I love any film that is so notorious it generates it’s own urban legend regarding it’s controversial release, whether this account is true or not.
One such film is Lucio Fulci’s 1982 sleazy slasher gorefest, The New York Ripper. Rumour has it that when the UK distributor submitted it to the British Board of Film Classification, the censors were so appalled by what they saw that the print was given a police escort out of the country. The truth of the matter is that chief censor James Ferman (apparently) decided to send the print back to its rights owners in Italy to prevent the distributors from making copies for video or getting local approval for regional cinema screenings. Mr Ferman did this to prevent the distributors from being found guilty of obscenity if the matter was taken to court. Ferman is conveniently framed on the BBFC’s website as doing them a favour- whilst effectively making sure that they didn’t get their own way and distributed the film anyway.
Not many films have become synonymous with epitomising both the 42nd Street and Video Nasties scenes but The New York Ripper does and it does it brilliantly. This is a truly brutal piece of slasher cinema and is so grimy that you feel like you need to take a shower after it.
It starts as it means to go on with an old man playing a game of fetch with his dog. But instead of bringing back the piece of wood thrown for it into a bush on the banks of the Hudson River, the dog brings back a decomposing human hand. The film’s title is even superimposed over this image as if it’s typical of the film’s content. And it is! Fulci is proudly extolling the film’s content and intent.
It’s discovered that this is a body part of the latest victim of a crazed killer who is stalking and killing prostitutes in the city. The prostitute’s landlady tells the cop on the case that the guy who Anne went to meet bizarrely had the voice of a duck.
Throughout the film, we get to see other victims as they are butchered but the actual killer isn’t revealed until the end which in typical Giallo fashion means that this is a whodunnit as well as a horror film. A number of characters are set up as potential suspects for both the police and the audience, particularly the mysterious man who has two fingers missing from his right hand.
Most of the characters in the film are interesting, quirky, and in some cases, just as sleazy as the film. One such example is that of Jane Lodge. We first see her in the front row of a live sex show theatre in Times Square. She is not only avidly watching the action but also recording the encounter. We find out that she does this for her husband whom she is in an open marriage with. She takes home mementoes from her daily search for sexy trysts for them both to enjoy (she’s clearly living her best life). Whilst front row we see that she is clearly getting off on what she is seeing and is revealed to be dressed for the occasion by wearing suspenders under her fashionable garb of trilby, raincoat and immaculate make-up. We later see her on another sexcapade that takes place in a Hispanic dockside bar that defies belief. Let’s just say it involves toes. She reminds me of an even sleazier version of Angie Dickinson’s bored housewife character from Dressed To Kill.
Secret double lives seem to be a thing within the film. Williams who is hunting this homicidal Donald Duck is shown in bed with a prostitute he regularly visits. The fact that he’s a cop seemingly doesn’t deter him. Even the doctor whom Williams hires to advise on the case is shown buying a gay porno mag from a street vendor (‘Have a nice evening!’ the vendor says to him with a chuckle).
And then there are the kills. Oh my. The murders are extremely graphic and, in some cases, involve razor blades being used on faces, eyeballs as well as on female anatomy. There are also guttings. A coroner describes one decapitation to Williams in graphic detail and even throws in the word ‘joytrail’ for good measure as to where the killer entered his knife. There’s also a murder that involves a broken bottle being thrust into a woman’s ‘joytrail’ who has just come offstage at the sex show that Jane had a ringside seat for. There is even a POV shot for the bottle.
The film feels like Fulci wanted to make the ultimate piece of exploitation centred around the Big Apple which in those days was rotten to the core- a crime-ridden city where danger lurked on every corner but particularly for women. Think of the opening credits for The Equalizer and you get the idea. Every man is a rapist, mugger or murderer. The backdrops for the kills within the film showcase the different appropriate locales that the city had to offer with the subway, dirty ‘rent by the hour’ motel rooms and even the Staten Island Ferry being utilised. There are also lingering shots of 42nd Street. The Deuce has never been so beautifully captured since Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. It would seem that Fulci’s film is a lower rent, exploitation descendent of that film just as William Lustig’s Maniac and Abel Ferrera’s Driller Killer are.
For such a grimy and sleazy movie, it has been beautifully shot and lit as the new Blue Underground 4K Blu Ray fully shows. This is the best edition to grab if you are new to this masterpiece.
With The New York Ripper, Fulci set out to outdo himself and make the most sleazy, gory and sensationalistic Grindhouse movie of all time. Boy, did he succeed! The New York Ripper is a perfect storm of 80’s Giallo, 42nd Street and the Video Nasties’ moral panic. And, it lives up to its reputation whilst being a fantastic movie to boot. Whilst Zombi 2 may be a good ‘in’ for those who are new to Fulci, The New York Ripper is a great film to investigate after this. It’s also a great date movie (although that probably says more about me than anything else…)