Mike Sutton looks at the Shameless DVD of Ruggero Deodato’s visceral thriller, now cut by 42 seconds rather than 12 minutes.
Ruggero Deodata began his career as a second-unit director for Roberto Rossellini and subsequently toiled away as second fiddle in the Italian film industry on films such as Castle of Blood and, on a considerably higher cinematic plain, Django. This thorough grounding made him an ideal choice to direct exploitation films like the unmissable Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutenkhamen, which may is one of the most hilariously bad films I’ve ever seen, and a couple of popular TV series. But his real fame among movie cultists is due to his involvement in the horror genre with two titles in particular standing out – Cannibal Holocaust and The House on the Edge of the Park. Come to think of it, Last Feelings is pretty horrifying as well but not really in the same sense as the other two. The jury is still out on the merits of Cannibal Holocaust and probably always will be, due largely to its inclusion of real animal killings. But The House on the Edge of the Park has gained in stature over the years and now looks for the most part like a tough rape/revenge thriller which has something to say amidst some extreme violence. It was originally rejected by the BBFC in 1981 and subsequently turned up on the DPP list of “nasties” but has now been released with a relatively small number of cuts.
Now this is a very odd film indeed and I still have much the same reaction as I did upon first seeing it a number of years ago. The plot involves Alex (Hess), a seemingly normal guy who we quickly learn is a psychopathic rapist and murderer. He and his naive friend Ricky are invited to a party by rich bitches Tom (Borromeo) and Lisa (Belle), not realising that they are intended to be objects of mockery. Once the house party starts, however, things go downhill very quickly from sexual teasing to violence and murder. The film itself is constructed as a series of very memorable and often quite shocking moments which are looking for something to adequately contain them. What they actually get is stringed together in a fairly careless fashion and they are then capped with an ending which might generously be described as ludicrous.
Having said this, it is a film which sticks in the mind and works on more than one simple level. It has one considerable strength; the superb performances of David Hess who makes Alex a far more complex character than one might expect, and Giovanni Lombardo Radice who is remarkably effective as Ricky, the utterly hopeless accomplice. Although the film tips over into presumably (?) unintentional black comedy more than once, the two actors keep you off balance because they mess about with your sympathies. We should simply hate both of them – Alex, as confirmed by the first scene, is a psychopathic rapist and his pal Ricky is a giggling fool. But this is where the complexity of the film impresses most. They seem to represent the working class in conflict with the privileged classes portrayed by the houseowners and their guests. Manipulated and mocked, they bite back with vicious force. The final victory of the oh-so complacent bourgeoise and the revelation of their nasty – and illogical – little scheme – for which they have been only too happy to sacrifice a young girl – is deeply troubling because the film seems to be saying isn’t this what always happens to the guys on the street when they make the mistake of getting involved with the guys in the penthouses? It’s not a particularly sophisticated point and it’s not always played out with complete conviction but it is, undoubtedly, there and worth consideration.
The direction by Ruggero Deodata is tense and efficient, particularly in an early scene where a game of cards becomes a face off between the classes. He also produces a brilliantly achieved miniature of Sadean cruelty in the sequence where Alex caresses Cindy’s body with a razor shortly before slashing her up. It’s horrible and disturbing, totally eclipsing the violence of the rest of the film which is more conventional and sometimes, as in the opening rape and murder sequence, cloddishly obvious and seemingly shot for an icky porno effect. He also works well with David Hess and Giovanni Lombardo Radice, both of whom give some of their best work, and with the alarmingly young looking Brigitte Petronio. Less successful are the performances of the rich victims which are, with the exception of Annie Belle’s sly, calculating Lisa, sometimes numbingly inadequate and occasionally laughably hammy. Particular discredit goes to Christian Borromeo as Tom since he never gives me the impression of believing in a single word of what he’s doing. His basic lack of conviction is particularly disastrous in the very final scene which calls for someone far more credible.
This release of House on the Edge of the Park is something of a triumph for Shameless Screen Entertainment even if its only cause for muted rejoicing for the rest of us. They submitted the film to the BBFC earlier this year and were informed that it could be passed ’18’ with 80 seconds of cuts. Although this was considerably better than the 11 minutes edited out of the film on its previous 2002 release, Shameless appealed and the length of the of cuts was reduced to 42 seconds. All of the removed material comes from the notorious razor blade scene. The edited result is worthy of respect but still, unfortunately, compromised and anyone who hasn’t seen the film should seriously consider obtaining the uncut Region 1 edition. However, there is still considerable merit to this disc and it contains material which will be of interest to admirers of the film.
The main feature is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is anamorphically enhanced. It’s not a bad transfer and has a good level of detail. The colours seem a little cold to me – this may be intentional – and there is a fair degree of edge-enhancement throughout. The 2 channel mono soundtrack is available in either English or Italian and is clear and crisp, doing sterling service to Riz Ortolani’s music score. There is also a welcome isolated music score which allows you to enjoy the songs in all their glory.
The extras are not particularly copious but they do undoubtedly enhance the viewing of the film and will be of special interest to fans. The interviews with Deodata and Hess are worth viewing, particularly in view of Hess’s untimely death some weeks ago. Always an intelligent commentator on his work, Hess has some very insightful things to say about the characterisation of Alex. He also supplies a brief introduction to the film and has a few unkind parting words for the BBFC. Also included are the original theatrical trailer and trailers for Four Flies On Grey Velvet, the magnificent Fulci giallo Don’t Torture a Duckling, and Cannibal Holocaust.
Most interesting of all, however, is a video record of a presentation made by Professor Martin Barker – longtime advocate of anti-censorship causes and nemesis of the Video Nasty witch-hunters – and responded to by BBFC Senior Examiner Craig Lapper, who seems to have become the Board’s main front man for such tasks these days. It’s largely about Barker’s BBFC-funded study “Audiences and Receptions of Sexual Violence in Contemporary Cinema”, a report which is well worth reading and can be found here. His discussion is too detailed to summarise here but he makes some fascinating points about the way audiences watch Deodata’s film, none of which are adequately addressed by Lapper in his response. David Hess and Giovanni Lombardo Radice also appear here but only briefly.
House on the Edge of the Park is an interesting, if ultimately unsuccessful, movie and deserves the attention of anyone who appreciates the more offbeat side of cinema. This Shameless DVD is, unfortunately, still cut but offers a decent transfer and some interesting extra features. It’s also worth saying that House is a film which is sufficiently worthwhile to survive the cutting and still remain more than watchable.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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