1982, Color, 93 mins. 7 secs. / 94 mins. 18 secs.
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 (UHD, Blu-ray & DVD, US R0 4K/HD/NTSC), Shameless Screen Entertainment (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL), Another World (Sweden R0 PAL), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), 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 The New York Ripper (Lo squartatore di New York), his most controversial film. Rough, unsettling, and surprisingly well crafted, this film 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 poignancy 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 monologue 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 show-stopping 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 over bright, 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 its 1999 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.
Other subsequent editions appeared in the ensuing years, with the next notable one being 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.
The New York Ripper first appeared from Blu-ray in 2009 from Blue Underground as one of the company's earliest HD releases and looked pretty great for the time, so sharp you could finally make out the fine patterns in Mrs. Weissberger's hairnet. 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" (4m8s), compares 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!" (9m30s) spends time 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.
In 2011, U.K. label Shameless Screen Entertainment bowed the film on Blu-ray with no small amount of turbulence as the BBFC still refused to allow its release uncut. Some reaction shots have been subbed in to spackle over a few of the more explicit seconds during the razor blade sequence, and interestingly, this marks the longest version to date with lower quality SD inserts used from alternate prints to include the "suspicious" Malco shot and an extended bit in his office with secretary Barbara Cupisti. Audio is presented in English, Italian and Spanish DTS-HD MA 2.0 options with English subtitles (plus a Dolby Digital English track if you're so inclined), with extras including the theatrical trailer and a Dardano Sacchetti / Antonella Fulci interview (18m27s).
That brings us to the 2019 reissue from Blue Underground, which features a Blu-ray, a DVD, and a soundtrack CD (the expanded edition from Beat Records including the full De Masi score and a handful of additional tracks). The new transfer (sourced from a 4K scan of the original camera negative) is a complete stunner, up there with the the label's miraculous work on Zombie; blacks are much deeper and richer, detail really pops, and colors look richer and more impressive throughout. It's interesting to note that the murder in Kerova's dressing room is also timed much darker than before and looks more atmospheric that way, indicating the earlier HD scan was likely lightened up to make it more legible but also flatter in appearance. The English 7.1 DTS-HD MA audio is also excellent with great range in particular for the score, while the original 1.0 English and Italian mixes are included in DTS-HD MA as well with optional English translated or English SDH subtitles. There's no replacing the ominous, intense quality of the original mono mix if that's what you grew up hearing, but the multi-channel options are a nice plus and fun to compare. This also marks the U.S. debut of the Italian track, which is classier but also less memorable. (No "You've got the brains of a chicken," for starters.) Dolby Digital tracks are also provided in French and Italian with those respective subs offered as well. A new audio commentary with Splintered Visions author Troy Howarth is a great listen and a fine companion piece to his earlier Fulci tracks as he dives headlong into this problematic entry, addressing the misogynist vs. misanthropist debate and providing plenty of details about the production process including title changes, casting, and Fulci's professional state at the time. The disc also features "The Art of Killing" (29m14s) with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti about the end of his professional relationship with Fulci, an aborted narrative angle about progeria, the hypocrisy of Italian censorship, and the thriller conventions he wanted to upend with this script. "Three Fingers of Violence" (15m8s) is a new chat with Ross about how he got the role, while "The Second Victim" (12m14s) with Cinzia de Ponti covers how the actress was brought in for one of her earliest roles by producer Fabrizio De Angelis. In addition to porting over "I'm an Actress!," Kerova also appears for the new "The Broken Bottle Murder" (9m24s) for additional thoughts about Fulci, shooting her sex show scene "as clean as possible," and the challenges of playing dead in multiple takes. Of course a Fulci release wouldn't be complete with Beyond Terror author Stephen Thrower, and here he contributes another in-depth, insightful analysis of the film and its significance in "The Beauty Killer" (22m34s) including an interesting bit of its origins with the possible involvement of Ruggero Deodato. "Paint Me Blood Red" (17m14s) features poster artist Enzo Sciotti discussing his technique to generate striking poster art from sketch to tempera paint to print in a little over a week, with peeks at evolution of many Fulci posters he designed including A Cat in the Brain and The Beyond. (Incidentally, the cover art for this 2019 release is an alternate design by him as well.) The "NYC Locations Then and Now" featurette and trailer are also included along with a gallery of posters and stills. The insert booklet features a new essay by Travis Crawford, "Fulci Quacks Up" (sporting an odd typographical error with the "f" characters), which places the film in context with Fulci's output and the heyday of European horror at large that was just starting to wind down.
A year later in 2020, Blue Underground selected the film as one of its early upgrades to UHD following their eye-popping release of Fulci's Zombie. The story is much the same here, which is good news as the marked increase in resolution makes an already superlative viewing experience even better with the colors in particular taking on a wider, more impressive range thanks to the HDR grading. The aftermath of the Zora Kerova murder in particular is a real "wow" moment, and the level of detail in the landscape shots, the subway scenes, and even the police station gives the film a beautifully dimensional feel. A Dolby TrueHD Atmos track is a nice perk here, mainly spreading the music overhead in a subtle fashion but also taking advantage of some ambient sounds like police sirens and other city noise to fill out the soundscape. The previous audio and subtitle configurations have been ported over from the Blu-ray here and appear to be identical; you also get the other contents from the first disc in the set, namely the audio commentary and the trailer. Also included is the Blu-ray disc, identical to the earlier release. Somehow it feels cosmically wrong to have a film this misanthropic and foul tempered available on UHD, and yet so, so right.
Blue Underground (2019 US Blu-ray)
Shameless (UK Blu-ray)
Blue Underground (2009 US Blu-ray)
Updated review on August 26, 2020