Cast: Jack Hedley, Almanta Keller, Howard Ross, Andrea Occhipinti, Alexandra Delli Colli
Extras: Interviews, Featurettes, Galleries, Trailers, Audio CD
If you’re a fan of Italo-horror, then there is no doubt that you may have heard of the name Lucio Fulci. Heeded by many as the “Italian Godfather of Gore”, the man was known for creating some of the most controversial “video-nasties” out there on the market during his time. He has been commonly cited for being the creator of such cult classic flicks such as Zombie (Zombi 2) and the “Gates of Hell” trilogy, which began with City of the Living Dead (Paura nella città dei morti viventi), The Beyond (L’aldilà) and The House By The Cemetery (Quella villa accanto al cimitero). However, what a fair amount of people seem to continually overlook is his surprisingly solid list of gialli, from One on Top of the Other (Una sull’altra), to today’s pick, The New York Ripper (Lo squartatore di New York).
Released theatrically back in 1982, the movie managed to garner up extreme infamy over the years for its graphic depictions of violence and misogyny. Does it live up to such expectations? Yes, very, and I most certainly can see why it got outright banned in some places back then. Unfortunately, this led to the movie being only released in heavily censored cuts over the years which often led to the movie being practically butchered. Thankfully though at some point in the mid-90s, the movie was finally available in its uncut form, allowing all of us to see Fulci’s brutal vision in all its glory.
With context out of the way, now is a good time to get into the meat of things. The New York Ripper tells the brutal tale of a homicidal maniac–who’s strangely fond of Donald Duck impersonations–running loose in The Big Apple, butchering woman seemingly at random, all in the seemingly most painful and sadistic ways possible. With the body count rising and constantly taunted, burned-out police detective Lt. Fred Williams (Jack Hedley) stumped at every corner, he reaches for the aid of psychotherapist Dr. Paul Davis (Paolo Malco) to help catch the killer. However, in a stroke of luck, the two manage to catch a break. A young woman by the name of Fay Majors (Almanta Keller) narrowly avoided the killer’s grasp, allowing the NYPD to trace in on the only suspect left by her re-accounting: The man with two missing right-fingers.
The New York Ripper is an interesting giallo entry to say the least: It almost falls under the same umbrella as Dario Argento’s Opera in a way, because I find that the movie not only highlights some of the best and worst of the genre, but it also manages to encompass everything the director is known for–though that being said, technically A Cat In The Brain (Un gatto nel cervello), is a better reflection of the director, but that’s for another day. It all kind of boils down to this though: The movie is a prime example of an exploitation film, but it is a sub-par example of what the giallo genre has to offer.
When Fulci created a killer simply known as “The Ripper”, he wasn’t kidding around. Going all out in trying to shock and disgust the audience, each and every single killing has been designed to be as uncomfortable as possible for the audience. Not only is there the obvious misogynistic overtone which already strikes a particular cord amongst many then–and even more so today–but when you have death scenes that involve being slowly mutilated by a razor blade in the stomach, breast and eye, then you’re playing a whole other ball game. Then, there’s the excessive nudity. There’s really no nice way of putting it, but the movie’s downright pornographic at times with several extended scenes of sexual acts of all sorts. It really leaves you with conflicting feelings when one minute you’re watching, I quote, a “f_ck show”–it’s exactly what you think it is–to watching a woman get shanked in the nether region by a broken bottle the very next. To tie it all up, the movie is as cheesy as much as it is sleazy. Practically every scene oozes with that distinctly bizarre atmosphere that can only be found in Italo-horror movies, further solidified by the rather loose dubbing no matter what language you see it in. Whether or not you find this to be a pro or con is up to you, either way, it’s all a part of the experience. So in short, when looking at the movie as an exploitation film only, it has everything one could ever dream for: Sex, violence and cheese.
As a giallo though, the movie is a bit lacking at times. Here’s the thing, although it does hit all of the checkmarks that makes a giallo, it doesn’t particularly do a good job at executing them all. Now I won’t go in-depth as to why much of the movie doesn’t quite work since that goes into spoiler territory, but what I can say is that the movie doesn’t do a good job in providing clues for the audience and just sort of ends up ironically making it very easy to figure out who the killer is since there’s also a lack in variety when it came to the red herrings. It really is kind of a shame since Fulci is not inept at the genre. For example, A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (Una lucertola con la pelle di donna) is a stylishly psychedelic film that although has a rather absurdist premise and twist, Fulci does a decent job in at least leading the audience throughout. So really, I’m not sure as to why the murder-mystery elements were written so haphazardly this time around. Now it doesn’t ruin the movie per-say, but if you wanted to watch the movie as a proper giallo, I’d sooner turn you towards Fulci’s commonly overlooked classic, Don’t Torture A Duckling (Non si sevizia un paperino), a fantastically bleak giallo that is on the same level of quality as some of Dario Argento’s earlier works.
