious work. American thesp David Hess (Last House's psychotic Krugg) takes center stage as a scenery-chewing brute hellbent 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 an interesting 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 a visiting "virgin" 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 trashy but insanely catchy songs, one of them a seemingly endless ABBA-styled disco anthem ("Much more"), while cinematogarpher 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.

House on the Edge of the Park has been most widely seen in the U.S. thanks to Vestron's fuzzy but uncut VHS release in the early '80s. 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 most visually lustrous edition is easily the American disc from Shriek Show, which 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, possibly the result of PAL conversion, but it's a very minor quibble with a presentation that far surpasses its predecessors. 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, mercifully), the usual violent highlights, and spastic 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 (who characterzies Hess as a good coworker but "too greedy" and revises his previously negative comments about the film) and the always entertaining and flamboyant Radice, 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 36-minute interview with Hess, who offers some extremely candid observations about the film. He painfully dodges a question about the opening (and fairly expicit) 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 eagle-eyed viewers may find this highly suspect), and offering sometimes contradictory views of this film's relationship with Last House on the Left. 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. So, invite some friends over, sit them down on the couch, and have a party they'll never forget...

Mondo Digital Reviews Mondo Digital Links Frequently Asked Questions