Friday, October 28, 2011

House on the Edge of the Park (Ruggero Deodato, 1980)

Does a movie have to take place inside an actual discotheque for it to be considered "disco chic"? Excellent question, random voice in my head. Well, after giving it some unnecessarily belaboured thought, I have come to the conclusion that, no, it does not. Sure, it doesn't hurt, but it's not like it's a requirement or anything like that. It doesn't matter where your movie is set, as long as it promotes the three tenants of disco culture. Which are: Dancing, fashion, and sex. You could set it in a condemned amusement park, a nail salon facing multiple health code violations, or even a swanky house located out in the wilds of New Jersey, if disco is treated with respect, you should have no problem whatever oozing disco chic. Speaking of New Jersey, House on the Edge of the Park takes place in the unfairly maligned state, does it ooze disco chic? You wouldn't think so considering the fact that at no point is cocaine visibly ingested by any of the principal characters. But, as most disco connoisseurs will tell you, casual drug abuse was just one of the many aspects of the disco scene. Getting back to your question, I'd say, yes, this film, directed by Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust), exudes plenty of disco-friendly peculiarities. And it's a good thing it does, because if you take away the film's chicer elements, all you're left with is a tediously long exercise that does nothing but openly promote violence and degradation. Boasting three pairs of stockings under varying degrees of structural duress, the bourgeois nightmare scenario this film puts forth, which, in truth, is actually a veiled expose on the ugliness of a society that is growing more and more shallow with every passing day, is too far-fetched to ever reach a level that is close to being believable. However, as a coarse examination of human cruelty, and the extremes some people will go through to make others suffer, this film has plenty to say, and it occasionally does so with a razor-like precision.

While watching the film, which, for the most part, takes place inside the posh living room of a house located out in the suburbs, I felt like I was looking down upon the figurative doll house I had as a child. Creating a series of sick and twisted storylines–ones that were so elaborate, that they could have been the basis of at least five poorly reviewed theatrical productions–I would dress my dolls in the latest fashions, bound the troublemakers with curtain rod cord, smear the recently beaten with tomato paste, and, of course, use the light emanating from the kitchen's open refrigerator to emphasize the mouth-watering tightness of a pair of white stockings (yeah, my doll house had electricity, and, it would seem, a working refrigerator). Now, some might say, I was an eccentric child. But others, the segment of the population who are not totally lame, might say that I was the epitome of off-kilter cool.

Weren't you shocked to see some of your doll storylines recreated in House on the Edge of the Park? Yes and no. Yes, I was surprised to see how close the refrigerator scene was to my version (even the manner in which the female character sat on the kitchen counter was the same). And, no, I wasn't surprised to see a film where two groups of people clash with one another in an enclosed space, as it's the basic foundation of all drama.

You'll notice I said, "two groups." Well, that's actual not true. Sure, there are two sides, but two people don't exactly constitute a group. Granted, Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft, Eurythmics, and Psyche are considered groups, and they only have two people. But in this situation, calling them a group is pushing it. On the other hand, Alex (David Hess), the leader of the undermanned group, while on the surface looks like a single man, actually possesses the properties of at least six fully grown men. Semantics aside, you know Alex is a card carrying psychopath even before the opening credits have started to role when he rapes a woman in the backseat of her car.

Demonized right out of the gate, there's no dark charcoal grey area with Alex. He's vile, vulgar, and extremely dangerous. Yet, he can also be quite persuasive. Anyway, the question you need to be asking yourself is: Who would be friends with a person like this? A sycophantic half-wit. Yes. A blithering coward with low-esteem? Uh-uh. Itching to go disco dancing ("are we gonna boogie?"), Ricky (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) is hounding his pal Alex, who is getting dressed in the office of the parking garage that he either works at or owns. I'm gonna say latter, judging by the quality of his suit he's putting on. If we hadn't seen Alex brutally assault the woman in the opening scene, we'd look at him with bemused indifference; tittering ever so slightly as he put on his comically garish yellow and cream coloured vest.

