Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The New York Ripper (1982)

Country: ITALY

A viewing of Lucio Fulci’s scandalous The New York Ripper has almost become something of a rites of passage for horror fans looking too experience the more extreme and unpleasant end of the spectrum. It wields a strange repulsive fascination not dissimilar to controversial ‘Video Nasties’ such as Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and I Spit on Your Grave (1978); to see them, and to own them in uncut prints, is seen as something of a badge of honour in some quarters. Fortunately such juvenilia are not to be found on these pages, and my encounter with this repugnant artefact came as a result of a piece of research into British film censorship. It’s not a film I would watch by choice, but then who would? Although it is often situated within the giallo cycle I find this position to be nominal at best. By 1982 the giallo was no longer a major force of influence within the horror genre, if anything gialli were absorbing influences from elsewhere; most notably from the American slasher film. A reversal of positions as it was, and one which would have a damaging effect on the giallo as films increasingly took on the appearance of cut rate slasher flicks. The New York Ripper is a very good example of this trend. Its prevailing influence was William Lustig’s squalid Maniac (1980) rather than The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) or Deep Red (1975).

Although Lucio Fulci often gets credited, or should that be lambasted, with the rampant misogony that is on display in The New York Ripper, the reality is that Gianfranco Clerici, Vincenzo Mannino and Dardano Sachetti are equally responsible. These four men collaborated on the screenplay for the film, and if you think Fulci has a history of hatred and violence towards women, checking out some of the other writing credits of Mr. Sachetti! There is also the fact that images of sexual humiliation, degradation, and violence toward women were actually wrapped up in the expectations of the cycle/genre; so instead of spending a paragraph chastising Fulci and thus making myself feel better about watching such a vile film, I’m going to forgive Lucio for the ever present spectre of misogony that haunts this production. The film actually opens with a rather amusing gag; instead of retrieving the stick his owner as thrown into a bush, a grinning dog returns with a putrefying hand for his master! The expression on the poor chaps face is worth a thousand words! Unfortunately things deteriorate quite rapidly as we are introduced to jaded and cynical detective Lt. Fred Williams (Jack Hedley) who is slowly buckling under the pressure of the latest serial killer case to cross his desk. The killer exclusively targets women of ill repute, and if the knife used to eviscerate them isn’t bad enough, he babbles incoherently like a duck!

The killings are quite rightly notorious, and they form the grotesque centrepiece of the movie. We get to watch one poor unfortunate have a broken bottle rammed between her legs, while another gets her stomach cut open, a third victim is slowly tortured with a razor blade; a sequence which is still problematic enough for the British censor to cut it. It has to be said that none of this is unexpected; this is after all a Lucio Fulci film. However the subplot involving well-to-do Jane (Alexandra Delli Colli) may raise a few eyebrows; despite a background of wealth and privilege Jane spends her mornings in grimy bars getting sexually humiliated by sleazy Latinos, one of whom has ‘silver toes’, and her afternoons in 42nd Street x-rated fleapits watching pornography. This wouldn’t be so bad were it not for Fulci’s customary, and in this case revolting, close ups which linger on Delli Colli’s quivering lips as she strokes herself to orgasm. The screenplay is completely determined to implicate every character in the sleaze and detritus of deviant or perverted sexuality. The problem though is that the screenplay doesn’t differentiate between harmless forms of sexual expression, such as those enjoyed by the red herring Mickey Scellanda (Howard Ross), or Dr. Davis’ (Paolo Malco) closet homosexuality, and the murderous antics of the duck obsessed fiend. This is precisely why this movie is so repugnant. It tries to communicate a message that all the characters are as bad as each other, and this just isn’t so.

However the decision to shoot on location in Times Square amid the seedy peep shows and porn vendors is a critical element in developing a culture of filth and depravation. Fulci’s stock-in trade of pans, zooms, and tracking shots explore the disgusting scum ridden streets, garbage strewn alleyways, and graffiti covered subway trains and concludes that only the worst type of human trash would thrive in such an environment. In stark contrast sit’s the beauty of Columbia University which is utilised to make certain parts of New York City seem even worse than they are. It’s a very effective spatial strategy, overflowing with symbolism and metaphor. In a perverse way this is one of Fulci’s most impressive looking films; he manages to get beneath the seething vitriolic street life of New York City, and the film exists as an effective document of the city in the years preceding the clean up. This doesn’t save the film though from slipping into the usual weaknesses that plague Fulci’s work; stilted dialogue, dire performances, and a singular lack of suspense. This isn’t helped one jot by Francesco De Masi’s bland, and at times oddly upbeat, TV cop show score. I did have a problem with the killer’s motivation, and while the writers should be commended for trying something a little different, I found it ultimately to be quite absurd. For a film that wallows so unremittingly in the shit of deviancy, and don’t forget even buying a gay porn magazine is enough to implicate a character in this sewer, I think a more appropriate motivation for the killer would have been that they simply got off on it!

