1981, Color, 86m.
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Katriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Giovanni de Nava, Dagmar Lassander, Ania Pieroni, Giovanni Frezza, Daniela Doria, Carlo de Mejo, Ania Pieroni, Silvia Collatina
Arrow (Blu-Ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL), Blue Underground (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Anchor Bay (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9) / DD2.0
1980, Color, 93 mins.
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Christopher George, Katriona MacColl, Janet Agren, Carlo de Mejo, Antonella Interlinghi, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Daniala Doria
Blue Underground (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) / DTS7.1/DD5.1, NoShame (Italy R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD5.1
Following the wild success of Zombie, outrageous Italian horror director Lucio Fulci next splattered blood on the drive-in screens of America with this gothic feast of zombies and the supernatural, known to most of its first VHS-reared fans under the catchier title of The Gates of Hell. Though a few minutes of transition dialogue were trimmed, the film's splashy thrills remained intact and earned it a heavy fan base at the dawn of home video, particularly the most famous scene in which a village idiot (oft-abused Giovanni Lombardo Radice, a.k.a. Make Them Die Slowly's John Morghen) has a nasty encounter with an electric drill (a sequence which raised the hackles of British censors and landed the film in trouble around the world).
In New York, psychic Mary Woodhouse (MacColl) goes into a catatonic trance and apparently dies while experiencing a vision of Father Thomas, the local parish priest in a small town called Dunwich, hanging himself in the local cemetery. Soon Dunwich is plagued by worm-infested bodies, bleeding walls punctured by glass, and the aforementioned priest who now has the ability to cause people to expel their digestive tracts through their mouths. An aggressive reporter (George) narrowly rescues Mary as she's almost buried alive, and together they drive to Dunwich to stop what promises to be an evil, extremely squishy apocalypse on All Saint's Day.
From the late 1970s to 1982, Fulci transitioned from a string of stellar thrillers to a landmark quartet of zombie-centric horror films, all featuring the same stellar crew. Thanks to Sergio Salvati's magnificent cinematography, Gino de Rossi's skincrawling special effects, and Fabio Frizzi's haunting score, this particular entry (the only one not filmed in scope) works up a feverish series of incidents which provide a heavy visceral kick missing from Fulci's later comeback efforts. The game cast does quite a job, with the lovely MacColl proving her mettle in her first of three Fulci outings which cemented her as his greatest scream queen, and blonde starlet Janet Agren (Eaten Alive!) offers a very neurotic counterpoint as Dunwich's most insecure resident. While the story barely holds together and skips giddily through barely-connected stories involving drunk bar patrons, the aforementioned town idiot suspected of being a child killer, and the town's other oddball residents, Fulci keeps the viewer gripped through a thick, deeply creepy atmosphere loaded with unease and dread greatly aided by a constant barrage of dust storms and fog. Simply put, this is one of the moodiest, most unsettling films ever made from a visual standpoint, and Frizzi's peerless music manages to turn the whole experience into an uncanny feast of sights and sounds. If it weren't for the nonsensical dull thud of a final scene, this would equal Fulci's subsequent masterpiece, The Beyond, and even so it still stands as one of the decade's most indelible terror offerings.
Fulci fans are quite aware of what a nightmare this film has posed to video technicians over the years. The mixture of film grain, fog, dust, and deep, dark shadows has defeated several formats over the years, including some dire VHS releases and marginally better laserdiscs. Anchor Bay's DVD, which was subsequently ported over by Blue Underground, offered the best standard def digital option, presenting a crisp if slightly overly sharpened presentation that adequately captured the experience of watching an average film print. That disc also includes the original English trailer, a solid 5.1 remix, and a sills gallery coupled with some fantastic radio spots. At the other end of the spectrum, Italy's NoShame release contains the Italian and English tracks in mono with one terrific exclusive: a long reel of footage from the original film shoot in Savannah, Georgia, complete with lots of spooky graveyard shots. It's a wonderful bit of Fulci memorabilia and is almost worth the price tag by itself. Unfortunately, the transfer is an utter disaster, slathering so much noise reduction on the film that actors' faces constantly blur into a sludgy mess and any onscreen movement accompanied by blurring and ghosting galore. On top of that, the image has been brightened far too much and drenched in an artificial yellow tint that makes the whole experience unwatchable after a few minutes.
