The New York Ripper Review
Lucio Fulci's lurid foray into the seedy streets, grotty hotel rooms, and perverse psyches of an early eighties New York proves a problematic prospect for analysis, thanks to the inevitable and well documented controversy which surrounds its tawdry history. Fulci presents a feature of unmitigated, demented depravity and debauchery, a grim portrayal of cultural nihilism which is breathtaking in its brutality and bleakness, and thanks to its original untimely release in the epicentre of the video nasties earthquake, its notorious reputation can overshadow any artistic merit. Indeed, The New York Ripper is a presentation which, even for hardened consumers of extreme cinema, proves morally challenging, visually and violently overwhelming, and grim without respite. Yet for all of the controversy and the excesses of unpleasant violence, it remains one of the Italian director's most stylish and perversely enjoyable products. Who could resist an onslaught of smart slasher visuals, oceanic volumes of red herrings, and a brutal serial killer who, vocally at least, could be the psychotic cousin of Donald Duck?
It would seem that the BBFC, at least, are still utterly in awe of this grisly sleazefest, having paid it the compliment of being too violent for British consumption - in unexpurgated form, at least. As Shameless Entertainment cheekily point out prior to the film playing, the BBFC have persisted in rejecting a scene from the film – a scene which will be well known to ardent fans of the director's work. Whilst its exclusion will inevitably upset New York Ripper purists, it doesn't completely devastate the final output, and Shameless should be praised for their efforts in ensuring continuity of the movie by inserting other shots of character's reactions in place of the unflinching brutality, maintaining the accurate running length of the film.
Yet at the same time, it does irk somewhat that even in this age, after years of slow yet welcomed relaxation of censorship by our friends at the house of repression which is the BBFC, we are still being 'protected' by our elders and betters at the self-appointed institution, lest we are rendered corrupted, mentally damaged, and bereft of moral compass. Indeed, it would surely only be a matter of time after watching this most powerful of visual presentations before we begin to gleefully re-enact each gruesome scene on the nearest innocent bystanders.
I imagine that James Ferman, the infamous BBFC head who ordered the original copy submission of The New York Ripper to be sent from our unsullied isle via police escort back in the eighties, would be wiping a tear from his eye as he observes his successors continuing his morally upright labour of love, and that the censorship institution who determines what we, as individuals, can and can't watch, are still able to place a warm, reassuring, protective arm around our fragile shoulders – and a dark, censoring hand over our eyes. With The New York Ripper retaining cuts after all of these years, and the recent news that a sequel regarding a man who chops people up and mashes them together has been banned outright, it does make one wonder whether we're witnessing a rollback of the growing liberalism which we have begun to take for granted.
Despite all of the controversy and criticism surrounding The New York Ripper, there's something uncharacteristically careful, measured, and controlled about this grimy shocker. Fulci brings a dark stylishness to his carefully carved output, and whilst you can criticise the picture for its utter lack of positivity or hope, the manner in which the brutality and paranoia is presented is impressive. Take the scene where the sex show actress returns to the dressing room; as the threat of the ripper looms in the darkened room, the glowing red light from another room is used to stunning effect, and it becomes clear that accusations of the film being a brainless shocker are unfair, and lazy.
The notorious Italian director seems to thrive upon the New York location, with the early scenes recalling his classic undead gorefest Zombie Flesh Eaters (another target of the arbiters of good taste and decency). He works impressively to expose a sleazy underbelly of the city, and the dark shadow of New York throbs menacingly like a tightly coiled-spring. It's a hotbed of primal urges, a melting pot of myriad perversions; the resulting combination of modern ultra-liberalism and the remnants of a more traditional repression leaves a tenuous and fragile balance which frequently explodes into violence. And despite the urban, concrete landscape, this is a city subculture where we are exposed as the animals we really are; the full frontal nudity, unashamed sexual intercourse, and disturbing violence reminds us that our clothing, our cars, and our technology are a scant facade for our animal urges and lusts which drive us forward.
One of the sharpest and most enduring criticisms of Fulci's sadistic, blood-drenched slashfest is that it is a sickeningly, unashamedly misogynistic picture, and it's a straightforward observation; the sexually assertive, self-assured and confident New York women are inevitably 'punished' by the cruel arcs of the ripper's weapon. Frequently, the ripper's unflinchingly captured acts of violence and violation are targeted towards the mutilation and desecration of the female body's sexual components, whether it's the broken bottle and the genitals, or the razor blade and the nipple; though of course here you won't be seeing the full scope of the razor's cruel assault, with the BBFC deeming your sensibilities too delicate for such unsavoury visuals.
It's a difficult argument to refute, and the violence against women here is indeed extremely unpleasant. Yet no-one emerges from The New York Ripper morally unscathed; where the female 'crime' is that of self-assured sexual liberation, the male crimes are multifarious. Whether it's the ironically chauvinist driver waiting to board the Staten Island Ferry verbally abusing the female cyclist, the morally bankrupt lead detective whose well-developed immunity to the depravity surrounding him renders him temporarily incapable of making a desperately human decision, or the disgusting pair of lowlifes who cruelly abuse the thrill-seeking Jane in a downtown coffee house, the New York men are a pathetic and unworthy collection of perverts, misfits, and inadequates.
