“Over the Edge” (1979) dir. Jonathan Kaplan

Jonathan Kaplan’s criminally underrated and nearly forgotten 1979 film “Over the Edge” is one of the best and most frightening films about teenagers ever made.   According to various things I’ve read over the years (which may or may not be true), either “Edge” or “The Great Santini” was intended to be Orion Pictures first release (it was actually George Roy Hill’s criminally underrated and nearly forgotten “A Little Romance” – featuring the debut of the lovely Diane Lane), but like many of Orion’s films during the illustrious, but tumultuous time they were around, seemed to be plagued by poor marketing, poor distribution, or skittish executives not quite sure how to market a great film that didn’t fit into any commercial niche.

“Edge” is about a planned community named New Granada which seems to be a suburban paradise, except for the fact the planners never provided anything for the growing population of older kids (who are not yet driving age) to do.  With nothing to do, the kids fill their time with sex, drugs, and crime, leading to a very frightening climax.  While the film is tastefully made (given the subject matter), I’m really shocked this got a PG rating (even given the permissive standards of the late 1970s).   This film would have enormous trouble getting greenlit today, let alone getting by with anything less than an R rating.   Everything from the writing, to the directing (by Jonathan Kaplan) to the acting (including a star-making screen debut by Matt Dillon) is top-notch.

“Edge” is based on a true story from the early 1970s where a planned upper-middle class suburban community near San Francisco named Foster City had a higher juvenile crime rate than any other comparable community in the country.   The problem was that this planned community (which had man-made canals with docks attached to homes, so one could boat to a local grocery store) had nothing designed for the large population of young people to do.   The community became overrun with vandalism, arson, bombings, and other activities more affiliated with war zones.   The story became the subject of a highly read San Francisco Chronicle article about Foster City by Bruce Koon (“Mousepacks: Kids on a Crime Spree) and screenwriters Charlie Haas and Tim Hunter wrote a screenplay based on the article.

I won’t go into more detail about the inception, production, release, and critical resurrection of the film, because a very lengthy 30th anniversary oral history published in Vice Magazine tells the story much better than I can.  After you watch the film, please please please read this article, which will tell you everything you need to know:

http://www.vice.com/read/over-the-edge-134-v16n9

As for the film, “Over the Edge” is a must see and just gets scarier the older I (and my children) get.  I lived in a community very similar to New Granada recently and remember the alarming reports of shocked adults finding empty beer cans, liquor bottles, and used condoms in the trails behind the homes.  After a few months there, I told my wife, “There’s a movie you need to see that’s exactly like where we live now.”

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