While Blue Underground pulled off a miracle with its crackerjack Blu-Ray of New York Ripper, fans had reason to worry about whether this already grainy film would prove to be a nightmare with the added clarity of high definition. Well, surprise, surprise; the Blu-Ray taken from the original camera negative is a real stunner, featuring a far richer color scheme than anyone could have guessed by past transfers (the Anchor Bay/Blue Underground standard def one now looks pallid and far too cold in copmarison), with accurate and vibrant flesh tones as well as some eye-popping color designs in the cinematography completely impossible to appreciate in past versions (and theatrical prints). From the lush green and mahogany furniture in the New York seance room to the searing, Argento-esque neon lighting in the local Dunwich watering hole, this now feels much more like an accomplished, artistic film than before. Interestingly, the opening cemetery scene seems to vary greatly from one version to the next; in most prints it's a murky gray, while on the Anchor Bay disc; it featured a heavy blue tint that mysteriously vanished after the switchover to New York. Here it looks like a misty, overcast afternoon, which feels about right. The film grain here is present but far more natural and under control; detail is excellent and very filmic throughout, especially in the exterior scenes shot in New York and Savannah. The limitations of the original shooting conditions are still evident in a handful of the darker scenes, but it's hard to imagine how this could possibly look better. The Blu-Ray's 7.1 DTS-HD mix is also a real treat, with Frizzi's score sounding very robust as it pumps out of the front and rear speakers and some of the more manipulative sound effects getting a nice shot in the arm as well. The 50GB disc (which allows for a very healthy, very necessary high bit rate) also includes the original mono track (which now sounds pretty anemic in comparison) and the same 5.1 mix from the DVD, along with new English, English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitle options.
If the huge improvement in quality weren't enough of an enticement, the Blue Underground release tosses in a huge helping of extras produced in conjunction with Paura Productions. The 32-minute "The Making of City of the Living Dead" features MacColl, co-star and future director Michele Soavi (who gets his brains memorably squeezed out of his cranium), Salvati, De Rossi, production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng, assistant FX artist Rosario Prestopino, and camera operator Roberto Forges Davanzati talking about their experiences on the film, sometimes very candidly indeed. Most of them confirm Fulci's reputation as "very difficult," with George apparently butting heads with the director so much he wound up pulling a surprisingly grotesque prank on the set. All of the nasty highlights are covered here including the methods used to create the maggot storm, the tears of blood, the head drill, and much more, along with the problems of shooting in a Georgia cemetery and the difficulties of trying to swing an axe into a coffin containing the leading lady. Soavi in particular has some fascinating bits as he talks about taking his small role to get some directorial work snuck in on the set and offers a graphic explanation for his death scene. MacColl turns up again for a separate interview, "Acting among the Living Dead" (shot at a different time and place than her earlier chat), in which she talks about first being hired by Fulci, her personal methods of finding peace with the subject matter of the script, and her much-delayed realization of the film's huge cult reputation. It's a fine companion to her magnificent commentary on The Beyond and once again shows her as an intelligent, very likeable presence. The always hilarious Radice pops up for a welcome separate interview, "Entering the Gates of Hell," in which he rattles off his own uncensored memories of working with Maestro Fulci and recalls his hedonistic days on the set. "Memories of the Maestro" is a more generic piece with most of the same participants chatting about Fulci in stories and recollections unconnected to the main feature; it's a nice tribute and similar to Paura's feature-length Fulci doc. "Marketing of the Living Dead" is a new, HD gallery of posters and stills, while the older DVD gallery and radio spots are carried over as well. The package is rounded out with the English and Italian trailers, both also presented in new HD transfers. Simply put, this phenomenal package should be enough to spur on any fan of European horror to spring for a Blu-Ray player right away.
