Wednesday, March 4, 2015


1982, Lucio Fulci
Starring: Jack Hedley, Almanta Suska, Howard Ross, Andrea Occhipinti, Alexandra Delli Colli, Daniela Doria

As horribly mutilated female corpses turn up around the city, the police department (headed by Fulci himself) is stumped. Jaded Lieutenant William is in charge of the case and calls for the aid of young psychotherapist, Dr. Davis, with the hope that they can at least get a psychological profile. Meanwhile, a woman named Jane looks for sex where ever she can get it – and records her exploits for her wheelchair-bound husband – but eventually stumbles into the arms of a killer. Fay, a local young woman, is targeted by a man with two missing fingers, but escapes with her life. She also has a disturbing dream that her boyfriend Peter, has tried to kill her with a knife, but he arrives to the hospital grateful that she is alive. Lieutenant Williams continues to receive taunting phone calls from the killer, who quacks like a duck.

Yes, the killer talks like Donald Duck. If you can get past that, you should be able to find your way towards the black, subversive heart of New York Ripper, Fulci’s most controversial film. Hated by many, and loved passionately by me, it’s arguably his most hateful film, a brutal and misogynistic reimagining of the giallo set in the heyday of New York sleaze. It also marks the end of his two year golden period, where he made some of his goriest and most notable works: Zombie (1979), City of the Living Dead (1980), The Black Cat (1981), The Beyond (1981), and House by the Cemetery (1981).

New York Ripper is not for the faint of heart, or the serious-minded. One of the things I’ve always loved most about Fulci is his sense of the surreal, the bizarre, and the whimsical. While there are elements of this in everything from Lizard in a Woman’s Skin to The Beyond, New York Ripper is simply packed full of surreal elements likely to aggravate the casual viewer. In addition to the killer quacking like Donald Duck, the dialogue has some real gusto (my favorite line occurs when the medical examiner tells the Lieutenant mid-autopsy that the latest victim had a knife stuck up her “joy trail”) and you’ll find everything from a never-ending game of futuristic chess to public toe sex.

The film’s sexual content is its main source of controversy. Many scenes are flat out softcore porn, and there are several characters who seek out sexual gratification. Jane goes to a live sex show, where it’s implied that she masturbates, is pleasured by a complete stranger’s toes at a café, and makes audio sex tapes for her husband. Even the Lieutenant visits a prostitute. From a sliced nipple and eyeball (courtesy of actress Daniela Doria, who Fulci killed imaginatively many times throughout his career) to a broken bottle jammed up the aforementioned joy trail, most of the violence is vividly splayed out across the hyper-sexualized female form by the enthused killer.

This is also, by far, his goriest film. While there is technically more blood and general fluids of decay in Zombie, City of the Living Dead, or The Beyond, New York Ripper absolutely has the most brutality. It also shares the nihilistic tone of Don’t Torture a Duckling, with which it has a fair amount in common. SPOILERS: In that film, the killer is a young, handsome, dark-haired priest (Marc Porel) murdering pre-teen boys to preserve their innocence. New York Ripper’s killer (Andrew Occipinti, who could be Porel’s brother) is murdering sexually mature and often promiscuous women because his young daughter is riddled with cancer and will die before she matures. In both cases, sexuality is the ultimate corrupter.

And like Don’t Torture a Duckling, there are essentially no likable characters, no warm relationships, no love, and no affection. There are many intimate relationships in the film, including husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, and father/daughter, but none of these exhibit even the faintest signs of love. They are instead about control, necessity, and sexual need. At their core, they are all about a basic selfish, even sociopathic, desire for survival. What’s truly unsettling about this film is that instead of reasonably normal characters plagued by an abnormal killer (as in Argento's Tenebre), the killer's emotional state soaks into the very heart of New York Ripper.
I am morally obligated to recommend this film, even though you will likely hate it. The script from Dardano Sacchetti is delightfully nonsensical, full of some great red herrings and plot twists. All the random subplots and pieces of seemingly useless information found in the typical giallo come together in an emotionally icy conclusion, which comes as an absolute surprise and cements the film’s real message of nihilism and despair. Check out the Blu-ray from Blue Underground and prepare yourself for a filmic work unlikely any other.

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