Earlier this week those zany funsters at the British Board of Film Classification refused an 18 certificate to Japanese shocker Grotesque (2009), effectively banning its distribution in the UK.  Quaint, as upon searching for an import DVD copy, curious gorehounds of all ages will be faced with numerous offers to download the film for free…not exactly the oppressive world of 1984 is it? 25 years ago, trying to obtain banned horror films could be a months long, seedy ordeal, often the only prize a VHS video cassette featuring a compilation of snowstorms. But are those old films, viewed on DVD today, likely to deal viewer emotional damage, or induce a torture-porn-yawn? Find out as two do battle in…

Nasties4top

Notoriety

The worldwide controversy of Cannibal Holocaust (1980) assured anything its director, Ruggero Deodato, put his name to would be associated with unpalatable scenes of brutality. Three of his works made it to the banned list, including House on the Edge of the Park (1980) which was refused a (then correctly named) British Board of Film Censorship X certificate for cinematic viewing in 1981, on the grounds of the prolonged scenes of sexual violence that dominate viewing  Even so, the video was largely ignored by the tabloids and wasn’t popular. However, its UK DVD re-release in 2002 has given it the longest period of BBFC cuts ever metered out, standing at an incredible 11 minutes and 43 seconds! Impressive… 5/10

FightStill1

Far from a racist role model, Jesse Lee Kane is seen drunk, his trousers secured by rope

The banning of Fight For Your Life is more baffling. Containing little graphic violence, this appears to be the only film ever banned in the UK for the use of racist dialogue. Whilst the language is jarring, at least to begin with, it is unclear why this was singled out for particular attention. The only character to use racist insults (which ascend the scale right up to “coon”) is an escaped convict, rapist and murderer clearly shown in a negative light, and is seen to be punished at the films’ conclusion. Possibly, the DPP were concerned that children may use the movie might be used by some as an A-Z of racial abuse. There are also inter-racial sex scenes which may have caused offence to the undoubtedly white censors. The film has not been resubmitted for classification so remains effectively banned, although it would surely be passed without a problem now. 3/10

DVD editions
Video Nasty icon David Hess

Video Nasty icon David Hess

Media Blaster’s R1 House on the Edge of the Park has an excellent transfer of the film along with extensive interviews with the truly strange trio of star David Hess, Italian speaking director Deodato and bereaved actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice. Hess rules the day – always top value, he discusses his difficult childhood, alcoholism, rugby prowess, real on-screen sex with co-star Annie Bell and his wife’s brief  role in the film as “rape victim 1,” although the latter makes him a little edgy. Deodato has previously accused Hess of on-set blackmail concerning his fee, but they seem friendly enough now. 4/5

The only version of Fight For Your Life is on the Blue Underground label, whose dedication to bringing truly obscure films to DVD is clear from the commentary track, where the label’s Bill Lustick reveals the weeks spent tracking down original negative. Entertaining stories of low budget film making ensue from writer Straw Weisman and director of photography Lloyd Freidus . 4/5

The Films
Worldwide marketing for House on the Edge of the Park focused on sexual images

