Monday, August 31, 2020

Cursed Woods (1983)

Directed by:
Brian Davies

After one of his co-workers (David Lain) attempts to blackmail him for embezzling from their company, a man (who's not shown) poisons his drink, takes the body out into the country and then buries it alongside the road. One month later, a small group of campers – Kevin (Paul Roberts), Roger (the director), Lisa (Helen Davies), Jeff (Mervyn Eccleston) and Clive (Keith Jones) – decide to pitch their tents nearby at Paradise Camping Site. Kevin then tells the story of local urban legend Harry Carpenter...

A hundred years ago, the campground used to belong to Harry, who was rumored to be a black magic practitioner and was very possessive; never letting anyone set foot on his property. As part of his will, he asked to be buried under the gate of his estate so that even in death he could watch over things. Harry also vowed to rise from the dead to kill trespassers. After discovering an abandoned car that appears to have been hidden there and dancing around to "Karma Chameleon," a news broadcast comes on informing them that the poisoned man's body has been discovered, which doesn't alter their plans to stay for the weekend. That goes about as well as expected.

Needless to say, someone starts killing everybody off. Jeff goes to get some firewood and gets his throat slashed (the ol' put red food coloring on the dull edge of a knife and then run it across someone's neck routine). Clive goes to find Lisa but instead runs afoul of the killer, who jams a broken bottle in his face then cuts his throat. Another has his head twisted around backwards and there's a booby trap with a gun and trip wire that shoots someone in the head. Oh yes, and there's a shock ending that isn't much of a shock.

This amateur no budget Brit slasher, essentially a home movie like the ones many of us used to make with camcorders back when we were kids, was shot-on-video (of course!) and runs just 20 minutes. The best way to describe it is "endearingly awful," but I had fun with it all the same. The director (who sadly passed away just last year at the age of 57) also made a number of other shorts, including Dracula vs. Demon (1982), The Vacancy (1985), The Exhumation (1986), Shock Ending (1987) and, the longest of the bunch, Last Day at the Beach (1990). These are available to view on Youtube.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

La casa sperduta nel parco (1980)

... aka: Der Schlitzer (The Slasher)
... aka: House at the Edge of the Park, The
... aka: House on the Edge of the Park
... aka: Ripper on the Edge, The
... aka: Trampa para un violador (Trap for a Rapist)

Directed by:
Ruggero Deodato

Car lights down a busy highway and small white specks in high rise windows are caught in a backdrop of deep blue night. A man following a woman pulls in front of her, jumps into her car, throws her in the backseat, rips her clothes off and rapes her while strangling her as a eerily chirpy pop song ("Sweetly, oh sweetly. Summertime is coming. Happy and carefree. Waiting just for you...") plays. The quick-cut editing choices and decision to keep fading to black during the attack are oddly rhythmic; interesting. One hopes this haunting and disturbing opening sequence is getting the ball rolling on a film that will continue on with visual inventiveness and shocks but sadly this ends up being is the best scene in the entire film.

We then cut to a garage in New York City where perverted greaseball Alex (David A. Hess) and his slow-witted buddy Ricky (Giovanni Lombardo Radice) are about to close down shop for the night and go "boogie" at a disco. Wealthy young couple Lisa (Annie Belle) and Tom (Christian Borromeo) stop by with car problems. It's a quick fix. Since it's getting late, the couple agree to let Alex and Ricky come along with them to a small get-together at a secluded, swanky villa with three of their equally rich and refined friends; Gloria (Lorraine De Selle), Glenda (Marie Claude Joseph) and Howard (Gabriele De Giulio). So what would these respectable folks want a couple of low rent working class miscreants around? As Lisa later confesses, "Anything to stop our boredom." She gets her wish.

