Review Date: January 26, 2006
Released by: Italian Shock
Release date: 5/1/2001
MSRP: 25.00 Euros (OOP)
Region 0, PAL
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: No
Back in the 1990’s, when the late director’s work became much more widely known thanks to the Internet, Lucio Fulci’s greatest fans often adopted “Fulci is misunderstood!” as their rallying cry in the face of critical skepticism to the man’s movies. I would submit the exact opposite – Fulci is plenty well understood. Nowadays horror fans hold him in high regard and his movies have repeatedly been given the red carpet treatment on DVD. The only people who don’t seem to appreciate Lucio Fulci are mainstream critics like Roger Ebert, who wrote a mocking review of The Beyond
when it was given a theatrical re-release. Part of this is because many of his his best works (such as Lizard In a Woman’s Skin
or Don't Torture a Duckling
) were for many years the least accessible. But either way, who really cares? It took long enough for Mario Bava and Dario Argento to actually get their due respect from American critics, and Fulci – who was the lesser of those three talents – doesn’t seem likely to get his any time soon. But as long as horror fans appreciate him – and DVD companies appreciate them by keeping his work alive – who the hell cares what they think?
This however brings us to The New York Ripper
, a movie that tends to be misunderstood even by horror fans in general. Is it a brilliant giallo? A lame non-thriller? A revolting anti-woman exercise in brutality? Well, in a way it’s sort of all three…
An old man is walking his golden retriever on a river bank under the Brooklyn Bridge. He tosses a stick into some bushes and the dog runs after it. A few moments pass and the animal emerges, carrying not the stick but a decaying human hand! The hand belongs to a local model, and the police recover the rest of her body. Lieutenant Fred Williams (Jack Hedley
) of the NYPD is assigned to the case. He interviews her landlady who reveals that the night she disappeared she overheard a telephone call she received from a man who talked like a duck! This leaves Williams understandably confused.
A number of weeks pass, and another murder occurs. This time it’s a young bicycling woman (Cinzia de Ponti
) traveling on the Staten Island Ferry. After examining her body, the coroner notices that she has been killed in the exact same style as the model was, leaving him and Williams to speculate that there might be a maniac loose. To make things stranger, Williams himself starts to receive calls from a man speaking like a duck. Not knowing where else to turn to, Williams seeks the help of Dr. Paul Davis (Paolo Malco
), a professor of psychology at Columbia University. Davis agrees to collaborate the case and try to build a psychological profile of the killer.
Soon there’s another murder, this time a sex show performer (Zora Kerova
) who has a broken bottle shoved between her legs. The carnage continues from there. Even as the two men work to bring the maniac down the list of suspects grows. Could it be Mickey Scellenda (Howard Ross
), a male gigolo with two missing fingers? Or could it be the affluent Dr. Lodge (Cosimo Cinieri
) and his wife Jane (Alexandra Delli Colli
), who make kinky audio tapes as a hobby? It could even be physicist Peter Bunch (Andrea Occhipinti
), whose lovely girlfriend Fay (Almanta Suska
) was almost killed by the ripper. But whoever the ripper is, one thing is certain – no woman in the Big Apple will be safe until he is either captured or killed.
I have very vivid memories of watching New York Ripper
via the Anchor Bay DVD when that edition was first released. Vivid in that I distinctly remember how disgusted I was by the whole affair, and in fact the first few murders made me so uncomfortable that I fast-forwarded through the rest of them. After that I gladly traded away the Anchor Bay disc and never looked back. The film only came to my attention again after this release hit the market and I decided to give the movie another chance. I won’t lie – even to this day I prefer not to watch the killings in their entirety. Yet it would be a mistake to simply write the movie off as a terribly made exercise in misogyny. It is extremely uncomfortable to watch and suffers from several major story problems, but it is not without qualities and points of interest.
New York Ripper
is in almost every way a departure from the other genre films that Lucio Fulci was making in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. From a technical standpoint it is missing some of his usual collaborators from the time period. Instead of the lauded Sergio Salvati we instead get one Luigi Kuveiller as the director of photography. Instead of Fabio Frizzi’s distinctive tones we get a score composed by one Francesco De Masi. But this should not be taken as a criticism of either man. Both do their jobs well and the film does not suffer from their efforts. Kuveiller, who shot such other Italian horror classics as Deep Red
and Lizard In a Woman’s Skin
, gives the film a notably polished look (which, surprisingly, does not conflict at all with the gritty, dark tone of the script), while De Masi’s score is appropriate to the material. It should also be noted that not every behind-the-camera Fulci regular is missing. Editor Vincenzo Tomassi is on hand here, and he keeps the film engaging and well paced.
