Rape/Revenge Review – The House On The Edge Of The Park (1980)

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In terms of infamy, The House On the Edge Of the Park is one of the most notably infamous films of the 1980s. Created by Ruggero Deodato straight after his extremely horrific opus Cannibal Holocaust (which I will cover in due time), The House On The Edge Of The Park, which was released in the same year, was overshadowed by the controversy that surrounded Cannibal Holocaust. However, the film is most notable for becoming wound up in the turbulent ‘Video Nasty’ era of 1980s Britain, and was subsequently banned in Britain for over 20 years before being released with every single scene of rape and violence cut from the final product in 2002. Luckily though, subsequent releases were more lenient to the film’s infamously disturbing content, leading to the film being released uncut in the UK once again in 2011.

The House On The Edge Of The Park stars David Hess as the main antagonist Alex, where upon he is happily type-casted once again as a psychopathic, misogynistic rapist and career criminal; incredibly similar to the role he played in the legendary The Last House On The Left. However, this time it’s not just David Hess who carries the weight of the screen as he stars alongside one of my personal favourite Italian character actors: Giovanni Lombardo Radice, also known as John Morghen. John Morghen is an Italian actor who spent the majority of his career appearing in gory, violent Italian horror movies such as Stage Fright, City Of The Living Dead, Cannibal Apocalypse, and most notoriously, Cannibal Ferox. He is best known for playing disturbed, vulnerable and mentally strained characters, so his role in The House Of The Edge Of The Park definitely suits his strange, unconventionally awkward acting style well as he plays Alex’s mentally challenged friend Ricky, a vulnerable, misunderstood character who finds himself manipulated and ridiculed by those around him throughout the story.

The story of The House On The Edge Of The Park follows working class criminals Alex and Ricky as they are invited to a party by a group of young, upper-middle class people who at first ridicule and humiliate Ricky, so Alex decides to ruin the fun and have some messed up ‘fun’ of his own. First off, what’s interesting to note about the story of The House On the Edge Of The Park is that it contains themes based around the dichotomy of social classes, much like a number of other Italian films that came out around the same time such as Almost Human and Late Night Trains. However, what makes The House On The Edge Of The Park distinct within the genre is that it is a film that contains no likeable characters as they all exploit and humiliate other people to an uncomfortable degree, such as when the party guests exploit Ricky’s innocence – encouraging him to strip while he dances, and scam him whilst playing a simple game of poker. Alex’s retaliation in that situation provides a very good, continuous dynamic as the film becomes a power struggle between the tough working class and the ‘superior’ upper-middle class who find themselves hostage and belittled by Alex as he breaks valuable items, beats, and humiliates the guests both sexually and physically. However, because of Alex’s sickening nature, it’s impossible for a viewer to stand behind his actions, despite how it may feel like he’s doing it to stand up for his friend. Alex is a truly despicable character who holds the entire party hostage as he does whatever he wants to his heart’s desire, leading to intense and uncomfortable scenes of erotic sex, violence, and sexual violence to an incredibly exploitative degree. Each new scene brings another depravity until Alex thoroughly cements himself as one of the most disgusting, most devious characters in horror history.

In truth, the only really ‘good’ character is Ricky, but because of the influence of Alex and the guests, Ricky finds himself becoming an antagonist as well. However, this leads to moments where The House On The Edge Of The Park truly shines and stands out from other home invasion films. When Ricky actually shows a personality and begins to stand up for himself, that’s where the humanity begins to pull back into this cynically exploitative film. Ricky is truly the stand out character, and the one whom it is possible to relate and feel sorry for, despite the ‘human’ horrors that are happening around him. When Ricky shows himself as vulnerable or sympathetic, that’s when the film’s themes and ideas shine, and this characterisation is complimented by John Morghen’s awkward and deranged acting style which fits the character perfectly. David Hess, however, is completely in his element as the deranged Alex. His acting here is leaps and bounds beyond his performance in The Last House On The Left. His sleaziness reaches a completely uncomfortable level in this movie, yet his frightening charisma carries the film. He overshadows the actors who play the numerous party guests as he throws himself into the role, even going as far to grope and molest the other actors with a frightening enthusiasm. Sadly, the other actors merely blend into the background. They each have a defined characteristic and a few can express hard emotion throughout the film, but they are unfortunately overshadowed by David Hess and John Morghen, whose acting style put the rest to shame.

As for the film’s Rape/Revenge plotline, it’s buried underneath the home invasion plotline. The film sets up the rape in the first act by disguising it as an introduction to Alex’s horrific characteristics before the ‘party’ starts, but the movie comes full circle in the end with an arguably longwinded and ridiculous plan by the avengers to kill Alex and get away with it. The revenge is presented as a lacklustre ‘twist’ rather than the main plotline, and it left me wondering why this movie went on for so long if they could enact the revenge much earlier on, seeing as how the film plays out in a confined space with a limited number of actors. Indeed, it may have something to do with the fact that the avengers weren’t expecting Ricky or for Alex to hold them hostage for so long, but I’m left with feeling like there should have been more substance to this film than I was given if the film wanted to be a bona fide and respectable Rape/Revenge flick. Instead, The House On the Edge Of The Park is one that just comes off as exploitative and trashy.

For as much as The House On The Edge Of The Park is somewhat lesser known next to Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, the film actually has a lot of good elements that work in its favour: such as the intensity, the uncomfortable violence, the great performances by Hess and Morghen, and the film’s overall technical competency with The House On The Edge Of The Park having the generic Italian flair that gives the film a decent aesthetic. However, The House On The Edge Of The Park is far from being a ‘good’ film. Mainly because of the limitations of the plot, such as the entire story happening in one house. Throughout the film, there tends to be quite a few moments of silly, forced eroticism and sex scenes. These scenes in particular really feel like they serve no purpose aside from pure exploitative titillation, scenes of filler just to keep an audience invested in the sex & violence despite how it may go against how many of the characters would realistically behave when presented with those situations. Nonetheless, I still believe that The House On the Edge Of The Park is still fairly entertaining mainly through the villainous dynamic between Alex and the party guests. David Hess and John Morghen definitely carry this film to completion, and their performances definitely kept me hooked throughout all the pointless and intense scenes of sex and violence. I believe if they had been replaced with different actors, then The House On The Edge Of The Park wouldn’t be half as uncomfortably enjoyable as I actually find it. In conclusion, The House On The Edge Of The Park is a tentative recommendation. One has to understand its flaws and enjoy the particular performance styles of David Hess and John Morghen in order to enjoy the uncomfortable horror, without that, I can definitely see someone finding this movie boring or very overblown. However, I personally enjoy this movie, despite its flaws.

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