It seems to have started with 1972's The Last House on the Left, the now-famed artists behind which saw great potential profit in modernizing The Virgin Spring all the while, ironically, making it more medieval in its exploitation sensibilities.
After the grindhouse successes of that notorious film, a series of imitators put varied spins on the basic plot of The Last House on the Left some of whom probably never saw (or even heard of) The Virgin Spring. The list of revenge flicks that fit this mold is a long one (whether labeled as a Video Nasty or not). Some films were even re-named things like New House on the Left, Last House on Dead End Street and even The Last House on the Left, Part II to cash in on that film's notoriety. Other films directly re-used that film's marketing slogans in varied ways.
Among the best known and more infamous of the Left-Thieves was a 1980 flick (filmed in 1978 by the director of Cannibal Holocaust) known as The House on the Edge of the Park which even managed to feature David A. Hess, the star of The Last House on the Left in a veritable redux of his prior part. Yes, yes, The House on the Edge of the Park! I'm guessing that would be the left hand side of the park, but that's not explicitly spelled out.
Just about everything else in The House on the Edge of the Park (originally titled La Casa sperduta nel parco) is explicit from the opening credit sequence (which features a violent rape and strangulation) to the final scene before the end titles roll.
It all begins when an out-of-shape, warped-minded mechanic named Alex proves his delusions of grandeur by dressing up in one of the worst leisure suits I've ever seen (complete with yellow coat, black shirt, open at the collar and medallions over his hairy chest) and preparing for a night out "Boogying"! Just as he's made sure his white-dude Afro is just right (Mr. Kotter's got nothing on the Hessian) he's interrupted by a couple of partiers with car trouble. While he's not drunk enough to find Christian Borromeo's Tom pretty yet, Annie Belle's Lisa is interesting to say the least... and lucky for all three of them Alex has his own Kid Sidekick in the form of Giovanni Lombardo Radice's Ricky.
Ricky may be a dim bulb (sort of like an Evil Forrest Gump), but he knows how to fix a loose alternator cable, so the preppy duo invite Stayin' Alive Alex and Sickening Ricky to their little get-together.
Things seem to go okay at first, considering that the only other competition for the ladies besides Tommy-Boy is Gabriele Di Giulio's Howard. Even better, the females outnumber the males at this party, so even Ricky's got a shot. Aside from sweet Lisa, there's sexy Glenda (Marie Claude Joseph, with her head shaven) and super-hot Gloria (Lorraine De Selle). Pretty soon, cute little Cindy (Brigitte Petronio) shows up for the party. Who knows? Maybe we'll even get to find out a little more about our discotheque-going Susan (Karoline Mardeck) before the party's over.
Unfortunately, it isn't long before it stops feeling like much of a Party for the Party-goers, though Alex and Ricky are still having fun. Right about the time that Alex starts worrying that Ricky is being bilked in a card game (and worrying that he, himself, might not get laid at this party), asses starts getting kicked and people start getting slashed up by Alex's razor.
Yeah, some party. Director Ruggero Deodato and writers Gianfranco Clerici and Vincenzo Mannino keep the whole thing going at a very uncomfortable pace, pushing the limits of bad tasted with sexual assault, brutality a few moments of Lesbian Kissing. There are moments that seem to have the intent of artistic exploration of such subjects as where the line between good and evil is drawn, how far is too far and the nature and limits of Stockholm Syndrome are. Sadly, this isn't handled in the most skillful way and what we're left with is something more akin to soft-core-porn with horrific elements therein.
To an extent, this is a great thing, as the women are very beautiful and very naked... but each of these elements is potentially or explicitly ruined with the near-constant sadistic violence and humiliation. Really, removing the sick-headed sub-plot of Alex's Malice, this might have been a a really hot piece of erotica. But then again, Hess could make Horror out of an episode of Sesame Street (especially during his - ugh - nude scenes).
Trust me when I say that this is some seriously disturbing and misogynistic crap with enough no-nos from the BBFC's Obscenity File to re-qualify this one as a Video Nasty several more times over. Not only is there sexualized violence or hyper-sexual situations that quickly flip to violence, but there is also quite a bit of eroticized rape (or almost-there sexual assault), not to mention human excretory functions. It's got everything but the animal cruelty... but hey, Ruggero Deodato's last film (also a Video Nasty) was Cannibal Holocaust, after which he probably needed a break from being a dick to the creature kingdom.
The House on the Edge of the Park was shocking enough to be denied a certificate by the British Board of Film Censors (as the BBFC was known then), preventing its UK theatre run. However, due to the pre-VRA loophole for Video Tapes, this one was easily released uncut onto Video Store shelves. All of those taboo things combined in one tape. No wonder it was banned. No wonder when it was finally allowed for release in Great Britain it had to have almost 12 minutes cut from its run time. Twelve minutes out of ninety-one! Hell, The Last House on the Left only required thirty-one seconds cut for release... and that was considered a lot. The House on the Edge of the Park: 11 minutes and 43 seconds. 703 seconds, man, that's over twenty-two times as many! That's a lot of nasty!
All of these elements combined wouldn't actually make this a crap film. But all of these elements combined, coupled with the fact that it's a virtual remake of The Last House on the Left most certainly qualifies this one as crap in a clam-shell. Seriously, folks, you can easily cite the differences between the two films, even glorifying in the inversion of the bullets-and-pond sequence from the earlier film, but taken note for note, especially with Hess' performance, there is less difference between this film and The Last House on the Left than there is between Black Christmas and its remake, Dawn of the Dead and its remake and Halloween and its remake.
Hell, they might as well have called this one The Last Disco on the Left for all its late 1970s club and sleaze references and the all-too-common boogie dance beat. The only thing less comfortable than that is the incessant lullaby song that keeps repeating. Clearly it's intended to be creepy, especially when evil Alex sings it to frightened Cindy, but this song "Sweetly" (by score composer Riz Ortolani, performed by Diana Corsini) is really more annoying in its unending repetition. And, sadly, that sums up The House on the Edge of the Park. It's just too repetitive. In spite of the sexy goings on and major tension, along with the shocking-for-the-sake-of-shocking moments, it's hard not to come to the final act and realize that very little has actually transpired. Many will have more questions, many will be irritated... and just as many will love this movie both in spite of its B-Movie nature and because of it.
Two Stars out of Five for The House on the Edge of the Park, the been-there-done-that revenge thriller that manages to be entertaining, if nauseating. If you're going to see any rip off of The Last House on the Left, see this one. In many ways it exceeds its predecessor. Then again, if you really want to see a high-quality feature... check out The Virgin Spring. See you in the next reel.
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