What really makes New York Ripper
feel so different from Fulci’s other horror films from this time period is its subject matter. The period of 1979 to 1982 is when most of the films that are considered “classic” Fulci were produced (though he also directed a few not-so-classics during that period as well), yet New York Ripper
is alone amongst the bunch in its subject matter. Whether it be the living dead of Zombie
(whose flesh eaters are of an unknown but apparently supernatural origin) or the Egyptian curse in Manhattan Baby
, all his other genre films during those years dealt with supernatural and metaphysical subjects (even 1981’s House By the Cemetery
, in which there is a certain amount of scientific rationalization, contains a ghost). But New York Ripper
is a purely human story, and the lack of the supernatural also eliminates the ambiguity that those films were able to get away with. In City of the Living Dead
it is never explained how a priest hanging himself could open up the gates of hell, and the horrific events of The Beyond
are similarly vague. But New York Ripper
ends with all the loose ends tied up, with the guilty exposed and all the innocents cleared, and the killer’s bizarre motivations explained.
The first problem with the plot – something which countless other reviewers have picked up on – is the duck voice used by the killer when making calls or slashing his victims. This was undoubtedly a concept that looked better on paper. It is an interesting idea, but when translated to the screen it fails. To make it work would have been an extraordinarily difficult task, and it’s doubtful that Fulci had the talent to pull it off. The duck voice – which sounds like Donald Duck being imitated by a low-rent voice artist – never fails to get laughs, except when it’s accompanied by the film’s brutal violence. In fact, the phone tag that’s played between the killer and Lieutenant Williams would have been a weak idea even without the duck voice getting in the way. There’s simply no reason for the killer to be contacting Williams, except as a device to move the plot along and eat up running time. The motivation that Dr. Davis attributes to this – that he wants to provoke Williams – does not seem credible and destroys a major element of believability.
What really gives the story power are its characters and the performances that bring them to life. There isn’t a truly heroic character in the bunch. Nor is there any David Warbeck or Catriona MacColl to play the noble hero and heroine. As Lieutenant Williams, Jack Hedley makes for an anti-hero who is simultaneously unlikable yet compelling. Williams is a chain smoker and a sleazebag, making regular trips to a high-class prostitute. He is perpetually cranky and seems to have little care how obvious his thinly repressed hostility is. When interviewing the grieving husband of a murder victim he is downright disrespectful. As played by Paolo Malco, Dr. Davis is not much better. He only takes on the case under the condition that the NYPD pay him for his time (so much for citizens doing their civic duty) and throughout the film he seems much more interested in the case as an academic study, something he will be able to write a journal paper on later. He never seems particularly concerned that these are real human beings that are being slaughtered. The normal formula for a pairing like this would require both men to be fundamentally decent and heroic. But not here, the formula goes out the window. Both of them are doing a good deed by tracking down the killer. But neither of them can rightly be considered good men.
Fulci squeezes his location shooting in the Big Apple for all its worth, seeming to make sure that as many distinctive landmarks, neighborhoods and other geographical features of the city are made into shooting locations, or are at least visible. The World Trade Center towers – the most noticeable part of the city’s skyline before the tragedy of 2001 – peek across the landscape occasionally. The Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Staten Island Ferry, the Columbia University campus, the Brooklyn Bridge, the red light district of 42nd Street (home to the infamous grindhouse movie theaters that no doubt played this and many other Fulci movies) all make appearances. Though not every distinctive location in the city appears in the film (there’s no Central Park, for one thing), it never once feels like it is taking place anywhere other than New York City, which is quite impressive considering the interior locations were by and large shot at a studio in Rome. The city – which gained a bad reputation in the 1970’s and 1980’s due to everything from homelessness, high crime and the crack cocaine epidemic – is captured in all the filthy, sleazy glory that marked metropolitan life during those years.
As a giallo thriller New York Ripper
is only partially successful, but that incomplete success is still enough. It is suspenseful and engaging, but it also veers wildly between being disturbing and being laughable. It is not a movie I can watch easily, nor is it one that I visit often. I can’t watch it with my girlfriend or my roommates, and when people see it on my shelf and ask about it I’m loathe to talk. It is Lucio Fulci’s most notorious film, and it has rightly earned its place as one of the most controversial Italian horror films ever made.