You can level any number of criticisms towards Fulci's graphic and gruesome shocker, and many of them may be justified. Yet, with its bizarre combination of eye-wateringly realistic explicit violence, carefully paced and executed story-telling, depiction of an eighties New York which is sleazy and menacing, and a sadistic murderer who taunts the police whilst quacking like a demented duck, The New York Ripper proves to be, against all odds, one of Fulci's most refreshing and intriguing films for those who have the stomach to witness it.
Shameless Entertainment's instantly recognisable garish yellow packaging seems especially suitable for Fulci’s grimy shocker, and the back cover is sufficiently explicit that you will probably not want it on display when Grandma comes round for a cuppa. Tucked inside is a tidy little 6 page booklet containing Stephen Thrower's thoughts on the movie; more about that in the Extras section below.
The movie runs for 90 minutes, although as mentioned earlier, there are some particularly nasty sections removed totalling 29 seconds at the behest of the BBFC (see http://www.bbfc.co.uk/CVF060246/). These cuts were enforced by the institution, and Shameless have shown the work a great deal of respect by trying to minimise the impact using some carefully replaced shots of character's reactions. In the introductory text, Shameless apologise for any drop in quality due to the use of alternative sources for this material, though they deserve credit as the scene isn't destroyed as a result of the adjustments, and the difference in quality isn't too stark.
The movie is encoded for all regions, and presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio, it proves a decent transfer. The codec used is MPEG-4 AVC, and with a 1080p resolution, the definition is of a high standard given the relative age of the material. With even colour balance represented in combination with the impressive definition, the transfer results in a picture quality which is ideal for Fulci's gritty movie; the picture is largely clean and clear, yet there is sufficient graininess to ensure that we never forget the murky roots of this shocker. This city's underbelly is colourful, that's beyond doubt, yet look a little closer and the disintegration and fragility is clear to see.
In terms of sizing, the movie file itself is 17.4Gb, with the entire disk weighing in at a total of approximately 22.8Gb.
There is a trailer for Sergio Martino’s respected giallo, The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, plus other trailers for Almost Human and fellow outrageous sleazefest, Salon Kitty.
Audio is available in English, Italian, or Spanish (all presented in 2.0 DTS HD-MA). You can also choose to listen in the Original English Dolby 2.0.
The aural reproduction is naturally a little on the tinny side, with the middle and treble presenting the majority of the sound. The soundtrack lacks the depth you would expect from a modern presentation, but considering the movie is nearing the 20 year mark, sound is delivered to a good standard, with the often sleazy downtown music sounding clean and clear, and free of distortion. Voices are also distinct and clean, though you'll have to put up with the usual mix of dubbing and native speak which characterises a Fulci film. During his cameos, Lucio himself usually sticks to his native Italian, and you should not expect anything different here.
Whilst there’s not a huge volume of extras, Shameless have put a few nice additions together to compliment the eye-popping bloodbath.
There’s an enclosed yellow booklet, presenting a six page analysis of the film by Stephen Thrower, which the author has adapted from the chapter focussing on the film in his definitive Fulci tome Beyond Terror (FAB Press). The piece discusses the controversy with the BBFC, and allocates a sizeable chunk of text to focus upon the big misogyny question. In fairness to Shameless, they have noted that the text contains spoilers, so it’s important if you are a The New York Ripper virgin, so to speak, that you refrain from idly flicking through the booklet whilst you’re waiting for the film to start!
An eighteen minute Interview with Antonella Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti provides the most substantial segment of the added materials, and it makes for engaging enough viewing. Intriguingly, both Antonella (Fulci’s daughter), and Sacchetti (who co-wrote the screenplay) discuss the misogyny question in their separate interviews, yet whilst Sacchetti states unequivocally that the movie is misogynist, he also reveals that he upset Antonella by expressing this view to her, and she makes it clear in her slots that the film is not one crafted by a woman-hater.
The other essential section of the interviews concerns the filming techniques used in New York. Whilst you were meant to apply for a permit to film anywhere in New York, Fulci and crew would roll up in a given location, set up the equipment as quickly as possible, and grab footage before disappearing swiftly once again.
There’s a three and a half minute New York Ripper Theatrical Trailer, which is particularly explicit and leaves viewers in no doubt as to the brutal nature of the film it seeks to promote.
Finally, there’s a Shameless Trailer Park function which allows you to watch trailers of many of the titles from the lurid Shameless back catalogue, including Strip Nude for your Killer, and Fulci’s own Manhattan Baby.
Confrontationally controversial, unremittingly grim, and fundamentally disturbing even after the passing of almost two decades, Fulci's New York-based sleazy slasher remains an impressive and breathtaking achievement. One of the off-screen crimes is the BBFC's refusal to permit the unexpurgated version of the film, though Shameless have made a commendable effort by replacing the chopped segments with other stock of the film, and as such the end result feels well paced and flowing. The cuts are likely to upset some, yet Shameless have delivered a respectful and caring release of Fulci's movie, and with a well balanced transfer and some short yet engaging extras, this release is well worth a look.