Review Date: February 9, 2008
Released by: Another World Entertainment
Release date: 3/15/2007
Region 0, PAL
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
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 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 the Dutch release from Italian Shock hit the market in 2001 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 couldn’t watch it with my ex-girlfriend or with any of 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 film is given a 16x9 enhanced PAL transfer, letterboxed at 2.35:1. This is the latest in a long line of New York Ripper
DVDs. Other releases that fans will be familiar with include the Anchor Bay disc from 1999 and the Italian Shock disc from 2001. Below are some comparison shots between this and the other versions:
Another World Entertainment
Of these, this latest release from Another World is the clear-cut winner, with an image that is extremely pleasing overall. The film looks extremely sharp and detailed, with an excellent level of shadow detail that brings out a whole host of small details that were not visible in earlier versions. Colors are much more saturated than in the previous releases, although flesh tones now look a little too warm at times (check out the picture of the woman’s corpse, which doesn’t look pale enough considering the amount of blood that flowed during her murder). There are no major instances of print damage, but a large number of small specks and scratches are visible during many scenes.
However, before you go thinking that this is near to the definitive transfer of New York Ripper
, there are some other things going on here. While the Anchor Bay disc was fully uncut, the Italian Shock disc was missing two scenes and another snippet of footage. What is strange about the Another World release is that it seems to be cobbled together from the same film elements/transfer that went into those releases.
First of all, comparing this DVD to the Italian Shock disc, I believe that this release was struck from the same film elements that went into the 2001 release. My theory is supported by the fact that the elements which comprise the bulk of the Another World transfer are also
missing the same footage as the Italian Shock transfer. The first scene that is missing from the Italian Shock disc (one between Dr. Davis and his research assistant, picture at right) is present in this transfer, but it looks like it was taken from another source. In fact, it looks like it was taken from the Anchor Bay transfer, and what’s more is that this particular scene, when converted and viewed on an NTSC television, contains the same type of jerky motion artifacts that often occur when a video signal is converted from NTSC to PAL, and then back to NTSC. These artifacts are not present during the rest of the film. During this particular scene the video mode also abruptly switches from progressive to interlaced.
The Italian Shock disc was also missing a snippet of footage of Dr. Davis that occurs just after he and Williams are finished interviewing the character of Fay in her hospital room. Williams offers Davis a ride, which he declines, and Williams drives off. The Italian Shock release was missing a medium-long shot that followed (picture at right), a shot which freeze-framed on Davis and made him look somewhat suspicious. The Anchor Bay disc had this shot intact, and also, for some reason, included it after the end credits as well (there’s always been some question as to whether it was supposed to be there at the end). This release from AWE restores the shot to its proper place during the middle of the movie, but doesn’t include it after the end credits. Like the missing scene with Davis and his assistant, this one shot on the AWE release was clearly inserted from another transfer, and also switches from progressive to interlaced.
Confused yet? Well, just listen to this then. The Italian Shock disc was also missing a scene near the end where Davis and Williams walk down the street and discuss the case. This scene was in the Anchor Bay release, but it’s not
in the AWE release. It’s not an important scene (it slows down the narrative at a time when the audience is ready for the film to wrap up), but it is bizarre that the other footage should be restored yet this scene still be missing, especially if the restored footage really was taken from the Anchor Bay transfer.
The only audio option is an English language track in Dolby 2.0 Mono. The movie sounds about the same as it always has on home video, with noticeable but infrequent hissing and popping.
Optional Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Finnish subtitles are included.
In 2005, a French DVD studio called Neo Publishing released a special two-disc edition of The New York Ripper
with a ton of special features, though sadly, as many of us in North America have come to expect from DVDs released by our colonial cousins, the special features were without English translation, and the accompanying English audio track featured forced French subtitles. Thankfully, Another World has come to the rescue by presenting some (though not all) of the French disc’s supplements with accompanying English subtitles.
The most important extra is a forty-three minute documentary entitled Ti recordi di Lucio Fulci?
(Do You Remember Lucio Fulci?
). Surprisingly, this not an in-depth examination of a Fulci as a filmmaker - the participants touch on that only infrequently - but rather a remembrance of who he was personally. The interview participants (among them such recognizable names as Fabio Frizzi, Dardano Sachetti and Gianetto De Rossi) spend much time talking about their memories of Fulci as a friend and colleague, how he acted, how he treated people, and how people thought of him. What emerges is a picture of a man who was enjoyed and respected by almost everyone around him, but who also had a troubled and insecure side. For years writers have been trying to analyze Fulci’s psychology by looking at his movies, and no doubt they will appreciate the candid memories that are shared here. The documentary is labeled as being part two, but where or what part one is remains a mystery.
The second most important extra is a fifty-two minute documentary called Francesco De Masi Forever
. In it, De Masi traces his career as a prolific film composer, starting from his youthful days as a student in chaotic postwar Italy, and continuing through the heyday of Italian cinema, when he composed scores for practically every genre of film. It’s an interesting documentary, but it is a too long and the editing makes it drag, plus De Masi never discusses New York Ripper
. However, there are many who love Italian film scores and this will no doubt be of interest to them.
The last major extra is a nineteen minute interview with Howard Ross, in which he details his beginnings in Italian cinema as a stuntman under his real name of Renato Rossini and how he got formally started as an actor proper. Ross shares his rich memories of working with directors like Umberto Lenzi and Fernando Di Leo, but nothing about Fulci (for that you will have to watch the Fulci documentary – he appears in it during clips that were obviously filmed at the same time as this) or New York Ripper
This release is rounded out with a trailer to the film, some galleries of poster art, stills and lobby cards, filmographies for Fulci, Ross and Alexandra Delli Colli, trailers for Torso
(both available from Another World) and liner notes written in Norwegian.
Other extras from the French disc which didn’t make it onto this release include an audio commentary and a formal “making-of” documentary on the film itself.
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.
Although it’s not quite the definitive edition that I had hoped, Another World Entertainment’s release surpasses both the Italian Shock and Anchor Bay editions in almost every respect. If you’re a serious Fulci fan, you owe it to yourself to pick up this DVD.
NOTE: Blue Underground has announced this title for an April 2008 release. However, given their track record on re-releases, it is unlikely that this will be anything more than a port of the Anchor Bay disc.
Movie – B
Image Quality – B+
Sound – B-
Supplements – B+
- Running Time – 1 hour 29 minutes
- Rated 15 (Norwegian rating system)
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 2.0 Mono
- Norwegian subtitles
- Swedish subtitles
- Danish subtitles
- Finnish subtitles
- Ti recordi di Lucio Fulci? documentary
- Francesco De Masi Forever documentary
- Howard Ross interview
- Still galleries
- Liner notes