The other question should be asking is: Who would invite a person like this to a "get together" in the suburbs? It's true, two upscale prats from Manhattan, Tom (Christian Borromeo), a real dandified slice of ineffectual Eurotrash if I ever saw one, and Lisa (Annie Belle), a short-haired hellcat in all white, have no idea the man standing before them in the yellow blazer is will turn out to be one of the most loathsome characters in film history. But like I said, he possesses a certain repulsive charm. In that, part of you finds him to be utterly disgusting, while the other half is busy eyeballing the unclear magnitude of his trouser bulge.

Hoping in the back of their car, Alex and Ricky are driven to a house, which may or may not be located on the edge of a park. Greeted at the door by the virile Howard (Gabriele Di Giulio), the black, bald, and beautiful Glenda (Marie Claude Joseph), and Gloria, who is played by the always gorgeous, always chic, Lorraine De Selle, Alex and Ricky quickly make themselves at home. After being egged on by the other guests, Gloria and Ricky start to dance to the ultra cool sounds of Riz Ortolani's "Do It To Me (Once More)." The sight of Lorraine getting down to this song is one of the film's defining moments. Swaying back and forth to the pulsating disco beat, the slit on the front of her red dress reveling the tautness of her equally red stockings with every hip-based oscillation, Gloria mesmerizes the dimwitted Ricky with an effortless aplomb.

Unamused by this tawdry display, Alex can be seen glowering in the corner (he thinks they're making fun of Ricky). In an attempt to placate his anger (she's the only one who notices that he's annoyed), Lisa takes Alex aside and sits with him on the couch. Since director Ruggero Deodato is an Italian man, the camera focuses on Lisa's white, stocking encased legs as they're being crossed. Hearing the sound of the rarefied hosiery attached to her legs grinding together as she crosses them (a talent most heterosexual men possess), Alex starts to molest her thighs. Allowing him to stroke her stockings proper and the fleshy no-man's land located between her stockings and garter belt for a few seconds, Lisa gets up and goes to the kitchen.

Following her, Alex continues to explore the aforementioned area. Using the light produced by the refrigerator to help him see what he's doing (Lisa is now reclining on the kitchen counter), Alex rubs his face over her upper thighs. And just like when they were on the couch, Lisa pulls her skirt back down to its pre-molestation position, gets up and walks away. You know Alex is going to follow her, and that's exactly what he does. Finding her in one of the upstairs bathrooms, Alex watches Lisa take a shower. Of course, this leads to them washing each others backs and some mild groping. But, as usual, it doesn't really go any further than that.

Meanwhile, back downstairs, Ricky is getting cleaned out by Howard, Tom, and Glenda at the poker table. Are they cheating the excitable dullard? I don't know, but, I have to admit, Tom's flush was a little on the sketchy side. Either way, a dried off Alex seems to think they are, and, after punching out Howard and holding his trusty straight razor to Tom's dainty throat, tells them that from now on they're playing by his rules ("now we're gonna have some fun with these cunts").

Winning all his money back with an unseen "royal straight," Alex tells the victorious Ricky that he can have first dibs on any of the three women in the room. Now, normally, I would say that his choice was an easy one, as Lorraine De Selle, her brunette hair swooped to one side, is alluring as all get out. But Lisa and Glenda are no slouches when it comes to inducing corduroy-based discomfort (your cock has nowhere to go when its sheathed in corduroy). Nonetheless, Ricky chooses Gloria. As he's about to grab her and take her upstairs, Alex demands that he, "fuck her here!" Not one to disobey his master, Ricky proceeds to fondle Gloria on the couch. Tearing off her red panties in a fit of red pantie removing rage (what a waste of a perfectly good pair of red panties), Ricky is just about to take his assault one step further, when, all of a sudden, Howard jumps to his feet, pulls Ricky off Gloria, and starts fighting with Alex.