1982, Color, 93m.
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Jack Hedley, Almanta Keller, Howard Ross, Andrea Occhipinti, Alessandra Delli Colli, Paolo Malco, Cinzia Di Ponti, Daniela Doria
Blue Underground (Blu-Ray & DVD, US R1 NTSC/HD), Another World (Sweden R0 PAL), Shameless (UK R0 PAL), Neo (France R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
In Zombie, Lucio Fulci turned a tropical island into a desolate wasteland of the walking dead. In The Beyond, he transformed Louisiana into a nightmarish doorway to the underworld. However, none of Fulci's elegiac, haunting visions can compare to what he inflicts on the landscape in New York Ripper (Lo squartatore di New York), his most controversial film. Rough, unsettling, and surprisingly well crafted, New York Ripper has borne the brunt of countless charges of misogyny and other cinematic hate crimes, particularly after being banned in the U.K. as a "video nasty." Like most entries in the European cinema of the extreme, this will outrage many and provoke more than a little laughter (probably intentional), but for any viewer, New York Ripper is a difficult film to forget.
Hooker-loving police detective Lieutenant Williams (Hedley) finds himself pursuing a brutal serial killer who, according to one eyewitness, quacks like a duck as he slashes his victims. Yes, indeed, every time a broken bottle or razor blade is wielded in malice, the soundtrack explodes with a deafening "quack quack quack!" Each murder becomes more unsavory than the last with women from all walks of life falling victim to the madman. Suspicious professor Dr. Davis (House by the Cemetery's Malco) offers his services to the police, and a young potential victim, Faye (Keller), escapes the killer's clutches (a splendidly weird half-dream sequence) and begins to unravel the mystery herself. When the killer cuts a little too close to home for Williams, the stakes increase and uncover a startling revelation lurking behind the madman's psychosis.
Tossing in every convention of the Italian giallo formula, Fulci emerges with an unholy response to such slick urban thrillers as Tenebrae and Dressed to Kill. Like Tenebrae, with which this film shares more than a few interesting structural similarities, the earlier scenes of brutality focus mainly on women, but the director turns this malefic gaze back on the viewer by ultimately offing virtually every cast member in a spectacularly nihilistic display of misanthropy. While the gore scenes here are alarming and convincingly executed (for the most part), the killings also elicit a great deal of agony from the viewer and ultimately implicate any observer for participating in a society only the beautiful get rewarded. Granted, most of Fulci's social observations may be complete hooey when you consider they're being delivered by a homicidal duck (a weird tribute to his earlier Don't Torture a Duckling, perhaps), but the eerie final ten minutes provide enough poignance and food for thought to at least indicate Fulci had more on his mind than simply trading in hardcore sexist gore. On the other hand, this finale also spurs a hilarious version of Psycho's concluding psychiatric monolgue as the viewer is pelted with such insightful nuggets as "The duck provided the onus for him to start killing."
Even many Fulci fans find this film repugnant, an understandable reaction given the treatment and subject matter, but a few elements are noteworthy even with these misgivings. Francesco De Masi's marvelous big city crime score gives the proceedings an appropriately jazzy and sleazy bent, while cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller (Deep Red) magnificently uses the scope frame to capture an atmosphere of rotting claustrophobia which was completely lost on transfers before the age of DVD. Though only a small portion of the film was actually shot on location in New York, the setting is all too convincing and bizarre. The actors generally do a good job despite the chaotic and frequently hilarious dubbing job, with Hedley making an interesting social hypocrite and genre stalwart Andrea Occhipinti (A Blade in the Dark, Conquest) expanding his range somewhat as Faye's boyfriend. And finally, if you ever wanted to know where Dario Argento got the idea for the cheek-piercing bullet in The Stendhal Syndrome, look no further than this film's showstopping finale.
