The New York Ripper
Dir. Lucio Fulci
Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper has a reputation as a misogynistic slasher/giallo Video Nasty which definitely precedes it. Throughout its running time the audience is subjected to all manner of abhorrent and depressing violence – pretty much solely directed at women; and scantily clad ones at that. These scenes are loosely lashed together by a convoluted ‘murder mystery’ narrative, in which a hard boiled, burnt out New York cop (Jack Hedley) attempts to track down the titular ripper, who has been butchering free-spirited/promiscuous/beautiful women with seemingly wild abandon. Fulci relegates the detective story aspect of the film to the background, focusing more on the killer’s sadistic, frenzied exploits, to push his set-piece driven narrative forward. Indeed, tension is often broken by the tonal change when we switch to the police procedural scenes, as our detective and various bumbling cops just stumble from one convenient clue to the next, with little logic or reason.
To say the scenes of violence live up to their reputation is a vast understatement. Despite being made over thirty years ago, and boasting some SFX that has admittedly dated a little, The New York Ripper still wields a massively disquieting and disturbing power. Murderous proceedings are rendered all the more stressful to watch due to the grimy, sleazy atmosphere and their sheer merciless onslaught. Add to this the often laughable dialogue and the fact that the killer quacks like Donald Duck (!) while slashing his victims to death, and you might also get an idea of the ludicrous nature of the film.
Fulci revels in his ability to churn up feelings of disgust and he excels in composing a disheartening and grubby backdrop for his story to play out against. The New York depicted in this film is akin to Abel Ferrara’s scuzzy depictions of the city – an overcrowded space wallowing in filth, deprivation and graffiti-gorged grit. The music, courtesy of Francesco De Masi, sounds like it belongs in a 70s cop show, and really fuels the exploitative, sleazy heat of proceedings. It is by turns kitsch, creepy, sleazy and perfectly moody. Aiding Fulci in his squalid depiction of NYC is cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller (who previously worked with Dario Argento on Deep Red). Every alley and corner poses a threat, every shadow conceals a prowler. And as Fulci is just one of those directors you can’t trust, things don’t happen as you expect – the killer often bursts from inconceivable corners of the frame to hack, gouge, slash and mutilate the flesh, nipples, eyeballs (and worse) of the wide-eyed, petrified unfortunates which (usually only momentarily) populate this lurid tale.
Indeed, certain elements are highly sexualised, and the excessive nudity and prolonged violence – forensic violence even, for Fulci practically thrusts his highly subjective camera into the deeply seeping, bloodily flowing wounds of the victims – verges on the pornographic. The scene depicting the live sex show features more shots of a couple having intercourse than it probably should. A later scene, in which two members of the sex show audience – the prime suspect and a promiscuous housewife – hook up in a grotty motel, is unbearably sleazy. However this scene also eventually plays out as one of the most suspenseful in the film, as the woman – tied to the bed – hears a description of the suspected killer on the radio, which matches that of the man sleeping next to her… Given that the characters are only introduced to be cut up, Fulci still manages to create scenes of stifling tension, another of which occurs when a young woman is repeatedly stabbed while trying to escape a car on a ferry. Her door is wedged against a wall and she struggles weakly to escape the killer’s maddening onslaught with a switchblade.
What was most unexpected (for me anyway), was the killer’s motive. Yes, it’s cheap and fairly unimaginative, but given that I wasn’t expecting one at all, let alone one that makes an attempt at poignancy, it came as quite the surprise. It weakly ‘explains’ why the killer has been murdering women. And quacking like a duck (!) while doing so. What was even more unexpected was that I didn’t hate the film. Note how I said ‘didn’t hate’ and not ‘liked’, because this is a difficult film to like. Yes, you can laugh at the cheesy music, inexplicable logic and guffawing dialogue, and maybe even gasp at the special effects work; but there is still something that lurks in the film that maybe just won’t sit right with you. You may love or loathe Fulci, but this is further evidence that his work shocks, unsettles and bothers. To be completely honest, I 'enjoyed' it, if indeed, that word can be applied to such a film. I appreciated it for what it is, but The New York Ripper is not a film for everyone. It is disturbing and ludicrous, but if you allow yourself to try and watch it objectively (perhaps not as easy as it sounds), you will see that it is also perhaps a perfect exploitation movie and a throbbing example of classic grindhouse cinema.
New York Ripper (cert. 18) will be released on Blu-ray and DVD by Shameless Screen Entertainment on 27th June 2011. Special Features include: feature introduction by Antonella Fulci, daughter of Lucio Fulci and curator of his work; “Beyond Fake Blood” – exclusive interview with Antonella Fulci and writer Dardano Sacchetti; collectors’ booklet adapted by Stephen Thrower from his definitive book, “Beyond Terror, The Films Of Lucio Fulci”; English, Italian and Spanish 2.0 DTS HD and Dolby 2.0 audio options; optional English subtitles. All lovingly packaged in a bright lemon “Yell-o-ray” case!