The little party starts out with bad disco music, bad dancing, bad dialogue ("Hot diggity!") and bad manners as Alex can't keep his hands off of the sleek, short-haired beauty Lisa. She tells him he looks like he belongs in a cage but keeps teasing him and giving off mixed signals all the same; letting him caress her legs and then more or less suggesting he join her in the shower, where she lets him ogle her and scrub her back but then leaves him cold. During a poker game, Tom and the other rich folks cheat the semi-retarded Ricky out of what little money he does have. Naturally they don't need the money. This appears to be all about having a laugh at his expense, just as they did encouraging him to dance. When Alex calls them out on it, Howard attempts to punch him out but he doesn't know who he's dealing with. Alex is the same guy who murdered the woman in the opening sequence. And he's brought along his straight razor.

After taking all of their money, Alex decides to stick around to "have a little fun with the cunts." This involves roughing up anyone up who threatens him or tries to escape. The men are beat, sliced, have their heads beat against a table and one is thrown into the swimming pool and then pissed on as he tries to climb out. The women naturally get about the same treatment, only worse as they're women so their assaults are compounded with sexual violence. Their clothes are ripped off, they're constantly being groped, having their breast squeezed, forced into having lesbian relations with one another and, of course, getting raped. Poor Cindy (Brigitte Petronio), a late arrival to the festivities, is revealed to be a virgin so she has her breasts and nude body sliced up after she's stripped naked.

While there's plenty of violence on display, though not much blood or gore, this seems much more focused on roughie sexploitation and rape fetishism and fills up most of its running time with nudity and sexual assault. Four of the five actresses have full frontal nude scenes, a number of them more than one, while the fifth actress, the only black one, gets by with only showing her tits a couple of times. The "action" probably hits its nadir when one the captives willingly has sex with her attacker seemingly out of pity! It's all rather unpleasant to sit through but Park isn't particularly harrowing as a thriller either due to poor dialogue, moronic character actions, gigantic plot holes and endless annoying shots of the cast standing around posing like models and looking only mildly uncomfortable as they watch their friends getting roughed up, violated and potentially killed. A twist during the finale attempts to explain why the victims behave like morons the entire time but it only makes their actions during the rest of the film even more senseless and infuriating.

This was clearly made in response to the success of The Last House on the Left (1972), which must have been extremely popular in Europe at the time as there are a number of similar films with similar titles hoping to cash in on Craven's notorious shocker. This one has an edge over most of the others though due to the casting coup of actual Last House star Hess ("Krug Stillo") playing a similar role. There's even a direct nod to LHOTL during the finale, only it's an amusing reversal of the fate of Last House's Mari Collingwood character inflicted upon Hess himself! The actor had already done another of these films a few years prior called HITCH HIKE (1977), which was released under the alt title Hitch Hike: Last House on the Left in some countries. Both it and Craven's film are better than this one.

Due to its tasteless nature and gratuitous nudity, this landed itself on the UK's coveted video nasties banned list. Here in the U.S. it was released theatrically in 1985 (Hess / Last House were both heavily used as marketing ploys) and then made its way to home video courtesy of Vestron, who released it unrated and completely uncut. I distinctly remember one of the video stores I frequented as a kid having this in their "Hard R" section and refusing to rent it to anyone under 18. Strangely, this same place had already let 10-year-old me rent stuff like Mondo Magic and Make Them Die Slowly, both of which are far more graphic than this one. (Irregardless, I didn't let them stop me from watching this as I just went to another video store down the block and rented it there instead, no problem!)

Regina Mardek (billed as "Karoline Mardeck"), the real-life wife of the star, plays the victim in the opening sequence. The score is by Riz Ortolani and most of the main crew (writer Gianfranco Clerici, cinematographer Sergio D'Offizi, editor Vincenzo Tomassi) had been ported over from Deodato's notorious Cannibal Holocaust (1980), which was filmed just a few months prior for the same producers and production company. Unlike the much more potent Holocaust, this one has always been easy to find and widely circulated. There have been numerous releases over the years, including a Media Blasters / Shriek Show DVD in 2002 (which includes interviews with the director and two male stars), and Blu-ray releases from TC Entertainment out of Japan and Code Red and Dark Force Entertainment here in America. A sequel, to be directed by Deodato and star Radice, was announced way back in 2011 but nothing has come of it so far.

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