It's a dubious testament to the graphic nature -- the sheer misanthropic sleaziness -- of this late-period giallo/slasher from Lucio Fulci, that the new British DVD from Shameless has still shorn of over thirty-seconds of footage by the BBFC, completely removing all of the sordid details from the movie's most notorious sequence! Even today -- when Eli Roth can get the Hostel movies released with ease in this country uncut; when modern horror directors have recourse to the most realistic special effects techniques imaginable; and when cinema multiplexes are positively bursting with mainstream horror movies soaked in more guts and gore than Fulci could ever have dreamed of during the great heyday of the video nasty -- "The New York Ripper" still feels like it goes too far: relentlessly rubbing the viewer's nose in the dregs of a sleazy milieu of crumbling, rubbish-strewn New York in the early eighties, feebly tarted up with garish strip joint neon and populated with a cavalcade of embittered, emotionally damaged quasi-perverts. Even the New York skyline rarely deviates from a heavy slate-grey cloudiness in this depressing movie, and that's before we even get to the lingering relish with which Fulci has his bizarre duck-voiced slasher butcher a succession of lip gloss-wearing bimbos in leg warmers. "The New York Ripper" is simultaneously demented, sleazy, illogical and depressing, and takes the always wild giallo genre so completely off the rails in terms of plot convulsions that it enters a weird kind of sordid misanthropic surrealism, unparalleled in the genre. A psychopath that quacks like a duck while slashing his victims, and calls the police to taunt them in a Mickey Mouse, high-pitched squawk? It's a random piece of nonsense that elevates the film into a strange hallucinogenic nightmare -- the ridiculous always side-by-side with the depraved and the sordid.
Fulci made several highly regarded forays into the twisted world of the giallo, all of which -- apart from "Don't Torture a Duckling", which is about as quintessentially "Italian" as the genre gets -- specialised in taking the tropes of the genre abroad: to San Francisco in "Perversion Story" and to London in "Woman in a Lizard's Skin". Few films capture a period and a place with more grim similitude, though, than "The New York Ripper". From the opening scenes aboard a ferry beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, the film highlights the seething meltdown of the city in an almost unintentional, offhanded documentary realism. But the film also draws upon the standard plot requirements of the giallo in such a way as to present Fulci's typically jaded view of humanity with more force than anywhere else in the director's filmography. Since everyone, no matter how unlikely, is a suspect in a giallo, every single character (even the ones, in fact, who could not possibly be the murderer) is shown utterly embroiled in a sleazy sexual underworld.
Even investigating detective, Fred Williams (Jack Hedley), the apparently typical, ageing, world-weary policeman in charge of the case -- an unthinking standard of cop thrillers from the period -- turns out to frequent a suspiciously young-looking prostitute! This isn't even highlighted or made great play of; it's simply passed over as a perfectly normal part of life. Also, the psychologist hired to profile the killer, himself leads a double life. (Incidentally, Fulci has often been accused of homophobia because of this portrayal of the psychologist [played by Paolo Malco] as a closet gay; but, strangely enough, whatever other sins the film can be accused of this doesn't seem to me to be a legitimate criticism. It's true that the manner in which the character is presented concealing his homosexuality in a furtive, secretive way, leads the viewer to suspect him of being the killer, but it this very furtiveness -- rather than the homosexuality itself -- which leads the viewer down this path; and, of course, the necessity of having to lead a double life as a gay man was still almost a given, even as late as the early eighties.)
On top of this, the film is full of sordid snapshots of both victims and suspects who all seem driven by perverse animal instincts: the rich woman who frequents live sex shows in the most seedy areas of town, and indulges in squalid sexual assignations with strangers in sordid hotels -- taping the experiences for the delectation of her voyeuristic husband; the fingerless taxi driver who menaces lone women on the subway and lives in isolated squalor surrounded by old porn mags in his poky apartment. Then, of course there is the killer (who might be one of the above, of course), one of the most sadistic misogynistic portrayals in cinema history. Fulci literally has him tearing his victims to bits, but not before ramming broken bottles into their private parts or stabbing them repeatedly in the breasts. The film's most notorious scene (which has itself been butchered in this DVD release): a lingering shot of a woman's nipple being sliced off by a razor blade, takes us further into abject misanthropy (as well as just plain hateful misogyny) since the whole point of the scene is that detective Williams knows exactly where the killer really is while he is torturing Kitty the prostitute, but cannot say anything since it would reveal his own relationship with the woman.
All this degradation and general sleaze is topped off with a bizarrely jaunty theme tune that sounds like it should have headed some network cop show from the late seventies. In terms of special effects, the film of course pales next to modern horror flicks, but its unrelenting cynicism and bleak hopelessness leaves most other gialli, and certainly modern horror films, looking like a Disney flick by comparison.