The New York Ripper is the sleaziest movie in the oeuvre of director Lucio Fulci, a guy who made some pretty rough movies in his day. As grimy as New York City was in the early 1980s, before the aggressive PR campaign proclaiming its Disneyfication and relative safety, The New York Ripper is generally despised for its misogyny and graphic violence. Those visceral elements are there, hallmarks of most of Fulci’s work, but there’s something else about The New York Ripper that is morbidly compelling.
It’s a simple plot. Someone is randomly murdering women in New York City. The killer has a voice like Donald Duck, right down to the angered squawking. That’s bizarre, but no more strange than the whimpering noises the killer makes through the phone in Bob Clark’s Black Christmas. There’s a precedence. The ripper begins playing a cat and mouse game with Lt. Fred Williams (Jack Hedley), calling the officer directly and giving him clues about the murders. It’s fairly standard slasher stuff, not even clever enough to be a giallo.
But The New York Ripper takes things to a different level with both the ferocity of its murder scenes and the graphicness of its sexual elements. Many horror films utilize sexuality on a teenage level. Think about all the camp counselors that have bought it at the hands of masked killers in movies over the years. The New York Ripper deals with adult sexuality, with all the kinks and jadedness maturity brings.
Fulci shows us full frontal nudity, the sex clubs of New York, prostitution, bondage, random hook-ups and more. Nothing is glamorized or made to seem attractive. There is nothing beautiful or sacred about it. It’s cheap and mean. And unlike the overt morality of an American slasher, where only the virgin survives, no one is innocent in The New York Ripper.
The murders are particularly mean-spirited. A broken bottle is rammed into the vagina of a sex worker. A nipple is split in half with a razor blade. It’s what the police procedural shows refer to as ‘overkill.’ There’s no reason to show these acts in such lurid detail, but that’s Fulci. That’s what Fulci does. He pokes out eyeballs on screen and dips people in acid. Subtle, he ain’t.
There’s a fascinating interview with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti on the new 4K restoration of The New York Ripper, released by Blue Underground. It’s a great release, with an informative booklet, Blu-ray and DVD, and even a CD copy of the intense soundtrack by Francesco De Masi.
Sacchetti believes that The New York Ripper mirrors Fulci’s real feelings about women. They’re nothing but meat to be used, slaughtered, and thrown away. The sexual content displayed in the film echo Fulci’s basest fantasies and desires. To hear Sacchetti say it, Fulci is The New York Ripper.
All that may be true, but calling this movie the window into Fulci’s soul doesn’t feel like the end of the story. There’s an abrasiveness that is hard to deal with 30 years removed from The New York Ripper‘s original release. It’s the story of a town without pity, where everyone is used, regardless of gender. All the people are cogs in a machine of awfulness. It’s society from the viewpoint of a meat grinder.
In that respect, The New York Ripper is on par with some of the best work of Pasolini or Friedkin. That’s lofty company for a low-budget Italian horror film. But if you’re looking for an example of man’s inhumanity to man, the capacity for hatred, and how a society can take its sweet time circling the bowl, then you could do far worse than The New York Ripper. It is ultra-violent and depressing, but there is zero pretension to be found.
The New York Ripper is not for everyone. But underneath the blood and the grime, the film finds what we all feared was lurking beneath the surface: more blood and grime.
Extras on the three-disc Blue Underground release are as follows:
Audio Commentary with Troy Howarth, Author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films
The Art Of Killing – Interview with Co-Writer Dardano Sacchetti
Three Fingers Of Violence – Interview with Star Howard Ross
The Second Victim – Interview with Co-Star Cinzia de Ponti
The Broken Bottle Murder – Interview with Co-Star Zora Kerova
“I’m an Actress!” – 2009 Interview with Co-Star Zora Kerova
The Beauty Killer – Interview with Stephen Thrower, Author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci
Paint Me Blood Red – Interview with Poster Artist Enzo Sciotti
NYC Locations Then and Now
Poster & Still Gallery
BONUS! THE NEW YORK RIPPER Original Motion Picture Soundtrack CD by Francesco De Masi
BONUS! Collectible Booklet with new essay by Travis Crawford