Thursday, May 17, 2012

Last House on the Edge of the Park on the Left: David Alexander Hess Remembered

What can you say about a man who was shot in the groin, shot multiple times before receiving a coup du gras in a swimming pool no less? How about a man who was butchered by a chainsaw like one of Farmer Vincent’s future fritters and by a Doctor no less?  What do you say about a man who acted in and scored one of the most debauched film of all time creating a horror icon in both character and in song? Well I thank David Alexander Hess and will continue toquote him weekly if not daily. It's not often you find someone who can rape and murder so many and still end up on the positive end of horror iconography, but as anyone will tell you emphatically this man was as gentle and as caring a man as any one in Hollywood; His starring roles may have placed him as a member of the deep seedy underbelly of exploitation cinema, but he was a diamond in the rough.

October 7, 2011 we lost a dear friend at age 69. A friend to all horror fans. A legend to the Grindhouse culture. A father. A Husband.  For we, the horror loving fiends that open the window to the the seedy silver screen for fresh air, David Hess will never truly die. We can look to any number of classic cinematic works to appreciate his talent or simply set the iPod to some of his peace loving, easy listening solo work as a musician.

The Last House on the Left is a great place to start for individuals who want to appreciate Hess from a cinematic point of view. As Krug Stillo, David A. Hess put his name on the map and created a demand for the darker side of his talent. He displayed an uncanny ability to play an honest to goodness creature of modern society, apathetic and nihilistic, embodied the anti-free love movement. His role in Last House would be very much an imitation of Charles Mason and his on screen cohorts would be akin to "The Family".  Last House on the Left is a tale of the American dream squashed, not by monster or alien, but by human madness representing a direct snapshot of the emerging 1970's disenchantment with their own ambitions and a tendency to hedonism. The American dream turned nightmare and then an awakening. Revenge films aren't easy to watch. You have to get through the first half of any picture and wait, patiently, for justice.  From that perspective you can look at what might be considered Hess' greatest work as a vision of hope. The dream can live on. People do not have to be helpless and can affect positive change in their lives even in the worst of situation. I think David Hess would have liked that vision.

The same can be said for his work in House on the Edge of the Park, another Video Nasty. Just under ten years after Last House on the Left shocked the world and locked a million daughters in their bedrooms practically overnight,  Hess returned to a similar character in Alex, the rapist/sadist who is eager to play home invasion with an unsuspecting group of young adults. Hess had acted in several roles since his appearance in Last House on the Left from Baretta to The Naked Prey, but it is his work with Ruggero Deodato that shook the world for second level eight magnitude performance.  Shot with a very similar feel to Last House on the Left, House on the Edge of the Park is yet another tale of revenge where Hess tortures an innocent group of young people only to learn a very hard lesson in the power of the human spirit and the justice that is very often disguised as revenge.  Alex is everything Hess is not. Hess is everything Alex could never be.  Deodato and Hess would work together again on the film Camping del terrore some years later.

While these two roles might define David Hess for many of his fans it is important to remember that he acted in near forty films (including as a bad guy, Ferret, in Swamp Thing), and contributed to the soundtrack of eight total pictures.  Perhaps one of his most overlooked contributions to the horror genre is as director of the Christmas slasher film, To All A Goodnight, which has a rather large cult following in and of itself.  The imagery in this picture with its portrayal of a killer Santa and brutal gore sequences (at least for the 1980's) make it must see holiday picture. David Hess, jack of all trades, should have gotten behind the camera more often. We still await this films DVD/Blu Ray release and look forward to a proper tribute in Hess' honor at that time.

As a soundtrack composer he is best known for the score to Last House on the Left. "Wait for the Rain", "Sadie and Krug Baddies' Theme", "Now You're All Alone" range from a haunting premonition of the diabolical assault on the humanity that the picture is about to deliver to a jubilant celebration of life. "Wait for the Rain" from the album (Coming Up The) Sunshine Path is quite different from its Last House counterpart. While his album version offers a feeling of sunny days spent in the company of love with an overwhelming sense of hope and prosperity, the version used for the movie ends quite differently. It's haunting and pessimistic. This version seems to promise that the road does lead nowhere.

After assisting in the revision of "Wait for the Rain" for Eli Roth's Cabin Fever, an effort was made to release more of his solo work and a renewed interest in Hess and his characters played in his early, more sadistic roles lead to an effort to put together House on the Edge of the Park Part 2.  His passing may put this project into a state of uncertainty.

Enjoy some of the work of this screen legend below and remember that there are two version of "Wait for the Rain", one that threatens storm clouds and one that embraces life.

The road does lead somewhere.

Video Selections of the work of David Hess:

Brief commentary by David Hess and Live Performance

"Wait for the Rain" (original version):

"Now You're All Alone" from Last House on the Left:

"Wait for the Rain" (Last House on the Left Version)

Last House on the Left Trailer:

Last House on the Left documentary:

House on the Edge of the Park Trailer:

To All a Good Night (Open Scene)

Lyrics to "Wait for the Rain" (album version):

Wheels turnin,
Some of the leaves are turnin brown.
Comin to gather you,
Gatherin cherries off of the ground.
And after the rainbows,
After the dayglows come over you,
Bottle of wine and then a waterfall,
Gonna lead you to the dream,
You knew you do....

No comments:

Post a Comment