House On the Edge Of the Park... So Close!

I usually avoid looking at the stats and metrics of my site.  Because once I see that one post has more hits than another, it's an easy slope to slip down, constantly chasing the hints of popularity, forgoing what I want to write about or what I think would be best, caught up in an internet-driven numbers game.  But I looked, and here's what I now believe think people would like to see most from me: a limited edition Code Red blu-ray sleazy Italian horror movie compared to a more broadly released American DVD version.  Happily, that's exactly what I was going to write about today anyway, so here's House On the Edge Of the Park😀

Update 11/6/16 - 12/22/21: I've stuck to my policy of not looking at the numbers, so hopefully what you'd most like to see today is an updated comparison with Severin's brand new special edition, because here it is!
House On the Edge is Italy's answer to Wes Craven's The Last House On the Left, even borrowing its notorious leading villain, David Hess.  I've been reading some debate recently, over which is the sleazier, least comfortable watch, and Craven's seemed to win out, but I definitely feel that dubious honor goes to Ruggero Deodato's flick.  I can see making a case for Last House.  For one, it came first, and it's the more famous, American film, so most horror fans probably saw it first.  And the first time you see something is always the most shocking.  Also, while Last has some unnatural elements, like the comic relief cops, the graphic scenes are very realistic.  Contrast that with the Italian glamour models sitting around in color-coordinated outfits, and it gives you a bit of an "out" in feeling staged and unrealistic.
Casey Scott's liner notes for Shriek Show's DVD insert say this film has
"no flair present in cinematography," but I beg to differ.
But on the other hand, the root sadistically sexual violence feels just as genuine in both films, and in Last, those scenes really just happen in the second act, after which the film switches mode to a karmic revenge thriller, like its Virgin Spring inspiration.  But pretty much the entirety of Park just wallows in it.  It takes the typical Italian exploitation habit of finding the saleable element the original film had - in this case Hess abusing and terrorizing his victims with a knife - and making that the whole movie.  Also, everybody's despicable in this one; there are no decent characters to latch onto.  And its damned effective, if a bit ethereal and stagey at the same time.  Plus, it's got a great disco theme song and finishes up with a nice twist ending that I certainly didn't see coming, and won't spoil here.
We originally only had House On the Edge of the Park on non-anamorphic DVD courtesy of those trashy budget packs from companies like Brentwood and Diamond, but in 2002, Shriek Show rescued it from obscurity with a widescreen special edition.  There have been UK editions, too, from Vipco and the more respectable Shameless Screen Entertainment, but outside of Shriek Show, almost all of those were edited versions.  The uncut DVD went out of print and started getting scarce.  But in 2016, Code Red came to the rescue with an uncut, limited edition (1500 copies) special edition blu-ray.  But now in 2021, Severin reckons they can top it, with a new 4k restoration, dual language options and all new special features.  Let's see how they did.
1) 2002 Shriek Show DVD; 2) 2016 Code Red BD; 3) 2021 Severin BD.
Where to begin?  The Code Red blu is pretty grainy and seems to have some of that infamous Italian scanner noise to boot.  But it's still a far superior image to the old Shriek Show DVD.  The 1.85:1 framing is only marginally different, with slim slivers of differences all around the edges.  But the DVD is flatter, with more limited and less natural colors, some ugly interlacing (a regular issue with Shriek Show releases), and heavy edge enhancement (look at the cards on the table; it's like somebody traced them on the table with a thick sharpie).  Code Red seems to've at least done the best they could with the Italian scan, and it certainly has a very noticeable jump up in quality from the DVD, which itself was a strong improvement over the old grey market junk.  But fans have always been in the market for something better.

