House on the Edge of the Park (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Feb 03, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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House on the Edge of the Park (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Ruggero Deodato

Release Date(s)

1980 (March 29, 2022)

Studio(s)

F.D. Cinematografica (Severin Films)
  • Film/Program Grade: C+
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B-
  • Extras Grade: A

House on the Edge of the Park (Blu-ray Disc)

Buy it Here!

Review

[Editor's Note: This title is currently available exclusively through the Severin Films website, but a wide release will be available on March 29th. This release also carries a video error, which Stephen details in his review.]

After weathering the storm of controversy that followed the release of Cannibal Holocaust in 1980, director Ruggero Deodato followed it up quickly with House on the Edge of the Park (aka La casa sperduta nel parco) that same year. While the film reduced the level of graphic gore compared to its predecessor, it increased the levels of sexualized violence on display, generating plenty of controversy of its own. Deodato wasn’t erroneously charged with murder this time, but House on the Edge of the Park ended up joining Cannibal Holocaust on the list of “video nasties” in Great Britain, though it crept uncut into video stores in the United States without creating too much of a fuss.

The script by Gianfranco Clerici and Vincenzo Mannino economizes by keeping the bulk of the story confined to a single setting. Alex (The Last House on the Left‘s David Hess) and Ricky (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) are two criminal lowlifes who manage to get themselves invited to an upper-class party at a secluded estate in New York. They toy with the partygoers, but when they get upset at the condescending treatment they receive, their games turn deadly serious. Yet they're not the only ones who are playing games, and there may more going on with their victims than meets the eye. House on the Edge of the Park also stars Annie Belle, Christian Borromeo, Marie Claude Joseph, Gabriele Di Giulio, Lorraine De Selle, and Brigitte Petronio.

House on the Edge of the Park skates an uncomfortable line by exploiting its abundant nudity and brutality, while also trying to justify it. Aside from the vague class warfare theme, the film adds a twist at the end that shifts it into a completely different subgenre. Whether or not that works is a fair question. While the animal killings in Cannibal Holocaust aren't defensible, the rest of the extreme brutality works within the context of the film’s themes to show how “civilized” man can be every bit as savage as the cannibals, and it critiques its own audience in the process. Since House on the Edge of the Park chooses to wait until the last few minutes to provide its own context, it might be too little, too late for some viewers. Everyone’s mileage might vary here, but be forewarned that this is an uncompromising film.

Cinematographer Sergio D'Offizi shot House on the Edge of the Park on 35 mm film using spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. Severin’s Blu-ray version features a new 4K restoration scanned from the original uncut camera negative, and while it has its strengths, it's a frustrating experience as reproduced on this disc. The black levels are elevated throughout the film, to the point where they appear gray, crushing detail in the process. It’s noticeable immediately during the opening of the film, where the cityscapes look flat with no detail. The cutaways to black look completely gray. This issue is really apparent in the scene where Alex beats up one of the guests outside by the pool. Hess is wearing black, with black hair, and in the shots framed against the night sky, his face seems to be floating in a muddy sea of featureless gray. (The clips used in the extras came from the older master for the film, providing a useful comparison of how black levels and detail should look.) The good news is that the fine detail is much improved over previous versions, and there's only light damage visible, mostly in the form of speckling. Colors look natural, and flesh tones seem accurate. In brightly lit interior scenes, the image is often very impressive, especially in close-ups, which show a nice amount of detail in the facial textures.

The black level issue appears to be the result of a mastering error with the color space. Switching the output of an Oppo UDP-205 to “RGB PC Level” (which sets the black level to 0) eliminates the elevated black levels, though it can’t restore the clipped data, so shadow detail is still crushed. (The “RGB Video Level” setting won’t solve the problem, since that doesn’t set the black level to 0.) Hopefully, Severin issues corrected discs, but in the meantime, changing the color space output is a partial workaround for those who have the option to do so. (See Additional Notes below for an update on this.)

Audio is offered in English and Italian 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English SDH subtitles. While most of the actors were Italian, the English language version is preferable since Hess supplied his own voice. Fortunately, the audio fares better than the video. It's still relatively undistinguished mono, but the dialogue is clear, even if the post-dubbing doesn't let it integrate smoothly into the soundstage. The score by Riz Ortolani sounds as good as it can, given the limited fidelity.

