Although Italian maestro Lucio Fulci is greatly acknowledged for several early 1970s gialli (LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN, DON’T TURURE A DUCKLING), it was the early 1980s and several zombie gut munchers that put him on a pedestial in the eyes of worldwide gorehounds. During his productive period of brooding epics dealing with tormented undead beings and various passageways to hell, Fulci returned to the giallo genre with THE NEW YORK RIPPER, an ultra violent piece of cinema that also emulated the then-popular American slasher craze. The American inspiration can also be established by the film’s authentic shooting location: New York City.
Before the main titles appear, we witness an old man playing fetch (near the Brooklyn Bridge) with his pooch, who doesn’t return with a stick, but rather, the remains of a woman’s long finger-nailed hand. This assuredly sets up the idea that there’s a serial killer loose in Manhattan and his target is young, pretty females. Soon after, another victim is gashed up on the Staten Island Ferry, and cranky, prostitute-frequenting police lieutenant Fred Williams (Jack Hedley) has one thing to go by: obscene phone calls made by the suspect in an obnoxious “Donald Duck” voice, complete with the quacks. Williams teams up with a university psychoanalyst (Paolo Malco, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETARY) for a more systematic approach to the case, and when another young woman (Almanta Suska) is attacked, she survives to tell of her ordeal to the police, leading them to the trail of a perverted Greek with missing fingers (Howard Ross, WEREWOLF WOMAN) as the clear-cut perpetrator. But are Williams and his men on the right track to apprehending the Ripper?
As far as storylines go, THE NEW YORK RIPPER is standard stuff, basically dealing with another crackpot offing sexy ladies for a specific motif that will be revealed in the final reel. But it’s the stylish, energetic direction of Fulci that puts the film on the right path, as it moves from one graphic murder sequence to the next, tossing in an abundance of eccentric characters and kinky scenarios during its progression. In spite of the questionable manner in which the killer phones in his idiotic duck banter (likely to bring on chuckles more than anything else), the film can be quite unsettling and disturbing in its nature (remember, this was made just a few short years after “Son of Sam” David Berkowitz stalked the streets of the Big Apple) and the gore is intense. The killer does in all his (female) victims with a razor blade or a sharp object, and the talented Italian effects masters didn’t hold back one bit. A scene in which a prostitute – tied nude to a bedpost – has her nipple and eye slowly and deeply carved by a small steel razor is difficult to look at, even for the most seasoned gorehound, without flinching. Time to tell yourself, “It’s Only a Movie!”
Although Fulci had shot a few scenes for ZOMBIE in an around NYC, this film makes full use of the island of Manhattan, and even though 1981 (the year in which this was shot) wasn’t that long ago, the city sure has changed, some for the better (such as cleaner, safer subways), and some not. Captured here is the grandeur of 42nd Street the way it used to be (before its cleansing), where movie houses showed double features of every variety imaginable and the sex shops and perversion palaces were as common as useless, tourist-catering gift shops are today. Fulci inventively uses the seedy trappings of 42nd Street in the plot, incorporating a small theater showcasing a live hetero sex show where two of the more dubious characters of the piece end up convening.
The cast is a mix of mostly Italian thespians and more local talent (such as Antone Pagan, a familiar face from Walter Hill's THE WARRIORS). There’s the odd bit of casting British actor Jack Hedley in the lead as a New York police lieutenant. Some viewers will recognize him from Don Sharp’s WITCHCRAFT (1964) and the Hammer film THE ANNIVERSARY (1968), so it’s a bit jarring to see him with a re-dubbed gruff New York accent. Italian beauty Alexandra Delli Colli (ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST) has one of the most memorable roles in the film, that of a rich doctor’s horny wife who gets her kicks any way she can, tape recorder in hand. Yes, she ends up totally nude and tied up, in case you wanted to know. On a side note, that’s Mel Welles (who did dubbing work on numerous foreign exploitation movies) voicing the unaffected police coroner.
Anchor Bay released THE NEW YORK RIPPER on DVD a full decade ago in a non-anamorphic transfer which was passable at the time. Now Blue Underground is reissuing the title (with a coinciding Blu-ray disc release) with a new High-Definition master made from the original camera negative. Needless to say, this is a vast improvement over the old disc, as the film is presented here (still completely uncut and uncensored) in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. It’s essentially picture perfect, hardly looking its age and boasting incredibly sharp detail, bright color schemes, and rich flesh tones, with hardly a hint of grain or debris in sight. Three different solid audio tracks are included: the original mono, a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track and a 6.1 DTS-ES track. Optional English, French and Spanish subtitles are also included.
There are two newly produced extras created for this Special Edition DVD. “I’m an Actress” is a ten-minute video interview with Czechoslovakian-born Zora Kerova, who plays the sex show performer in RIPPER. Zerova, who speaks in Italian with accompanying English subtitles, discusses the flack she got from her homeland for taking the rather controversial part, her liking of Fulci despite his reported hatred of women, and she even talks a bit about her more significant appearance in CANNIBAL FEROX/MAKE THE DIE SLOWLY with director Umberto Lenzi. “NYC Locations Then and Now” is a 4-minute narration-less montage of some of the film’s locales and establishments, comparing what they looked like in the film as compared to newly shot video footage of how they appear today. Naturally, the area with the most considerable changes is 42nd Street. Rounding out the supplements for the disc is the original international trailer for the film. (George R. Reis)
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