1982, Color, 93 mins. 7 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 (Blu-ray & DVD, US R0 HD/NTSC), Shameless Screen Entertainment (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL), Another World (Sweden 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).
Disc one also featrues "The Art of Killing" (29m14s) with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti about the end of his professional relationship with Fulci, an aborted project 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 signifiance in "The Beauty Killer" (22m34s).
(no "You've got the brains of a chicken," for starters)