One of the three films released this weekend 28 years ago featured a sadist who tortures innocent people. And I’d still rather hang out with that guy than 80s-era Rob Lowe. In today’s Journal, we’re looking at PALE RIDER, ST. ELMO’S FIRE and HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK, all of which were released the weekend of June 28-30, 1985.
SCOTT’S FILM GEEK JOURNAL – ENTRY 51
THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (a.k.a. LA CASA SPERDUTA NEL PARCO) (1980) – This film opens with David Hess (LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT) making a pass at a young woman. That never ends well. Sure enough, she’s raped and murdered before the opening credits roll.
Flash forward to a year later. Hess plays Alex, who now runs a parking garage dealing in stolen cars. His best friend is the simple-minded Ricky (Giovanni Lombardo Radice, a.k.a. John Morghen of CANNIBAL FEROX and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, among others). The two are getting ready to go out and boogie at the disco, but decide instead to join a couple of rich people, crashing their party. Alex and Ricky come on strong and finally Alex takes charge of the house, making everyone his hostage. The women are all sexually accosted to varying degrees and the men are all beat up. But as the night wears on, the question remains – who’s playing who?
David Hess, who reportedly was an incredibly nice guy in real life, had a few instances of repeating his LAST HOUSE fame with psychosexual thrillers. My personal favorite among these was the underrated HITCH-HIKE (a.k.a. AUTOSTOP ROSSO SANGUE). However, none of them was as sleazy as this film. A case could be made about the violence in LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, how exploitive it was meant to be. With HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK, there is no question. This led to the film gaining some infamy back in the day. It was made in 1980 and was released in European territories long before it made its way across the pond. It was named one of the Video Nasties in the UK, and though no film deserved to get banned, this one was one of the more extreme cases. It has frequent nudity yes, but also a few instances of rape. Most of all is the tone, where Alex berates everyone in the house, including his friend, using offensive language (he calls an African American woman “roots” for example), anything to illustrate what a psychotic, manipulative scumbag he is.
So, it’s not for everyone. But I have grown to enjoy HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK over the years. It doesn’t leave you with an ugly, nihilistic feeling like many of today’s horror films. Hess is at his best as the crazed Alex. As Ricky, Radice is so not great that you love him. There were quite a few parts where Radice overacted (he doesn’t have too many nice things to say about a lot of the films he did), and this is one of the real doozies. There’s also an underlying theme of class struggle. Just because the rich people aren’t rapists or murderers doesn’t mean they are good people after all. Also, you are treated to the lovely body of Annie Belle which is always a plus. One of the better films from Ruggero Deodato (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST). ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
NOTE: See how the trailer gets the title wrong. I guess English wasn’t a first language of whoever cut this thing.
PALE RIDER (1985) – A group of bandits tears through a prospecting camp, destroying property and killing livestock and pets. It’s all at the behest of a greedy mining developer who wants the prospectors off the land. Then comes Preacher, a mysterious figure that the townspeople enlist to get rid of the bandits.
PALE RIDER was not only one of the handful of westerns to get released in 1985, it was also the first western starring and directed by Clint Eastwood since 1976’s THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. Because of this, it was a big deal, one of the major releases of the summer. But what makes this different from Eastwood’s other westerns is how slight it is. The film is basically a retelling of SHANE with some religious symbolism thrown in. Because of this, it never feels as special as it should.
Eastwood is of course a pro behind the camera. Also, Michael Moriarty and Carrie Snodgress turn in great supporting roles. But if the film has a true star, it’s cinematographer Bruce Surtees, who creates some amazing shots, as if we were painting with light and camera lenses. Many of the shots seem like they could be hung in an art gallery. But the film also seemed to want to tell a story as powerful as its imagery and in that, it failed.
PALE RIDER isn’t a bad film, but it’s not a very special one, certainly not as special as the pedigree would imply. ★★½ (out of ★★★★)
ST. ELMO’S FIRE (1985) – Jesse was right. When discussing ST. ELMO’S FIRE on the latest podcast, Jesse reaffirmed his seething hatred of yuppies and said this was a one-star movie in his book. It’s hard to argue with that since everyone in ST. ELMO’S FIRE is either a destructive, self-absorbed clown, a passive victim or both.
We are introduced to several friends, four months after they have graduated college. Alec (Judd Nelson) is a Democrat who has sold out his ideals for a larger paycheck and now works for a Republican senator. He is also being unfaithful to his longtime girlfriend, Leslie (Ally Sheedy), but thinks that if she would only marry him, he would be faithful. In other words, it’s her fault. Kevin (Andrew McCarthy) is a struggling writer who keeps telling everyone in earshot what a wasteful sham love is, making it perfectly transparent that he has feelings for one of his friends. Kirby (Emilio Estevez) is a lawyer who is unreasonably fixated on a girl he dated once four years prior (Andie MacDowell in her first film using her actual voice). Jules (Demi Moore) is a woman living well beyond her means, drowning her current troubles and her unfortunate upbringing with cocaine. And worst of all is Billy (Rob Lowe), an alcoholic loser who uses everyone around him, including his wife and child. It’s a common sight to see him picking up girls right in front of his long-suffering extramarital girlfriend (Mare Winningham).
These stories might have made for an interesting film, if everyone’s problems weren’t made painfully obvious mere seconds after they enter the frame. Moreover, I question how tight these friends are. Because while they are undeniably close-knit, they are perfectly willing to watch as their friends use and manipulate other friends within their circle. They say a few stern words, but they laugh it off with a really dumb private cheer. ST. ELMO’S FIRE is also a harsh reminder that for a while before THE WEST WING, Rob Lowe was sort of unbearable.
Joel Schumacher does a decent enough job directing, but it would be a couple more films before he’d finally direct anything worth watching. A great cast was assembled for this film and they do a good job, especially – believe it or not – Demi Moore as the very troubled Jules. But when everyone is playing such whiny, selfish, loathsome characters, it becomes more difficult to separate the quality on screen from the apathy of the viewer. ★½ (out of ★★★★)
BOX OFFICE CHAMPS – JUNE 28-30, 1985
1. PALE RIDER (1,710 screens) $9.1 million (1st week)
2. COCOON (1,152 screens) $7.3 million ($20.5 million – 2 weeks)
3. RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II (1,956 screens) $7 million ($107.9 million – 6 weeks)
4. ST. ELMO’S FIRE (1,201 screens) $6.1 million (1st week)
5. THE GOONIES (1,705 screens) $4.6 million ($40.7 million – 4 weeks)
6. FLETCH (1,099 screens) $3 million ($35.9 million – 5 weeks)
7. LIFEFORCE (1,515 screens) $2.5 million ($8.7 million – 2 weeks)
8. PRIZZI’S HONOR (689 screens) $2.4 million ($13.8 million – 3 weeks)
9. RETURN TO OZ (1,196 screens) $1.9 million ($6.6 million – 2 weeks)
10. A VIEW TO A KILL (1,037 screens) $1.7 million ($43.3 million – 6 weeks)
source: Box Office Mojo
Number of films covered in the Journal so far: 231
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