With Howard subdued (they tie him to a table with some curtain cord), Alex and Ricky are to free harass the others at will. Only problem is, Ricky can't seem to rape Gloria. Taking a break from smashing figurines, Alex tries help out his pal out by rubbing his face against the upper part of Gloria's thighs–you know, show him the groping ropes. This doesn't work, as it would seem that Ricky just doesn't have what it takes to be a professional rapist. Like a father who wants his son to be next Wayne Gretzky, but instead turns out to the next Quentin Crisp, Alex is extremely disappointed that Ricky can't get it together, rape-wise.

In terms of judging the work of the four ladies who appear in the House on the Edge of the Park, there are only two women who are actually worth talking about, as, unfortunately, Marie Claude Joseph, who plays Glenda, and Brigitte Petronio's Cindy, a character who shows up later in the film, are basically used as props. With the exception of her half-assed escape attempt and a lesbian make out scene, Marie Claude just stands there while looking fabulous. And Brigitte? Well, she's just there to be tortured. Oh, sure, it's an effective scene, but her misery is pretty much meaningless.

No, I'd say Annie Belle (Bacchanales Sexuelles), as the feisty Lisa, and Lorraine De Selle (Women's Prison Massacre), as the debonair Gloria, were the only non-raping characters of note in this film, as they're the only ones who interacted with the two assailants. While I've already mentioned the three instances where Lisa toys with Alex, she actually does it a total of six times (and from where I'm standing, that's a lot of toying). Which is quite impressive, if you think about it. I mean, it takes a humongous amount of pluck to stand up a man like Alex. Firmly standing her ground during every single one of their encounters, Annie Belle, despite her delicate frame, doesn't back down once from the towering presence that is David Hess. While it's true, her counterpart in red seems to prefer the cowering in fear technique over the one Lisa was putting out there (you could probably smell the pheromones emanating from her pluck-producing pores for miles), the method utilized by Lorraine De Selle's Gloria was no less effective when it came to mollifying rapists. Though, to be fair, she was dealing with a lesser rapist.

I'm not sure if this had anything to with Lorraine, but I liked the way her character's red stockings seemed to get more torn up as the evening progressed (no one will ever accuse me of underestimating the importance of stocking continuity).

Whether uttering his trademark phrase, "hello, lady," bashing foppish yuppies, calling Gloria "Miss Muffet," slathering his coarse face over the thighs of stylish women in stockings, or cutting up wide-eyed party crashers in pink panties with a straight razor, David Hess is ferociousness personified as Alex, a man without a single redeeming quality. Okay, his fixation with garter belts and stockings made a lot of sense (he instructs Lisa to keep her creamy stockings on before ravaging her). However, I don't think liking a specific article of women's clothing lets you off the hook for all the evil deeds you have committed. If anything, it would make me despise you even more. At any rate, the manner in which David Hess embraces the uncompromising cruelty of his character was a thing of sadistic beauty. Come for the disco chic, stay for the slow-motion "whoa, you just shot me in the crotch" grimace sequence, it's a doozy.

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  1. This was great! Do you mind if I link to this for my Italian Horror Blogathon that's going on right now at my blog?

  2. I posted a Ruggero Deodato/David Hess movie (Body Count) mere hours before you posted this. Kismet at its finest/worst.

    It's disco chic in the absence of a disco, like a movie about a caged tiger pining for a wilderness we never actually see. The tagline could've been "whatever you...don't leave the disco!"

  3. Definately and ugly movie. Still, has its intriging elements, even if they fall flat in the end. You should look at the review for this film on 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting. Keep up the good work.

  4. @Thomas Duke: The same company that made "The Tower" also produced a film called "Body Count." Anyway, yeah, it's kismet, all right. When I realized that I hadn't seen a David Hess film, I poked around a bit, came across the trailer for HOTEOTP, watched it, and was sold on it almost immediately.

    I like that, because the real tagline "...don't go into the park" doesn't make much sense -- you know, since there ain't no park.

    @Nine-Fingered Menace: Okay, I will. Oh, look, they have reviews for Fantom Kiler and Fantom Kiler 2!