The New York Ripper (1982)
Young women are viciously murdered across New York by a deranged killer who contacts the police and speaks with ‘the voice of a duck’……
Lucio Fulci’s depravity infamously knows no bounds here but to dismiss his film as nothing more than misogynist gutter-trash is a mistake made by many. For me, it’s a bit like an Argento giallo without the (moral?) restrictions which held-back even one of the most ardent horror auteurs of his generation.
This film marks a material departure from Fulci’s more supernatural horror movies of the era. The horror of the ripper is very much more beholden to the real-word than to the gates of hell. In terms of the mechanics of the movie, the performances are universally stronger than in many other entries in spaghetti-shock. Jack Hadley’s chain-smoking detective is believably grounded and Alexandra Delli Colli’s frustrated ‘nymphomaniac of a housewife’ character is a spectacle on screen. Paolo Malco (star of Fulci’s 1981 “The House by the Cemetery”) gives a quirky performance as a psychoanalyst setting out to profile the ripper parading the streets of the city.
Fulci captures the seedy hedonistic under-belly of New York perfectly. The classy cinematography is infested with a sleaze so smutty it made me nauseous. Long, lingering shots of dismemberment and sexual gratification are formidable, frequent and fierce. I mean that in the strongest possible sense because the ferocious violence on display straddles the line between entertainment and exploitation on more than one occasion. We see young girls’ torsos literally gutted at the hands of switchblades, stomachs mauled by broken wine-glasses and eye-balls sliced through with razors. Perhaps surprisingly however, Fulci gives the victims some element of characterisation; these are not simply women lined up for the knife as you’d find in a by-the-numbers slasher flick. But, that is certainly not to say Fulci’s film paints women in anything close to a sympathetic light.
I’d suggest that Fulci’s ambitions for this movie were not, as the crowd may suspect, to simply induce revulsion in the audience – more to highlight that in the dark complexity of the modern world even the most sickening actions can have understandable moral drivers. *****Warning – SPOILER coming***** The finale reveals the motivation behind our killer’s maniacal slaughter-spree and indeed this revelation turns the entire film on its head. The ripper is not a red-herring in the form of a ‘man with two fingers missing’, rather he’s a handsome boyfriend and doting father of a terminally-ill girl lying stricken in a hospital’s isolation ward. When Fulci first shows us her paraplegic body laid-out on the sparse bed, it’s difficult not to be overcome by a desperate agony. In the end – and this is Fulci’s real trump card – we hate the ripper not for his nightmarish butchery of promiscuous women but because his hellish actions have left his daughter facing her own death alone. In a film like this, you don’t expect it, but the last sequence really does pull the heart strings.
If you are looking for an experience – and an unforgettable one at that – you won’t be disappointed. I’m not sure if this is an enjoyable movie, but the film’s veracity means it should be on everyone’s ‘bucket list’.
In a couple of words – Gutsy in more ways than one.
NB: James Ferman, then the slightly puritanical head of the BBFC, ordered all copies of this film to be escorted to the airport by police. Even in the latest UK release (2011), there are 29 seconds of cut material. Cheers censors!
Hotdog rating: 7.5/10