The New York Ripper
directed by Lucio Fulci
starring Jack Hedley, Howard Ross, Daniela Doria,
I’ve always had a difficult relationship with The New York Ripper. Between the horrendous VHS pan and scan transfer and the killer’s duck voice I was never able to get into the film. The absurdity of the killer quacking mixed with the brutality of the killings plus the overall dour tone made for a muddled tonal experience. Coming back to the film on this new Blue Underground Blu-Ray is like watching a completely different film. The dark, cramped, ugly VHS and DVD releases have been replaced by this beauty of a transfer that is such an improvement that is forces a complete reevaluation of the film. The New York Ripper on Blu-Ray and VHS are two completely different movies and if you haven’t seen this version your really haven’t seen it at all.
Coming on the heels of the run of increasingly surreal zombie movies, Lucio Fulci goes to New York City for a film that is part giallo, part horror, and part American cop movie. The New York Ripper could be seen as a companion to Brian DePalma’s Dressed to Kill and William Lustig’s Maniac. All three films feature slasher killers on the streets of New York with Fulci’s film using the tropes of the Italian giallo, which DePalma meticulously copied mixed with elements of the absurd, juvenile antics of Maniac’s Frank Zito to create a film that is both very familiar yet unique. Like Maniac or Basket Case (1982), The New York Ripper set much of the action in TImes Square, more specifically “The Deuce”. “The Deuce” is the infamous stretch of porno theaters, strip clubs, and prostitution on 42nd street between 6th and 8th avenues. So much of what people think about old sleazy Times Square is from this concentrated pocket of sleaze. It is fitting that movies like New York Ripper, Maniac, Basket Case et al chose to set their films on the same stretch of sidewalks where they would eventually be seen. You could literally be watching the movie in the same theater you were seeing on screen.
New York City has been hit by a series of brutal murders and grizzled NYPD detective Lieutenant Fred Williams (Jack Hedley, For Your Eyes Only) teams up with a Columbia University psychology professor Dr. Paul Davis (Paolo Malco, House by the Cemetery) to attempt to get a profile of the killer. As the pair try to unravel the mystery the killings continue while the killer calls in to mock Lt. Williams. The killer is never seen and the killings are largely shown from his POV and accompanied by his incessant quacking. He uses the same quacking voice when tormenting Williams on the telephone. The reason for the quacking has psychological weight, but that isn’t revealed until the very end and the whole thing teeters on self parody and with the heightened sexuality and hyper-violence the entire film can be hard to take seriously. The quacking is a big reason people don’t take to The New York Ripper yet is an essential pillar of the movie’s cult standing. It is a ridiculous element but Italian giallo is rife with ridiculous moments and if the film.had been set in Rome or Milan it may have been less jarring than the no nonsense streets of New York. The psychosis behind the quack is explained in the end and makes sense in concept, in practice during the murders it is risible which creates a disconnect with the gore on screen.
The sex and violence in the film is legendary but apart from a few scenes it really isn’t that extreme. The slaughter of Williams’ prostitute/girlfriend Kitty (Daniela Doria, City of the Living Dead) is shockingly cruel and gruesome as she is bound and her face, belly, and breasts are slowly sliced up with a razor blade. The cutting is slow and Fulci’s camera is unflinching as even the dissection of her eyeballs and nipples are not left to the imagination The killing is meant as a personal attack on the relentless police detective and the added dramatic tension of the cop being able to hear her screams over radio after being led across town by the killer on a ruse makes the killing nasty beyond the special effects. Most of the sexual notoriety comes from Jane Lodge (Alexandra Delli Colli) and her pursuits of dark sexual kinks which lead her to being sexually humiliated by a dated Latino stereotype pool player in a Spanish Harlem bar. Without going into much detail a foot is involved and is all manner of cringe. Jane later hooks up with red herring suspect number one Mickey Scellenda (Howard Ross, The Killer Reserved Nine Seats) for some BDSM in a sleazy downtown hotel. She hears the news that the police are looking for Scellenda while she is tied, naked, to the bed as he sleeps next to her. Her attempt to escape is the best suspense in the film, but the ick of her sex scenes with Scellenda are almost as bad as the pool hall assault. The murder also throws the narrative into chaos as she was the de facto protagonist and we are down to a corrupt cop and a woman we just met, Fay Majors (Almanta Keller), who may actually be the killer as the audience proxy. The best sequence is the attack/dream sequence where Fay is attacked on the street and takes refuge in a movie theater only to have the killer attack again. The whole sequence looks amazing and is actually frightening as opposed to just gory. The shot where Fay is attacked in the aisle of the abandoned cinema, back lit by the film projector (naturally showing cartoons) is one of those shots you’d like to have framed on the wall.
Blue Anchor continues an impressive run of major upgrade releases of grindhouse horror including Fulci’s Zombie and Wiilliam Lustig’s Maniac. The three disc set consists of the revelatory Blu-Ray, a DVD copy of the film, and a CD of Francesco De Masi’s surprisingly funky soundtrack. The discs come with a lenticular art slip cover, reversible case artwork and an illustrated booklet featuring Travis Crawford’s essay “Fulci Quacks Up: The Unrelenting Grimness of The New York Ripper”, which is a great read. The film is presented in English, Italian, French and Sapnish. There are expectedly loads of extras including interviews with cast and crew members, trailers, and a short, nostalgic featurette NYC Locations Then and Now. Italian and Eurocult film historian Troy Howarth provides feature commentary where he dives into the film’s controversies including the frequent charge of misogyny and the British censors and the fact the film is still unavailable without edits in the UK. Stephen Thrower, who literally wrote the book on Lucio Fulci (Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci) provides a deep dive on camera interview. He covers the back story on the film’s production and provides much needed critical analysis. He takes on the film’s misogynist reputation and uses the Donald Duck voice given to the killer as proof that no one is expected to sympathize with a murderer using such an absurd vocal element. He considers the The New York Ripper as a game of Fulci pushing the boundaries of good taste and staying a step ahead of the competition who kept pushing the shock value of horror. If you are a long time fan of The New York Ripper this set is a no-brainer, but if you have reservations about the film based on older video presentations I recommend taking a fresh look at Fulci’s divisive slasher,