The first DVD release of New York Ripper
that fans became acquainted with was the previously mentioned Anchor Bay edition from 1999, which featured a 16x9 enhanced NTSC transfer that was considered quite impressive at the time. Two years later Italian Shock’s release hit the European market and quickly created a stir with many fans weighing in that its transfer was the superior one. Comparison of the following screen captures reveals some of the differences:
Overall the Anchor Bay disc wasn’t that bad. It featured good colors and a pleasing level of clarity and detail, although it was marred by intermittent print damage and some problems with digital artifacting. The main question is, is the Italian Shock release better? For the most part, yes. The bad news is that this disc isn’t 16x9 enhanced. However, the superior resolution of the PAL format largely makes up for this. Even when played in full 16x9 mode the Anchor Bay release still isn’t quite as detailed as this version, which is impressive in how sharp and clear it is. The Anchor Bay transfer gave the film a rather grungy look to it, while here it looks more polished and clean. Colors are a bit less saturated on the Italian Shock release, which results in more accurate flesh tones. Overall the Italian Shock transfer is slightly darker during the outdoor scenes (which is good, since those same scenes often appear washed out on the Anchor Bay release), though night scenes and dark interiors are mostly unchanged between the two releases. The Italian Shock transfer still sports a noticeable amount of print damage, mostly specks and small scratches which pop up every now and again.
The real problem with the Italian Shock release is not that it isn’t 16x9 enhanced, but that it is not completely uncut. While comparing the two versions I realized that, although all the violence remained intact on the European disc (lucky me), two brief scenes are missing, as well as a short snippet of footage at the very end. The first missing scene is a short exchange of dialogue between Dr. Davis and his research assistant. On the Anchor Bay disc the scene appears at the 55:46 mark. On the Italian Shock disc it should appear at the 53:29 mark (with the difference being due to PAL speed-up) but doesn’t, nor is it to be found anywhere else during the movie. The second missing scene is of Davis and Williams walking down the street while discussing the case. On the Anchor Bay disc it appears 83:39 mark. On the Italian Shock release it should be at the 78:46 mark, but isn’t. The brief missing snippet is footage of Davis standing on the street outside a hospital just before the credits roll.
None of these missing bits add much to the movie, and it plays perfectly fine without them, but still, their absence is both disappointing and perplexing, considering that the packaging on this release says it was “digitally remastered from the 35mm negative print”.
The film’s English-language dub is the only audio option, presented in Dolby 2.0 Mono. By themselves the music, sound effect and dialogue all sound fine, but the track suffers from infrequent hissing and crackling that is most noticeable.
Optional Dutch subtitles are provided, and those who can read that language will be interested to learn that they translate all of Howard Ross’ dialogue, which is almost completely unintelligible on every English-language version I’ve ever seen.
The special features are the main selling point for this release. The biggest thing here is Francesco De Masi’s complete score for the film, accessible from the main menu screen. As good a job as Fabio Frizzi may have done on Fulci’s other films from this time period, De Masi’s score is great and it makes a wonderful addition to this release. The score totals ten tracks and runs just over thirty minutes.
The other extras are much more minor. We get two trailers, one in English, the other in German (with the latter one looking to have come from a videotape source), as well as a trailer for Rene Cardona Jr.’s Treasure of the Amazon
, which is also available from Italian Shock. Then there’s a brief still gallery of Spanish lobby cards for the film (with direction credited to one “L. Fulzy”!), a video filmography lasting six minutes, and liner notes by one Mike Lebbing.
Somewhat annoyingly, the main menu screen contains a still from the film which gives away the killer, hence why the usual HorrorDVDs.com practice of showing the menu screen is dispensed with for this review.
New York Ripper
is Fulci at his absolute most brutal, and though it’s not without virtues only those with the strongest tolerance for violence will be able to avoid feeling uncomfortable with the film’s grim, raw depictions of death and mutilation. The Italian Shock release sure looks nice and the soundtrack is a great addition, but not only is it missing footage it’s also out-of-print, making it not easy to find. Under the circumstances I can neither recommend this release to you, nor can I recommend against buying it. That’s a decision that you as the consumer will have to make.
Movie – B
Image Quality – B
Sound – B-
Supplements – B
- Running Time – 1 hour 27 minutes
- Rated 16 (Dutch rating system)
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 2.0 Mono
- Dutch subtitles
- Complete soundtrack
- Theatrical trailers
- Lucio Fulci filmography
- Still gallery
- Liner notes