Severin’s Blu-ray release of House on the Edge of the Park is a 3-disc set that includes the film plus its extras on the first disc; the bonus documentary Deodato Holocaust plus its own extras on the second disc; and Ortolani’s soundtrack on the third. Everything is housed inside a single black amaray case with a reversible insert, one side based on the familiar artwork from the film’s American theatrical release, and the other using the artwork from the Italian release. There's also a slipcover, featuring new artwork, and a card tucked inside that gives the track listing for the soundtrack CD. (It's worth noting that the copy I received was stained with an oily substance on the inside of the case, and the discs were spattered as well. It all cleaned off easily, and the discs played fine, but that's still a disappointing quality control issue on top of the color space error.)

The following extras are included on each disc, most of them newly-produced for this release:

DISC ONE: FEATURE FILM AND EXTRAS (BD)

  • Audio Commentary by Bruce Holecheck and Art Ettinger
  • The Man Who Loved Women (HD – 31:50)
  • Lights On (HD – 12:03)
  • Like a Prairie Dog (HD – 37:08)
  • External Beauty & Internal Ugliness (Upscaled HD – 22:53)
  • House Sweet House (HD – 26:13)
  • Gallery (HD – 6:34)

The commentary track features Bruce Holecheck from the Cinema Arcana website, and Art Ettinger from Ultra Violent magazine. The pair are clearly big fans of the film, even though they do admit that it’s pretty sick. They prepared well, and read a lot of material that they wrote out in advance, so there’s a lot more quality information here than if they had just winged the entire thing. They give background on how legal issues with Cannibal Holocaust caused the producers to want to make another film quickly and cheaply, with limited cast and locations, in order to recoup some money. Despite the establishing shots at the beginning, the film wasn’t shot in America, so Holecheck and Ettinger note resulting errors like the bidet in the bathroom. They provide biographies for Deodato, Ortolani, and all of the actors, with a natural emphasis on David Hess. They also examine the themes of the film, including the muddled nature of the class conflict on display, the seemingly consensual sex scene late in the film, and the ambiguous sexuality between Ricky and Alex. (They both feel that the ending is justified, so there you go.) They close by covering the theatrical and home video releases of the film, including the famous source of the theatrical print currently in circulation. It’s always interesting to hear a spirited defense of a film like House on the Edge of the Park, even if they won’t necessarily change many minds about it.

The Man Who Loved Women is a new interview with Deodato, who explains how the production came together, and gives his own thoughts about the film. He initially almost hated it, and thought it was more shocking than Cannibal Holocaust, but started to love it once he saw all of the fan support. He also discusses the cast, the cinematography, the score, and the editing. Lights On is a new interview with Sergio D’Offizi, who talks about the locations, his use of lighting, his crew, and his respect for Deodato. Prairie Dog is an interview with the always voluble Giovanni Lombardo Radice, who relates how he got into acting, how he was hired for the film, and his stories from the shoot. He also discusses the other actors, the sexuality of the two criminals, and his own experiences with drug use. External Beauty & Internal Ugliness is a newly-edited version of the archival interview with David Hess that was included on the previous Code Red release of the film (which originally ran 35 minutes.) He talks about his relationship with Deodato, as well as his feelings about the other actors in the film. (He still insists here that his sex scene with Annie Belle was unsimulated, even though it clearly wasn’t.) He admits that he doesn’t hold anything back as an actor, and brings a lot of who he really is into his roles—take that as you will. House Sweet House is an interview with set designer Antonello Geleng, who gives his thoughts about the film after rewatching it for the first time in 40 years—he’s not entirely comfortable with it. He also talks about the compromises he had to make due to budgetary constraints. The Gallery is especially interesting. In addition to the usual collection of stills and promotional materials, it also includes many signed items from Art Ettinger’s personal collection. There’s also an Easter egg that can be accessed by choosing the scene selections, scrolling to chapter 10, and pressing the up arrow. It’s a brief clip of Karoline Mardeck, who played Alex’s rape victim during the opening scene, and who happened to be married to David Hess at the time.

