HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (1980)
Kicking off our very special week of Video Nasty features, Stuart Smith casts his analytical gaze over the sensationally sleazy Italian rape-revenge shocker HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK…
Also known as: La Casa Sperduta Nel Parco, Der Schlitzer, The Ripper on the Edge
“In our societies we don’t believe in constraining the media, still less in censorship.”
Believe it or not, these are the words of one Margaret Thatcher PM shortly before one of the biggest and most insane media frenzies in British history. These words would of course prove both bitterly ironic and completely worthless as politicians from all parties and a tabloid media practically foaming at the mouth went on a crusade that changed the way movies in the UK would be consumed forever, leading to the introduction of the Video Recordings Act 1984 and the Video Packaging Review Committee.
As video made its way into homes across the country, enterprising independent distributors such as VIPCO and GO Video were quick to fill the then unregulated market with lurid sex and horror epics that otherwise had fallen foul of the censor. Marketing the films using ridiculously over the top and gore-drenched cover art, it wasn’t long before they began to draw the wrong kind of attention; a mixture of fear towards this new technology and questionable political grandstanding, with the overt hypocrisies of the ‘free press’ coming to the fore. Films like The Driller Killer (1979), Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) and I Spit On Your Grave (1978) were suddenly all scapegoats for every social and political ill that Britain, at the time, was then experiencing: a handy distraction for a government up to no good!
It was a difficult and crazy period, with certain unfortunate distributors landing themselves in jail for stocking certain tapes and for supposedly depraving the minds of the general public. It all sounds ridiculous in hindsight, but in the early eighties the confusion and the constant evolution of the political landscape meant that it was a very real possibility that the police were going to raid your local video store.
After a few years of headlines and assorted prosecutions, a final banned list of thirty-nine titles emerged (whittled down from seventy-two targetable ones). All successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, they became something of a shopping list for a whole generation of horror fans. Hunting them down on often bootlegged video cassettes, it was rebellious, dirty and wrong… But it had to be done if you wanted to be in the club. Some of these Nasties have become acknowledged classics (Last House on the Left, Zombie Flesh Eaters); others have rightly almost vanished into obscurity (Mardi Gras Massacre (1978), Night of the Bloody Apes (1969), and several pushed the boundaries of taste and common sense (The Beast In Heat (1977), SS Experiment Camp (1976); each one though is a curious monstrosity that every British horror fan should still seek out.
One such film is Ruggero Deodato’s La Casa Sperduta Nel Parco, or House on the Edge of the Park as it’s better known. Made in three weeks straight after the directors much more famous Nasty Cannibal Holocaust (1980), it was quickly eclipsed by its bigger, more popular cousin. Whilst Cannibal Holocaust was a sprawling horror epic about the evils of the media, House on the Edge of the Park is a taut, claustrophobic affair that deals with the class system and boasts one very skewed moral compass.
Like Cannibal Holocaust, it’s an extremely confrontational movie but it is arguably much more representative of what it really means to be a ‘Nasty’. Featuring a roll call of Nasty-era talent like David A Hess (Last House On the Left), Giovanni Lombardo Radice (aka the most mutilated man in cinema history) and Cannibal Ferox’s (1981) Lorraine DeSelle, it was most obviously conceived as a straight up exploitation film; not surprising given that it was written by Gianfranco Clerici and Vincenzo Mannino of New York Ripper (1982) fame. It was ripe for the fledgling UK video market when it first reared its ugly head in 1983, but – just as its clear inspiration Last House On the Left was – it was made by a director with more smarts than your average exploitation hack. A mixture of social commentary and cynically vicious incident, House on the Edge of the Park is very much a film of two halves but one that must be seen if the impact of these films in their pre-VRA days is to be understood.
Giving the viewer no time to settle in, we’re immediately hit with a Blitzkrieg opening: Alex (Hess), driving through New York, forces a young woman off the road. He then forces himself into her car where he proceeds to assault, rape and strangle her. It’s raw, brutal and unpleasant, and pushes upon the viewer its antagonists mind set. The film then changes gear for a while as Alex and his simple minded friend Ricky (Radice) are invited to a party by a rich young couple whose car they have helped fix. Once at the party sexual tensions and social politics begin to play out and it becomes more and more apparent that the hosts are mocking the two interlopers, seeing them as their lesser. The naïve Ricky in particular is exploited as he just tries to have fun. Alex however is wise to it: sharp and dangerous, he quickly turns the tables on the party goers and an escalating tide of rape, mutilation and violence soon follows.
