House by the Edge of the Lake (1979)

A bloody hand reaches out from a lake and drowns a lady in a rowboat. Meanwhile, a blind girl plays with a headless doll and a dead chicken hangs from a tree. A paranormal researcher named Lillian goes to a house by the edge of a lake. It’s less of a house and more of an Italian villa with vaulted ceilings and harbingers of death. Lillian finds a toad in her bed.

Lillian has come to investigate the lake, which is haunted by a lady named Kyra. Did you know that “The Lady of the Lake” folktale is about a guy who hits his wife? A dude marries a lady who lives in a lake, hits her three times, and she leaves his ass and returns to the lake. The end. In some versions of the tale, the guy hits her “gently” for crying at a wedding or laughing at a funeral. The moral of the story is don’t hit your wife. Also, don’t emote. But mostly, don’t hit your wife.

A wild-haired witch named Lilith communes with Kyra in a cave scrawled with a mysterious symbol. It’s supposed to be an ancient rune, but it looks like a kid’s drawing of a butthole. There are buttholes everywhere—carved into rocks, etched into walls, scratched into statutes. In a cemetery nearby, Lillian makes loves to a gentleman friend. Lilith writhes and touches herself as Lillian climaxes—it’s classic Italian sleaze. Lillian passes out with her eyes open and the gentleman friend panics and drives off a cliff. Explosion! This begins a pattern of sex, masturbation, and death. With occasional visions of an old lady cloaked in black and a dark figure with a scythe. The elderly couple who owns the house is hiding a secret. But, what is it?

In other words, House by the Edge of the Lake is nothing like House on the Edge of the Park. Don’t let the title confuse you. This film does not contain home invasion, rape, or David Hess, and–for better or worse–no one gets peed on. House by the Edge of the Lake is a solid offering from the man who gave the world 1990: Bronx Warriors, Enzo G. Castellari. This movie is less about gore or cheap twists or over-the-top violence, and more about mood and setting. There are stone castles shrouded in fog and empty houses filled with voices and the occasional ghostly meow. There are crumbling statues, a church bell speckled with lichen, shadows that stretch over walls, and a little girl in a white dress who runs in slow motion on the banks of a cursed lake. While House by the Edge of the Lake is not as gorgeously ominous as anything by Jean Rollin, there is still plenty of arresting imagery—a wooden cart of dead chicks, a car trunk filled with filthy dolls, a carnival with people wearing oversized papier-mâché masks. There’s a lot to absorb and enjoy, even though there’s not not a lot that goes on in terms of plot. It certainly contains plenty of scenes where people talk endlessly about curses and local lore. Still, there’s just enough sleaze to make it fun. This isn’t an Italian beast that ever gets out of control or unhinged; it’s not terribly ambitious or graphic. House by the Edge of the Lake is not meant to shock or even make you cringe. Rather, it relaxes and numbs in a pleasant, almost narcotic way. Castellari throws in all the tropes—a séance around a fire, a black cat with yellow eyes, a blind little girl who can see all, a hand that reaches from the grave—but somehow it doesn’t feel stale.

There’s accidental incest in this movie, but it’s no big deal.

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