DISC TWO: DEODATO HOLOCAUST AND EXTRAS (BD)

  • Deodato Holocaust (HD – 71:33)
  • Deleted Scenes: A Statement by Deodato (HD – :29)
  • Deleted Scenes: Mauro Bolognini (HD – :35)
  • Deleted Scenes: Chronicles of “Ursus” (HD – 3:11)
  • Deleted Scenes: Spaghetti Western (HD – 3:08)
  • Deleted Scenes: The Theme of “Fenomena” (HD – 1:21)
  • Deleted Scenes: The Fear of Directing a Comedy (HD – 1:25)
  • Deleted Scenes: What Deodato Learned from Advertising (HD – 1:26)
  • Deleted Scenes: The Problems in “Cut and Run” (HD – 2:18)
  • Deleted Scenes: The End of “Un Delitto Poco Comune” (HD – 1:05)
  • Deleted Scenes: Filming Naked Women (HD – 1:58)
  • Deleted Scenes: Charlize Theron (HD – 1:01)
  • Deleted Scenes: About “Found Footage” Films (HD – 2:01)
  • Deleted Scenes: Deodato Versus Cell Phone (HD – :24)
  • Trailer (HD – 1:15)

Deodato Holocaust is a feature-length documentary by Felipe M. Guerra that was originally released in 2019. Deodato is front and center throughout, as the film primarily consists of interviews that the filmmakers conducted with him, interspersed with production stills, promotional materials, and clips from his films. Deodato tells stories about growing up, including the conflicting advice given to him by his parents, before talking about how he got into the film business. From there, he steps through each of his films in chronological order. He says that he doesn’t consider himself to be a horror director, and feels that 1986’s Body Count was his first true horror film (not one of his favorites, either). Not surprisingly, he thinks that Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man is one of his best films, though he makes the interesting observation that it was the first film where he tried to use deliberately saccharine music as a way to offset the extreme violence. It’s an effect that he would reuse repeatedly, most notably in Cannibal Holocaust, and he gives much of the credit for the success of that film to Riz Ortolani. Deodato also talks about seeing the beauty in strong images, which is a lesson that he learned while working for Roberto Rossellini—he even draws a link from Rossellini’s neorealism to the found footage style of Cannibal Holocaust. When asked how he would like to be remembered, he says that he wants to be known as an adventurous and versatile filmmaker, since he doesn’t like being labeled a horror director. That’s probably why everything ends with a bang after he’s asked about the animal killings in Cannibal Holocaust—he angrily defends himself, verbally attacks the filmmakers, and then removes his microphone and storms off. (He supposedly made up with them later.) It’s all fascinating stuff, though the drawback is that Guerra decided to put everything together in a pseudo found footage style, with frequent overlayed video glitches, and that gets tiresome in a big hurry.

Most of the Deleted Scenes are just as interesting as what made the final cut. It’s easy to see why some of them were eliminated, as there really isn’t a natural place for them in the finished film, but others should probably have been left in—especially since Deodato Holocaust only runs a brief 71 minutes. Note that they aren’t encoded individually, and must be played as a group, but there is the option to chapter skip through them.

DISC THREE: SOUNDTRACK (CD)

  • Sweetly (Titoli vocal) (4:28)
  • Do It to Me (5:30)
  • Sweetly (Instrumental) (4:26)
  • La casa sperduta nel parco (terror sequence) (4:09)
  • La casa sperduta nel parco (love sequence) (3:11)
  • Sweetly (Titoli vocal reprise) (4:24)

It’s an impressive collection of extras, especially considering that the addition of Deodato Holocaust practically turns it into a double feature. Add in Ortolani’s soundtrack, and Severin’s set for House on the Edge of the Park would rival their recent release for Night of the Demon, if not for the encoding issue. If that gets corrected, it will be another early contender for the one of the most memorable sets for the year so far.

- Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)

 

Additional Notes

[The corrected disc solves all of the issues with the previous one. The contrast range is much improved, with deep black levels. The gray is gone. The cutaways to black during the opening now look properly black, and in the scene were Alex beats up one of the guests by the pool, his black hair and black outfit can now be distinguished from the black sky behind him. For the most part, crushed detail is no longer an issue. There are still a few shots where Alex’s black outfit can look featureless, but that’s likely as much due to the original cinematography as anything else—the detail simply may not exist on the negative. Generally, though, there’s a lot more shadow detail now, even in many of the trickier dark scenes. House on the Edge of the Park may still have some undeniable ugliness at its heart, but this transfer is now as beautiful as it can be. Severin’s set offers the definitive version of the film, and it can now happily join Night of the Demon as one of their best releases so far this year.]

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