© Shaun Anderson 2012


  1. Wow. This is one of the best pieces you've written, Shaun, which is saying a lot. Possibly your disgust for the film aided in some way?

    Now all you need to do is add other similar slimy endeavors like NIGHTMARE and PIECES!

  2. You know my Fulci bias so any defence here will come as no surprise. This is a fantastic and effective movie. It clearly works exceptionally well in what it attempts to achieve. It is repulsive and seedy.

    Best viewed as a double bill with Giallo in Venice, another of the more notorious and downright sleazy of the genre entries.

    and this: "disgusting scum ridden streets, garbage strewn alleyways, and graffiti covered subway trains and concludes that only the worst type of human trash would thrive in such an environment."


  3. @ Brian - You flatter me my friend! Yes my disgust certainly comes across, but one thing I will say is that I'm sometimes a little mischevious with my reviews may well have noticed that! :-) - I have a copy of PIECES, but not of NIGHTMARE. I have seen it though, and I found it to be even more repulsive than this!

    @ Nigel - I would expect nothing less than a staunch defence of Mr. Fulci's efforts from the man that has championed his cause for many years; effective yes...undeniably so! As for fantastic I'll have to respectfully disagree with you there :-)

    I don't have a copy of GIALLO IN VENICE, but I'll be sure to track one down now. I'm glad you enjoyed the review.

  4. Yes, I've noticed. I think it's a good thing to stir the pot a bit. Helps to avoid becoming stagnant as well as keep the creative juices flowing and can, of course, lead to all new ideas you may not have thought of otherwise.

  5. Yeah, I saw this one a couple of years ago and found it uncharacteristically sexual for a Fulci film, I mean, he does always use beautiful women in his films, but never in such a degrading manner. The one shot I seem to remember the most is that scene where they cut a womans nipple? Pretty shocking stuff in deed! Not my favorite either Shaun!

    It seems that Fulci was obsessed with New York wasnt he? He uses it in so many of his films! Maybe it's because thats where they were shown the most? On 42nd Street venues of the 70's and 80's?

  6. @ Brian - I endured a terrible spell of stagnation last summer. I gave serious thought to retiring from the writing of non-fiction and returning to the environment of fiction, but I survived those choppy waters, and I'm as enthusiastic as ever.

    @ Franco - Yeah the razor torture of the hooker is the films most controversial moment. The recent UK Blu-ray from Shameless still had 19 seconds shorn from that scene.

  7. To clarify and expand on my term fantastic. It is not a beautiful film, it is a sleazy film, a very sleazy film. But it succeeds, I believe in what it sets out to achieve, and effectively so. Contrast with, for example, the unrelated Mattei movie Snuff Trap. Snuff Trap is set in the world of the sleazy clubs and sex shops in back alleys where our lead is seeking out snuff film. It TRIES to go for the sleazy, it fails and borders on unintentional comedy. New York Ripper does not fail.

    I base my judgement really on the film clearly having a goal and achieving it. Fulci does not always succeed however- Devil's Honey starts with what attempts to be sexy at the opening but comes across as sleazy. Granted, the twists and turns of Devils Honey attempts to explore a disfunction of the relationship and illuminate its sleazy and controlling side. However I feel this only partially works as the whole thing looked a bit sleazy from the start, so there is no "ahhhhh" revelation moment. On the subject of Sleazy Fulci I feel that the comedy elements are misplaced in Touch of Death, a film that at time incidentally rivals New York Ripper in the sleaze stakes.

    The brilliances of New York Ripper are many, it is raw for a start, very raw. It works so well on these levels: horrible and genuinely nasty. It does what it says on the tin.

    And yes, loved the review, as Venoms5 notes there is some excellent writing here, clearly springing from a passion related to this film, a passionate dislike. It is clearly a film that had made it's impact upon you. Probably the one the director would have hoped for. No doubt Lucio would have been more disappointed in someone such as myself defending the film as I feel it is intended to repulse, not to win plaudits.

    If this was a film people laughed at, or ignored, then Fulci would have failed. This is a film that succeeds, in fact I would suggest that it would have a powerful impact on everyone who sees it, and for all the notorious reasons. How could I not use words therefore other than fantastic. It hits its mark. Fulci was also prone to missing the mark too- New Gladiators, a film he chose over Blastfighter, now that was one massive misfire, so let it not be said that I will defend everything the guy does. Just almost everything :) ha!

