Synopsis: He’s a blood thirsty savage with an appetite for mutilating pretty girls (the looser the perceived morals the better!) and he’s in 1980s New York City, where the theaters offer live sex shows and women dress seductively in search of a little a-c-t-i-o-n. He also quacks like a duck when he goes about his bloody business or taunts the lead detective on the serial killer case. He’s the star of Lucio Fulci’s 1982 gore fest, The New York Ripper!
Lucio Fulci was the Italian maestro of gore, and he made four great pictures, a lot of middle ground pictures, and quite a few stinkers. The great ones are his living dead themed ones—The Beyond (1981), Zombi 2/Zombie (1979), City of the Living Dead/The Gates of Hell (1980), and The House By The Cemetery (1981)—and they are quirky little gems of bad acting, questionable direction, and over the top gore set pieces that somehow manage to transcend their poor budgets to become energetic, memorable entries into iconic Italian horror cinema. Then there’s a movie like The New York Ripper, which strives to be another entry in the director’s great horror exploitation oeuvre, but doesn’t quite manage to get there. The ludicrous energy that allows a hotel to, oh yeah, sit on “one of the gates Of Hell!”, or the dead to sit up from shallow graves, covered with night crawlers, or teleporting zombies who can make a girl barf up her own entrails just by staring at her, or a house with killer rubber bats and a demented undead mad scientist in the cellar never really coalesces in The New York Ripper. So, the badness hangs out for all to see like a middle-aged-dude’s gut over his speedo.
It’s a giallo set in New York, so there’s something. It opens with a guy playing fetch with his dog, only to get a rotten surprise. It takes place over about a month or two (?) but there’s no real sense of time shifts other than occasional snippets of dialogue. And it’s got a killer who quacks like a duck.
That bears repeating: It’s got a killer who slashes, hacks, jabs, dices, disembowels, slices an eyeball open with a razor blade, pokes a sex show worker’s crotch with a broken bottle and then twists said bottle just to make it hurt worse, and he quacks like a duck while he’s doing it. He calls the cop to “dedicate a killing to you!” in a cartoonish duck voice. Needless to say, the dude is quackers. (*thump* *thump*Is this thing on?)
It’s almost enough of a blend of grotesque and ludicrous (and a shout out to Fulci’s earlier giallo, 1972’s near-brilliant Don’t Torture a Duckling, which was originally titled Don’t Torture Donald Duck, but you get three guesses why that changed for American distribution and the first two don’t count) to transcend the cheapness, but not quite.
Oh, the gore is handled with gusto. It’s needlessly gratuitous when it happens. Likewise, the sexy moments are borderline pornographic—one of the characters, Jane Forrester Lodge (Alexandra Delli Colli), is on the prowl for various encounters she can audiotape for her husband to listen to and before she lands in the hands of the Ripper, she masturbates to a live sex show, has an erotic encounter with a pool room tough who has “silver toes”, and winds up tied to a bed with a dude who like it rough and the camera takes almost the same delight in watching legs spread and panties shoves aside as it does watching latex flesh ripped by a blade in extreme close-up and all too real guts (likely gathered from a slaughterhouse) pushed through the wound. That these two elements, the sexy and the vicious, occur in close proximity to one another should come as no real surprise. Sex and violence are this kind of picture’s meat and potatoes. However, there are wastelands of cops being cops, victims being set up, and a mystery as to the Ripper’s identity that take up the space between these visceral moments and they do not tease the mind as well as the other stuff teases the id.
Jack Hedley gets the unfortunate task of being the films straight man, the ever beleaguered police Lt. Fred Williams is there to get the clues and try to assemble what’s going on. Sure, he manages to deliver the film’s brutal finale (which has touches of a famous pistol death from Fulci’s The Beyond), but for the most part he is asked to scowl and slouch his way through various scenes. Occasionally, he gets to chat with Dr. Paul Davis (Paolo Malco), a gay psychologist who is doing the best he can to profile the Ripper, and those moments are fun little buddy pieces. However, much of the police procedural elements are handled in a dry fashion.
Fulci himself shows up for a cameo, as a pipe smoking chief of police. It’s more than a Hitchcock cameo, since he delivers quite a bit of dialogue and glowers.
Apparently, Fulci viewed this film as his bid into Hitchcock suspense. Although he has some of the hallmarks of Hitchcock circa 1972’s Frenzy (including some nudity and a serial murderer who has an erotic fixation on his methods of murder) Fulci never quite gets the quieter scenes and the general sense of tension informing Hitch’s pictures. Suspense is notable for its absence from The New York Ripper; the audience it aims for (some might say caters to) is here for the money shot gross outs, which the film offers during its best staged moments.
The New York Ripper is a weird little piece from the excessive days of the 1970s and ’80s. It manages to show off the best and worst qualities of both Italian cinema in general as well as the macho culture of the times. There’s a thread of misogyny running through the picture. Just about the only woman who gets more than two speaking lines that is not targeted by some sort of a dismemberment, assault, or murder, is a landlord who appears to be in her sixties.
From a special effects perspective, the film remains an effective exercise. The seams are perhaps a bit more noticeable these days, but the meanness remains energetic. Fulci is perhaps best known for the gore he brings to the pictures, particularly “eye gags” such as a zombie dragging a girl’s eyeball onto a the splintered wooden slat of a broken door and then twisting her head such that the splinter breaks off. There are guts aplenty and a nasty little eye gag here, as well. The violence is brutal enough to have landed the flick on the Video Nasties list in various countries when it was released, resulting in censored versions across the globe. These days have found uncut releases surfacing on various DVDs, allowing the film to find a new appreciation amongst gorehounds and lovers of international horror. A brand new one in 4K has appeared from Blue Underground, and that was the version I caught in a theatrical showing here in Houston back in June. The movie has never looked better, and seeing the mayhem on the big screen turned my stomach a few times. Oy.
This is the sort of movie I loved when I was in my twenties and the gross-out Italian backlist was hitting DVD from distributors like Anchor Bay (and Blue Underground). It’s a real shocker that takes no prisoners and cares not one whiff for political leanings, preferring to instead throw its id up on the screen for all to see and appreciate. Fulci is not a master filmmaker, but at his best he is an effective purveyor of gruesome material and just about every one of his movies has at least one scene where you think, “Hey, this is the kind of artistic director he could have been!” Not to say there’s no art to the gross-out. If that is the criteria, then Fulci has more than earned the title of maestro. Few manage to target an audience upchuck quite the way he manages.
The New York Ripper is solidly in the middle ground of his pictures. It might not be the place to start watching his features. I started out with The Beyond, myself, which Quentin Tarantino’s distribution company showed across the country as a midnight movie revival back in the 1990s. The Beyond is perhaps the pinnacle of Fulci’s craft, gonzo as that craft might sometimes be. The New York Ripper has some memorable moments and subtext potentially worth exploring in a longer article—there are several folks who have published book length appreciations of the director’s body of work, but I can’t say whether or not this picture merits more page time than his other works—but for my money there are one too many breaks in tone/pacing to call the picture a successful one. Afterward, the only pieces that linger in my memory are its string of gross out moments, not the connective tissue between them.
“SHOCKtober Movies: The New York Ripper” is copyright © 2019 by Daniel R. Robichaud. Poster and still taken from IMDB.