Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper is equal parts giallo and equal parts 1970's American cop drama. As a matter of fact, were it not for the atrocious dubbing and generous amount of full-frontal nudity, one could easily mistake this film for any number of ham-fisted, hard-boiled procedurals churned out during the decade, but once the killing starts, there’s no mistaking it for anything other than a Fulci film.
Ripper opens with a scene in which a man playing fetch with his dog is rewarded by said dog’s gift of a woman’s dismembered hand. The image freezes on the desiccated appendage as the film’s howlingly inappropriate (and, as you’ll soon find out, ubiquitous) theme song blares over the title credits. We are then introduced to tough-as -nails detective, Fred Williams (Jack Hedley), as he “interviews” the victim’s eccentric landlady, who tells Hedley she’d heard her tenant, a prostitute named Anna, talking with someone with a voice “like a duck” (I’m not making this up, I swear) before she went missing. Hedley, of course, dismisses this as so much nonsense, but also expresses that he has a feeling this is only the beginning.
We are next introduced to Rosie, a lovely young woman riding her ten speed toward the Staten Island Ferry, whereupon she collides with a Volkswagen Bug, and gets into a brief argument with said car’s owner. After the ship leaves the dock, we see the girl sneak into the belly of the ship, where she finds the jerk’s car, and starts scrawling something on his windshield in lipstick. She’s soon interrupted by a man who starts quacking like a duck, and proceeds to carve her from her naughty bits all the way up to the sternum, gutting her in a manner very much like London’s Jack the Ripper. It’s a scene filled with the sort of gruesome overkill we’ve come to expect from a Fulci film, but is probably the tamest kill of the movie. Hedley learns that the killer’s M.O. is the same as the last victim, and he’s now got a serial killer on his hands.
In what seems like a completely tangential storyline, Jane (Alessandra Delli Colli), a sexually adventurous socialite, attends a live sex show in Times Square, where she uses a pocket cassette recorder to capture both the sounds of the show as well as herself masturbating for her equally perverse husband’s enjoyment. It is here where we also meet Mickey Scellenda (Howard Ross), a leering sleaze ball with a disfigured hand, who watches as Jane pleasures herself beneath her trench coat. When the show ends, one of the “actresses” is murdered backstage by the quacking killer, and the audience has now been presented with no less than a half-dozen red herrings.
Hedley, under pressure from his captain (played by Fulci, himself), reluctantly enlists the aid of psychiatrist, Paul Davis (Fulci fave, Paolo Malco), and the two join forces to track the psychopath down before he strikes again.
The New York Ripper is one of the few films that still makes me squirm every time I watch it, despite the fact that I’ve seen this movie at least a dozen times. It’s not just the violence (which is extremely over-the-top, even by Fulci’s standards); It’s the fact that it’s one of the most appallingly misogynistic films I’ve ever seen. It was rumored that Fulci hated women, and, while I doubt that this was truly the case, The New York Ripper has gone a long way toward cementing that reputation over the years. The Ripper’s victims are dispatched in the most vile way possible, having their very femininity assaulted with all manner of implements, including knives, razor blades, and even a broken bottle. Suffice it to say, The New York Ripper is not the ideal choice for date night, lest your date is a Fulci fan, herself, or a sadomasochist.
Personally, I love this film. Sure, it’s oftentimes repellant stuff, but it’s all so relentlessly over-the-top that I can’t help but watch it with wide-eyed amazement. It’s such a grimy, nihilistic little world Fulci’s created, here, where every inhabitant is either a pervert, deviant, rapist, or sex-addict. Heck, even the hero cop spends his evenings sleeping with his prostitute girlfriend, while the brilliant shrink spends his scouring magazine racks for hardcore gay porn rags. Fulci’s New York is Sin City on steroids; a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah of adult bookstores and XXX cinemas, where no one – especially a woman – is a victim, but, rather, casualty of their chosen lifestyles. There’s some truly heady social commentary going on here if you really look for it, and, for me, that elevates The New York Ripper above the standard giallo fare.
The New York Ripper slashes its way onto Blu-ray courtesy of Blue Underground, and, boy oh boy, is this new transfer ever revelation. I watched the film with someone who’d never seen it before, and even he was blown away by the clarity and detail on display here. As mentioned, I’ve seen this film several times on everything from ratty old VHS to the most recent DVD incarnation, and there’s just no comparison. Even the opening credits look fresh and new, with nary a hint of artifacting or print damage in sight. Sure, hardcore Blu enthusiasts will find something to complain about (there’s an occasional bout of “Venetian blinds” and some image flicker), but fans of this film will be thoroughly blown away by the cinematic quality of the image. It’s easily the best transfer Blue Underground have offered thus far, and that’s saying something.
The audio is also very impressive, although, to be honest, The New York Ripper’s somewhat simple mix doesn’t take advantage from BU’s 7.1 DTS HD audio track as much as one would have hoped. The film’s relentless theme song is much more robust and expressive than I recall ever hearing it, and there are some well-placed discrete effects and surround enhancements in play, here, but, otherwise, this is a standard, front heavy mix. The dialogue is crystal clear, and there’s no sign of the distortion present on the film’s original mono soundtrack (also offered here for comparison’s sake and purists). It’s a well-balanced and noticeable improvement in sound quality, but nothing that will knock audiophiles off of their feet.
The extras are pretty slim, with only a ten minute interview with Zora Kerova (who plays the live sex show “actress” and the Ripper’s third victim) and a brief (4mins) video comparison of New York “then and now” which I actually found quite fascinating. It’s amazing how much they’ve cleaned up Times Square and 42nd Street, but, to be honest, I kind of miss the sleaze factor.
The New York Ripper, like Fulci himself, is something of an acquired taste. This is a brutal, exceptionally nasty slice of Eurosleaze that most certainly won’t appeal to everyone. Fulci devotees and giallo fans will definitely want to add this one to their collection, but casual viewers may be put off by the film’s misogynistic tone, sex, and ultraviolence, all of which are precisely the reasons I love it. Blue Underground have knocked this one out of the park, as I’ve never seen The New York Ripper look and sound so good. This is the definitive version of what is, in my opinion, one of Fulci’s best and most outrageous films.