The first half of House on the Edge of the Park is a brilliantly paced and extremely tense affair, one that could rightly exist alongside other key rape-and-revenge films like the aforementioned Last House on The Left and I Spit on Your Grave. However it differs in one key respect to those films and it is here where it stands apart, becoming something much meaner and crueler in tone: it tells its story almost entirely from the point of view of Alex. From the start we’re inside his head, seeing the world through his eyes. Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave both tell their stories from the point of view of the victims and, despite their obvious exploitation roots, use their atrocities to make some sort of moral point regarding the destructive nature of violence and revenge.
House on the Edge of the Park though wallows in the damaged mind of its antagonist and at times seems to take as much perverse pleasure in all the terror and violations as Alex himself does. Take the film’s opening scene: by starting with such an incredibly brutal opening and showing Alex’s true colours so soon, the film lays its cards unflinchingly out on the table, and leaves everyone watching in one very awkward and edgy position. Knowing who – and what – Alex is and what he is capable of so early in the film means that every scene after that is dripping with his potential for violence. We know it is going to come at some point, but we don’t know when. It’s incredibly tense.
Unfortunately, once Alex’s straight razor comes out and the violence starts, the film spirals out of control and it inevitably becomes the same kind of nasty trash that much of the first half manages to avoid.
It becomes difficult to defend it beyond the fact that it is very well made, its mixture of illogical seductions and sex scenes leading to an utterly ridiculous and painfully patronising twist ending that feels like a desperate last minute add on: a trite justification for all the terrorisation and assault that has preceded it. It also becomes hard not to concede accusations of misogyny as the film hints the women in the film are all ‘asking for it’. This is particularly evident in the introduction of Cindy (Brigitte Petronio). Coming late to the film, she exists solely to be abused and mutilated, offering nothing to the overall action, and the suggestions that she is under age renders the film’s finale all the more obnoxious. Becoming a victim of its own intentions, there is no escaping that despite Deodato’s skill as a filmmaker it’s one deeply unpleasant movie.
House on the Edge of the Park’s part in the Nasties scandal was a little more clandestine than some of the more famous titles. A permanent member of the Director of Public Prosecutions’ obscene list, it was the film used by then BBFC patriarch James Ferman as an example of how difficult his job was becoming: he’d regularly screen the film at various debates to outline the extremity of material which was flooding the country. What is particularly interesting about this is how it exposes the arrogance and hypocrisy of a select few in thinking that they have the right to decide what is and isn’t safe for everyone else to view. Considering the film’s themes of social division and hierarchal contempt too it’s somewhat ironic that Ferman would use it, suggesting instead that he was more scared of the under-classes being able to choose and think for themselves than he was bothered about protecting them.
I can’t in good conscience recommend the film to anyone. It is at times complex, and it indeed hints at a better, more intelligent film under its surface, but it quickly becomes a ruthless and degrading experience that even the most hardened horror fan would struggle to justify. It is though what a good Video Nasty should be: confrontational, morally ambiguous, dirty – even just a little bit dangerous. When Alex remarks to his captives, “No one tells Alex what to do!”, he could easily be speaking for a generation of film fans such as myself that refused to let the law get in the way of our viewing habits.
Even thirty years on there’s something wonderfully anarchic about it all and House on the Edge of the Park’s anything-goes attitude is a fitting example. The scandal itself may seem relatively quaint today, with assorted extreme horror now readily available mostly uncut on the high street. But these were game changers and the fine line they walked helped shape the way in which all home entertainment in the UK was packaged, presented and consumed. Video Nasties kicked the door in, invaded your home and gleefully tortured and raped the moral fibres of a nation then-desperately repressed.
House at the BBFC:
The Film’s British Censorship History
⦁ 16th March 1981: Rejected outright for cinema release
⦁ 1983: Released UNCUT on video by Skyline in 1983. Subsequently prosecuted and banned
⦁ 1st July 2002: Resubmitted by Protected Ltd. for release by VIPCO. Classified 18 with a whopping 11 mins 43 secs of cuts: “Cuts required to several sequences of sexual violence, humiliating depictions of female nudity and gross violence, in accordance with BBFC policy and guidelines.”
⦁ 26th September 2011: Resubmitted again by Argent Films Ltd. for DVD release by Shameless. Classified 18 with 42 secs of cuts: “ Company required to make cuts to one sequence of sexualised violence in which a razor is traced over a woman’s naked body after which her body is cut with the razor. Cuts required in accordance with BBFC guidelines, policy and the Video Recordings Act 1984.”
Get it uncut: There are multiple uncut editions available from various non-UK sources. It is also readily available on youtube…
Follow Stuart on twitter @StuartSmith17