  8. Oh and concur with Venoms re: Nightmare, I need a shower immediately after watching that one!

  9. Wow. Your utter contempt for this film makes for some DAMN fine reading material, Shaun! I have to agree with you on most of the points you raised - this isn't really a film one can just pop on, kick back and chill out to. It's disturbing stuff. I think if you set aside the base misogynistic leanings, it unravels as a scathing look at the putrid depths society can sink to, and is perfectly content to wallow in. That goes for onscreen and off-screen. It’s important to remember that Fulci set out to make an exploitation movie, and with The New York Ripper, he certainly ticked ALL the boxes. And then shat over them just to be sure.

    I also agree with you about this film’s status as a giallo – for me, it definitely leans more towards a slasher flick; but then, as you mentioned, gialli had began to absorb influences from American horror.

    Like you say, the atmosphere and production design in this really adds to the sleaziness – and for me, these are the most impressive elements of the film. That and the effect that it had on me – very few films make me want to take a shower after I’ve watched them. I’ve only seen this once, but I’m sure I’ll investigate it again at some stage – like you say, it holds a certain morbid fascination. I too was very surprised by the reveal; absurd yes, but given that I wasn’t even expecting such an attempt at ‘justification’ within the story, it’s still one of the main aspects of the film that lingered in my head after I’d watched it.

    Incidentally, there’s a pretty good Fulci retrospective in the new Dark Side magazine examining his horror output. It reminded me that his wife committed suicide and one of his daughters died in a car accident, which could be argued had an impact on his horror work – and its unrelenting onslaught in depicting the all too mortal, fragile nature of humanity and the vulnerable flesh that encases it.

  10. @ Nigel - Welcome back sir! You're quite correct of course, it completely succeeds in what it sets out to do. I think the other three guys that chipped in with the screenplay deserve some credit too. They also deserve to take there own share of the flak for it as well. For far too long Fulci alone has been taking the rap and it's not entirely fair...unless of course you believe Fulci to be a visonary autuer in the mould of Bergman, in which case it's entirely his own fault.

    This might astound you but I've never seen SNUFF TRAP!, in point of fact I tend to vehemently avoid anything with the name Bruno Mattei attached to it. I guess NEW YORK RIPPER does stir things up and for this alone one should be thankful. There is nothing worse than an average film that inspires no thought whatsoever...I'm going to have to see NIGHTMARE again, at the very least it'll be an excuse to have shower!

    @ James - Glad you picked up on the films contentious status as a giallo. I honestly thought I'd get a swathe of individuals saying I was full of shit on this point. I have to confess that watching the film on blu-ray (courtesy of Shameless) brought out the sleaze even more, and it really is a beautifully dirty film. I did pick up the latest edition of THE DARK SIDE, and read the Fulci piece; like most writing on this area it annoyed me slightly, because I could have a written a better article, and I'm sure you could of, with my eyes closed. :-)

  11. Quote: "It’s not a film I would watch by choice, but then who would?"



    DISHEVELLED MALCONTENTS sit in a seated circle: a group therapy session. A balding, bearded clinical psychologist prods one particularly recalcitrant patient to stand and address the gathering. He rises:


    "Hi - my name's Johnny6666, and I'm a 'The New York Ripper' watcher!"

    (In unison, loudly)

    "HI, JOHNNY!"


    It's the weakest of Fulci's gialli, to be sure, and as I think I've said before, the stylised gore content obscures Fulci's real strengths as a director, which is a shame. Still, it's unrepentant trash with bite, and features a soundtrack theme that distills every crappy T.V. cop drama jingle into a mellifluous boogie inferno. Gold!

    (The BU Blu-Ray looks stunning, too - which certainly makes a difference after the drab 'n dirty releases of yore.)

  12. Indeed, the title track in question ('New York, One More Day' I think it's called) needs to be a choice cut on the 'Alternative Jukebox', Shaun. The twin-lead guitar break is genius. :)

  13. I like the group therapy session! At what point does the mono-syllabic 6ft 10" native American inmate tear out the water fountain? I think repeated exposure to the films of Lucio Fulci could see such a scene become a reality!

    I haven't seen the BU blu-ray of this title, but it has to trump the UK release by Shameless simply for the fact that its uncut. I don't know about you, but it just feels so odd to be watching films like THE NEW YORK RIPPER in pristine High Definition! It's possible that some of these notorious 'Video Nasty' era titles may actually lose some of their power as a result of being converted to HD.

    I've made a note of 'New York, One More Day' for the Alternative Jukebox. I don't actually have a copy of THE NEW YORK RIPPER soundtrack, but I'm sure with a little Lt. Williams style detection I can find a download :-)


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