Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The New York Ripper

1982
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!

9 comments:

Matthew Coniam said...

"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... To be completely honest, I 'enjoyed' it, if indeed, that word can be applied to such a film."

Exactly how I felt about it.
And it passed this acid test: after I'd seen it, I found myself pondering it a lot, and I found I wanted to see it again.
Whereas with Cannibal Holocaust or Last House on Dead End Street, whatever I thought of them, I knew that I would only ever want to see them once.
Fulci does have something, in that he draws me back, even to this.
There are lots of surprises in it; things that really shouldn't be there, things that go so much further than you expect (that toe sex scene being a prime example), and an Argentoish plot resolution that, as you say, is much more effective for being so unexpected.
I also love the way the lead actor is just a British sitcom bitpart actor that Fulci cast because he looked right and would be dubbed in every available version.
Most extreme slasher films of this era I watch once and add to the list and rarely think of again, but something about this one (and Maniac, and The Toolbox Murders) brings me back. As you say, it's certainly not unequivocal admiration, and not really pleasure. Something much harder to pin down, but after reading this I know I'll go back and look at it yet again.

Aaron said...

I've been wanting to see this one for a WHILE since I consider myself somewhat of a Fulci completist, but it's unavailable on Netflix and I haven't felt like dishing out the cash to purchase it just yet. I'll get around to it sooner than later, though, and I anticipate the vast amounts of sleaze and violence and quacking! Would you say it's comparable to STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER?

James said...

Yes Matthew, you told me once before that after watching this you found yourself thinking about it and wanting to see it again. I kinda feel the same way - copious sleazy moments aside there were some really well constructed moments of tension throughout. And I dug the music and the atmosphere. Plus, like we both discovered, there were a number of aspects most unexpected, too.

Aaron, if you're a fan of Fulci, you really should attempt to check this out (have you tried renting it from a video shop?). It's MUCH nastier than Strip Nude For Your Killer though, and doesn't have the same 'trashy/kitsch' feel, but in terms of the sleaze-factor; yeah, it's really right up there! Prep your shower for afterwards... QUACK! ;)

Aylmer said...

QUACK QUACK! God I love this movie.

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

An excellent assessment James of a film totally devoid of merit. I am most curious however to see how Shameless have fared with their first Blu Ray release. I believe a new cut of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is on the way too from the same company. Fulci finally gives in to a pure misogynistic vision, one that you could tell he'd been reining in throughout his career. It's a scuzzy piece of garbage, but one that stands up remarkably well to the utter dross that Fulci followed it with...QUACK!

James said...

Cheers, Shaun! I had my reservations about watching this one - not only because of its reputation, but also because Fulci's stuff has an odd effect on me - it really gets under my skin. Also, something Matthew Coniam (of Carfex Abbey) said about this echoed through my head; he said he’d spent ages dithering over whether or not to check it out, as he'd read about it for years and had all the things about how horrid it would be swirling around in his head. He said it was indeed everything he thought it would be, but that he has watched it since and still finds himself returning to it on occasion…
When the nice folks at Shameless sent me a screener I kind of had to watch it – and kind of WANTED to! Ahh, the morbid curiosity of a horror fan, eh? I really enjoyed aspects of it, and will more than likely check it out again, but I can fully understand why so many view it as utterly reprehensible garbage.
The interview with Fulci’s daughter is really quite interesting. She talks about the film from the point of view that it is a fantasy/horror, and discusses the allegations of misogyny hurled at her father. Great stuff!

As for Cannibal Holocaust... Hmmm. I remember watching that in uni the night before I had a literature exam. Needless to say, Shakespeare's sonnets were the last thing on my mind during the exam. Cheers, Deodato!

Christine Hadden said...

I first saw this film back when I was a young teenager, and it was one of my first run-ins with Fulci. Imagine my surprise (disgust?) when the killer started slicing off nipples and other piecey-parts. And that quacking? Pretty sure I made fun of that a few times in my lifetime.

But like you, I "enjoyed" it. Probably sounds strange coming from a woman, but hey - the first time I saw it I had yet to see an Argento film and didn't realize yet that one could kill a female with style!

Much prefer The Beyond and the likes to this one, but fans of Fulci shouldn't leave it out.

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

It doesn't quite have the same magnetism for me, I've watched the film once. I purchased the Blue Underground DVD some years back for under £5. It is something of a rites of passage viewing experience though for those looking toward the more extreme end of horror cinema. But I will buy the Blu Ray, I'm very curious about it. I think its important to support companies like Shameless. The UK has waited far too long for labels like Shameless and Arrow Video. Even if the material they present is open to criticism, I'm just thankful these titles are being released at all.

Although I don't admire Deodato much at all, I have to admit after watching his films you cannot think about anything else for a good while after.

James said...

Christine, you watched this as a young teenager??!! I was still being terrified by the likes of Pit and the Pendulum as a young teen. What can I say? I'm a wimp... Something like this would have DEEPLY upset me as a youngster. I remember once when my cousins were babysitting me (I was about 8 or 9) they watched some Halloween rip-off called Offerings - that gave me sleepless nights for weeks!

Shaun, I couldn't agree more - Shameless and Arrow are doing a wonderful job promoting and distributing these films, and it is really important to support them. The special features they've supplied for some of these titles alone should convince you to pick them up.