And, we kinda got it with their new scan, which is 4k from the original OCN according to the back cover.  No more scanner noise for a start.  And the framing's still 1.85:1, but it's pulled out a bit to reveal more picture along the edges.  The color timing is also warmer, more in line with Shriek Show's.  But the grain's pretty light for a 4k scan, and the black levels are rather milky.  Not quite to Wax Mask degrees, but less than ideal.  The blacks are actually rather crushed, and I wonder if Severin lifted the blacks a little to say "look, we didn't level any detail out."  Just compare it to the Code Red - for example, look at Hess's left arm in the second set of shots.  We see a lot more of it on there, that's lost into a sea of blackness on the Severin.  My guess is that the Italians crushed it with their scan, and Severin just worked with what they got.  Or maybe Severin totally did it themselves, who knows?  Either way, it's a distinct bummer, kind of resulting in a draw PQ-wise, or at best a very slim victory, which should've been an easy win for a fresh 4k scan of a troubled older edition.
But then Severin pulls ahead.  Neither previous disc has the Italian audio, just the English audio.  This is a case where the English is distinctly preferable, with Hess's real voice on the English track, as opposed to the poor dub on the Italian, but still, it's always nice to have both.  And now we do.  All three discs preserve the original English mono audio in clear 2.0 (in lossless DTS-HD on the blus), but only Severin also includes the original Italian mono (also in DTS-HD).  And it's the only one to provide English subtitles.
Shriek Show did cobble together a pretty nice selection of extras.  They got lengthy interviews with the two most important people, Hess and Deodato, who answer just about all the questions you'd have after seeing this crazy picture.  Plus there's another good interview with Giovanni Lombardo Radice and a feature with Hess's family (watch his son play guitar and his wife refuse to talk about her role in the film).  On top of that, they included the original trailer, a stills gallery, some bonus trailers and an insert.  Code Red doesn't add anything new, but ports all of the Shriek Show stuff over, except for the bonus trailers and the insert, so we can let go of our old DVDs.

But Severin came hard on this one.  They carry over the Hess interview (and include the bit with his wife as an easter egg), which they've given a more professional edit, and the gallery, but replace the Deodato and Radice interviews with newer, HD ones.  They also conduct new interviews with the cinematographer and set designer.  And they provide an enthusiastic audio commentary by Bruce Holecheck & Art Ettinger.  They've met several of the key players in the making of this film, so they have some nice insight, in addition to some well researched backstory.  I've been listening to a couple Italian horror commentaries recently, where they "Experts" are clearly just winging it, and go way off on long, self-indulgent tangents without telling us pretty much anything most fans wouldn't already know.  So this is a satisfying reminder off how much better these tracks can be.
...And that's just disc 1.  Disc two includes the surprisingly engaging 2019 feature length documentary Deodato Holocaust, which plays a lot like Baumbach's DePalma, except of course it's Deodato, and I'd say it's actually more fun.  Disc 2 also includes the trailer (though not the House trailer) and almost 20 minutes of deleted scenes, some of which are as entertaining and worth watching as the material they left in.  And as Severin has been doing with a lot of their Italian titles, they've included the soundtrack CD.  At first I was thinking I don't know if I care too much about the soundtrack to this one, it's not like a beloved Goblin score or anything.  But when it arrived I realized, of course, this means we finally get the complete "Do It To Me" disco theme - of course we need this!  Severin's release also comes in an embossed slipcover with reversible cover art and an insert featuring the CD track-listing.
So Severin's new blu is undeniably the way to go with this film, but problems with the transfer hold it back it from being the distinct triumph it should've been.  If you can watch the film without the crush bugging you (in motion, it does flag my attention and bug me a little, but it's not too frustrating), you'll be delighted with the rest of the package.  Heck, Deodato Holocaust is worth the purchase alone.  In fact, I almost imported a pricey mediabook edition a few months before this was released... So I'm glad I held out, and glad for this release in general.  But let's face it, we'll all be replacing this edition again a few more years down the line.

3 comments:

  1. Very nice review! Just bought the Code Red disc to update my DVD and was looking for some insights. Your review was everything I wanted to know and more! I love the flick and also used to write a blog like yours where I reviewed the David Hess trilogy shortly after meeting him. Keep up the good work and I'll start reading through this list of great films. Take care!

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  2. Is it just me or does this new blu-ray have some soft images picture quality wise? I was looking at the screen captures on mondo digital's site. It looks like Severin did a decent job with color correction, but the images look a bit soft and out of focus at times. It seems like you don't get the detail with most HD masters where you can see the pores in an actor's skin.

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    1. Yeah, like I said, the grain looks a little weak at times, too. Maybe it's just a weak encode? Although part of that is us comparing it to Code Red's over-sharpened look. It feels a little soft for an all new 4k scan, but I'd take it on a 1080p BD.
      It's really the crush that bugs me.

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