Worldwide marketing for House on the Edge of the Park focused on sexual images

Last House on the Left (1972) has inspired many a dodgy horror title to describe the location of an abode. House on the Edge of the Park rips one more off by employing David Hess to essentially reprise his role as king sociopath Krug. Although the park of the title is New York’s Central Park, the film was shot in Italy in Deodato’s usual documentary style – disinterested until something vile happens, when everything livens up somewhat. Having ramped the blood and guts up to the max in Cannibal Holocaust, Deodato turns to sexual violence for the thrills on offer here. House on the Edge of the Park really does push the boundaries with multiple prolonged rape scenes shot in a style not dissimilar to Emmanuelle (1974) and other soft porn of the era, with beautiful Italian actresses decked out in designer lingerie waiting to be torn off. In one particularly crass and confusing sequence, a female character seduces her would-be rapist whilst edits are made to the second attacker lovingly stroking his victim’s nipples with a straight razor. Although I believe the film has no message and exists only to make money, it could easily be interpreted that the filmmaker’s view is that rape is an erotic and enjoyable experience for both perpetrator and victim. A select few films from the 1970s adopt a similar attitude, for example in Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter (1973) a rape is portrayed as mutually enjoyable, and the slapping of women by strong male leads was commonplace, famously in the much earlier Gone with the Wind (1939). Pretty young women with money were at particular peril. A cultural shift making abuse against women always taboo makes these sorts of scenes look ridiculous today, but House on the Edge of the Park is not laughably inept in the same way as Gestapo’s Last Orgy (1977) or the more well intentioned I Spit on Your Grave (1978). Those who enjoy having their moral senses attacked will find much outrageous pleasure here, and in its more vibrant moments House on the Edge of the Park delivers some killer blows. But the bulk of the film is a lifeless affair As the slow story meanders towards an incredible “twist”, the dubbed actors awkwardly tiptoe around the screen, perhaps genuinely intimidated by David Hess’s commanding psychopath persona. 5/10

The fight is over for one home invader

The fight is over for one home invader

The concept behind the Fight for Your Life was to make a standard single-location exploitation movie, but to feature excessive racist language to inflame mixed-race audiences, and give the film a punch above its weight at the box office. The film flopped though, with many theatre owners put off showing the film, fearful of fuss and hassle. More depressing than the verbal gymnastics is the usual Hollywood depiction of black characters not in this case as criminals, but as possessing personalities based upon Martin Luther King’s public image. In this case they are the impossibly “dignified”, as the script often reminds us, with Robert Judd as a steroidal Mandela-lite. The criminals are led by Jesse Lee Kane, played by William Sanderson who would go on to many big roles, including as JF Sebastian in Blade Runner (1981) and more recently in Deadwood on telly. His performance here is entertaining, but the simple script does not allow anything more than pantomime villanary. His henchmen are Asian and Latino, but once again there is no significance, as their nationalities are only vehicles used to court controversy. Fans of retro exploitation sleaze such as Death Wish (1974) will be happy as the film leers and horses around for 86 minutes. But with much repetitive dialogue and no involving characters – just one offensive one – it is an unrewarding experience. 5/10

Gore

Lacerations by razor aside, there is little gore in House on the Edge of the Park, instead the film visuals rely ondisplays of female pubic hair and a powerfully manic David Hess for shocks and scares. 3/10

A non-existant FX budget mean the bludgeoning of a child and an impalement on glass in Fight for Your Life just look silly and the only terror is verbal. 2/10

Soundtracks

Deodato regular Riz Ortolani uses a sickeningly sweet acoustic guitar melodies and a Martini ad of an orchestra to give a lullaby flavour to House on the Edge of the Park. The effect, in particular during the afore-mentioned rape scene, is bizarre and apparently completely unsuitable for the subject matter. Perhaps Deodato, understandably, disliked the music and so used it as a weapon to make the viewer nauseous. Or possibly the intended effect is to copy fellow Italian Dario Argento, who used Goblin’s child-like arrangements to eerie effect on productions such as Profondo Rosso (1975). Still, as the main attraction of the film is disbelief at what your eyes are seeing, it’s nice that your ears can enjoy the same sensation. 2/5

Fight for Your Life’s theme song may be a fun Shaft-alike, but the rest of Jeff Slevin’s score is the type of generic soundtrack that could easily be mistaken for the incidental music from 80’s kids adventure show, The A-Team. 2/5

Result

Nasties4result

Fight for Your Life might spout forth from the racist dictionary, but as it does so House on the Edge of the Park ties it to the loser’s chair, taunting and torturing in a contest fought by two productions with little to offer but cheap shock tactics. However, the latter’s truly offensive nature that wins the day, its low score belying a partially successful attempt to be one of the nastiest of nasties.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s