Most American viewers first encountered The New York Ripper through Vidmark's atrocious VHS release in the mid-'80s. Unwatchable panning and scanning coupled with an ugly faded and brown transfer immediately earned the film a bad reputation which was only slightly improved when Cult Epics issued a much needed widescreen laserdisc several years later. Though smudgy and overbright, the laserdisc at least provided some indication of the visual artistry inherent in the film and restored several brief bits of sex deleted from the U.S. cut. Surprisingly, the most notorious restored scene involves no gore but involves a toe job in a local Puerto Rican dive, and for better or worse, Anchor Bay retained all of this legendary footage in their DVD release. Strangely, the last shot of Malco standing on the sidewalk froze and faded into a wild psychedelic pattern on the laserdisc, while the DVD simply fades to black -- a much more rational choice. This utterly inconsequential snippet was originally intended to appear halfway through the film (after Fay's hospital interrogation) but was shuffled, removed and replaced by the distributor several times, apparently tagged at the end of some versions to cast some doubt on the killer's identity. The only extras for the Anchor Bay version (subsequently carried over to Blue Underground's DVD reissue) are the outrageous European trailer and a Fulci filmography.
While other companies have offered their own subsequent editions of New York Ripper in the ensuing years, the most notable one on DVD is a "special restored" version from Sweden's Another World series. The transfer is indeed noticeably crisper than the AB one, with somewhat punchier colors as well and a bit more picture information visible on all four sides. It also boasts the correct placement of Malco's final scene, so we'll take their word for it. Extras on this one (culled from an earlier French release but augmented with English subtitles here) include a great 52-minute De Masi interview, a "Ti Ricordi Lucio Fulci" featurette running just under an hour, a funny interview with stuntman-turned-actor Howard Ross, a giallo trailer reel, and for the feature itself, optional subtitles in Danish, Norweigan, Finish and Swedish. It's also quite cheap, so even if you have the earlier release, it's worth the double dip. If you feel like hunting down that French disc (which features an inferior transfer), it also contains an additional featurette solely devoted to the making of this film.
And now we arrive at the most surprising incarnation of The New York Ripper -- a Blu-Ray from Blue Underground newly transferred from the original negative. Simply put, it's a beauty; the huge leap in detail is astounding, and you can even make out the fine patterns in Mrs. Weissberger's hairnet. You'd never believe this film could look so good, and the eerie landscape shots (especially during the first ferry murder) now look like finely rendered landscapes out of a nightmare. Yes, it still looks like an early '80s Italian horror movie so anyone expecting something comparable to Wall-E isn't going to get it, but there's no way this could look any better. Interestingly and not surprisingly, as this is from the negative that pesky street shot of Malco is nowhere to be found, which doesn't affect the movie much at all. The original English audio can be played either in the original mono or a fun DTS-HD 7.1 mix which pumps De Masi's infectious music to the surround channels and really adds to the entertainment value. Optional subtitles are available in English, French or Spanish. Along with a new HD version of the trailer you get two exclusive extras, also hi-def; the first, "NYC Locations Then and Now," spends a nifty four minutes comparing location shots from the film in '81 with the current locales, including Times Square, the subway to Nassau Street, the Staten Island ferry, the Cavalier Hotel, and of course the now-destroyed World Trade Center, all set to De Masi's jazzy score. "I'm an Actress!" spends ten minutes chatting with Czech-born actress Zora Kerova (in Italian with English subtitles), who was hired from Prague for the film in the quick but memorable role as a sex show performer who gets the wrong end of a broken bottle. She calls her sex scene "the most difficult I've ever done" but has better memories of her murder scene; Kerova's other notable films from the period include Anthropophagus, Cannibal Ferox and The New Barbarians. Most interestingly the still-gorgeous actress talks about how the role got her in hot water with her native country, shares sometimes unpleasant memories of other directors like Bruno Mattei and Umberto Lenzi, and remembers a nice relationship with Fulci, whom she believes was more angry at the world than women in particular. A standard def DVD of the special edition is also available, but since it costs slightly more and can't compete with the glory of watching this nasty classic in full 1080p, it should be obvious which one to buy.
dio is fine, but in this case an alternate Italian track might have been welcome (as opposed to titles like Shock where it makes little difference at all).