However, on the upside, the movie is definitely one of the better paced Italian films I have seen, making the movie run at a rather brisk pace that keeps things from dragging on too long–though ironically, it does lead to a rather rushed finale as a result. The acting throughout is decent enough though nothing to really write home about. The gore effects are definitely better executed than most of Fulci’s previous work, with many of the butchering scenes looking mostly convincing, though you still can almost always tell whenever a dummy was used in an actor’s stead.
Stylistically, the movie is arguably unrivaled in comparison to other gialli. Thanks to the solid work of cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller, who’s probably best known for having shot Deep Red (Profondo Rosso), the movie has a distinctively Italian look that is filled to the brim with fluid hand-held camera work and swiftly executed zooms. On top of this, many of the scenes are lit under an assortment of tinted fluorescent light sources, creating an unnatural yet distinctly urban look throughout. There are also a handful of scenes that go all-out with the colored lighting, akin to that seen in Suspiria, that further strengthens the strong stylization which I found to be positively eye-popping.
Sonically, the score to the movie is also definitely a big highlight for me. Composed by Francesco De Masi, The New York Ripper’s soundscape is filled with numerous energetic disco funk-inspired tracks, as well as a handful of synth cues, perfectly complementing the movie’s tense and sleazy atmosphere. There are also a small handful of licensed tracks scattered about that further intensifies the movie’s atmosphere rather than ruining it–like how Dario Argento did with Phenomena. It’s a jamming score that’s nice to listen to both in-movie-context as well as just something to boot up in iTunes.
Looking at the transfer, Blue Underground’s new 4K restoration is really paying off in spades, blowing the studio’s previous version of the movie straight out of the water. Simply put: This is probably the best the movie will ever look until Blue Underground starts shipping out 4K UHD releases. Despite being only in 1080p high definition, there is a massive uptick in details and colors that truly highlights the movie’s visuals with the right amount of grain left in to keep things looking organic and filmic.
In terms of color, I’d say things are looking pretty sweet, though there is a distinctly noticeable cyan push. I’ll gladly let it slide, however, since I do not know how the movie looked theatrically as a pristine 35mm print. Anyways, the black and white levels look more-or-less correct, and skin tones now look right which is a definite plus! The only issue I can really bring up was how in the bottle-killing scene, the facial close-up shots had a strange tinge in the shadows? I’m not sure what exactly went wrong there since it could be a faded print issue or a mistake in the post color grading, but either way, it’s pretty minor all things considered.
Thanks to the added efforts from Blue Underground since their last release, we’re also treated to quite a nice variety in terms of audio. Like previously, we are presented with the choice to view the movie in its English dub through either the original mono mix or as a newly-remixed 7.1 track. However, we finally also have the choice to see it with its original Italian mono mix, as well as the French and Spanish dubs–albeit in mixed quality. I consider this a really neat bonus since it’s quite rare to see modern restorations of these older films include foreign dubs as an option. On top of all these audio tracks, each one has been given a corresponding subtitles track, including two English subtitle tracks–one for Italian, the other for the English dub. Although I would personally argue that the killer’s duck impression sounds better in Italian, I’d rather you just listen to the English dub since not only is it just easier for most, but I think the main protagonist sounds better in it. Fair warning though, I did end up discovering a rather bizarre difference between it and the original Italian track during the movie’s climax. I can’t exactly address it properly for spoiler reasons but I will say that involves a phone call that somehow swapped a girl’s voice with the killer’s voice. I have no idea whether or not this was a half-baked fake-out concocted by distributors or just an honest blunder, but either way, it’s definitely a noticeable flaw that may leave you feeling rather cheated.
As always, Blue Underground provides us with a decent number of extras to dig into. For starters, we’ve got a boatload of interviews–both new and old–of some of the original stars, screenwriter and poster artist and a renown Fulci enthusiast/historian, as well as an audio commentary track. We’ve also got the original English theatrical trailer, a carried-over used-locations compilation and as an added bonus, the original soundtrack on an extra CD.
Recommending this movie is a really tricky undertaking for a vast number of reasons, as you may well imagine. I had a lot of fun watching this movie, but that being said, it’s a particularly sadistic watch in comparison to most other films and can easily put some people off with its depravity and graphic extremes. So to keep things easy, I’ll just lay it out like this: If you are a huge Lucio Fulci or exploitation fan and haven’t seen this movie yet, then I would highly recommend you grab this as soon as you can. However, if you are just interested in the giallo aspect of it, then I would say there are better choices out there, though it’s certainly not the worst. If you are outside of the aforementioned target demographic and/or too squeamish, it’d probably be for you to grow a spine- I er, mean, shy away for the sake of your oh-so-sensitive eyes. To give you a taste of what to expect here’s the movie’s trailer for you to check out.