Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #483
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: March 4, 1982
Country of Origin: Italy
Box Office: €414,859,000 (Italy)
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: Lucio Fulci
Producer: Fabrizio De Angelis
Screenplay: Lucio Fulci, Gianfranco Clerici, Vincenzo Mannino, Dardano Sacchetti
Special Effects: Germano Natali
Cinematography: Luigi Kuveiller
Score: Francesco De Masi
Editing: Vincenzo Tomassi
Studio: Fulvia Film
Distributors: Vidmark Entertainment, Video Instant Picture Company (VIPCO)
Stars: Jack Hedley, Almanta Suska, Howard Ross, Andrea Occhipinti, Paolo Malco, Alexandra Delli Colli, Cinzia de Ponti, Cosimo Cinieri, Daniela Doria, Babette New, Zora Kerova, Paul E. Guskin, Antone Pagan, Josh Cruze, Marsha MacBride, Rita Silva, Giordano Falzoni, Lucio Fulci, Barbara Cupisti
Suggested Audio Candy
 Francesco De Masi “New York One More Day”
 Francesco De Masi “Waiting for the Killer”
Jason Voorhees isn’t alone. I too hold a special place in my heart for New York City and have been fortunate enough to visit the Big Apple on a couple of occasions. It’s a real hive of activity and has a unique vibe unlike any other. However, it’s also one of the most overrun states in the U.S. with a population of well over eight million people. With that many folk roaming the streets, it’s only natural there will be a few sickos and, in the early eighties, they all started to bubble to the surface. Crime rates and, in particular, homicide figures rose dramatically in that period and much of it was blamed on the fast-spreading crack and heroine epidemics at the time as well as the surge in prostitution. It was only a matter of time before it bled onto the silver screen.
William Lustig’s Maniac, Brian De Palma’s Dressed To Kill, and Michael Wadleigh’s Wolfen all used New York as the backdrop for their spate of brutal murders, each revealing the seedier side of the Big Apple. However, one movie in particular, really ruffled some feathers. Lucio Fulci already had over twenty years directorial experience under his belt by the time he dropped The New York Ripper onto our laps. While he became known initially for making westerns and comedies, by the turn of the seventies, he entered the giallo arena with A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin and Don’t Torture A Duckling earning him widespread praise. However, by the close of the decade, he had found another niche entirely and this culminated in Zombi and his Gates of Hell Trilogy bagging him a whole new captive audience and the nickname the Godfather of Gore.
His output from this period is largely considered as his most accomplished and quite rightly so. Soon after he lost the services of screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti after snubbing his compadre for sword and sandal fantasy, Conquest, and many consider their acrimonious split to coincide with a significant drop-off in quality with his films. Before this sudden shift in dynamics, he decided to return to his beloved gialli and The New York Ripper appeared at the tail end of his flush spell. It arrived a full decade after Don’t Torture A Duckling and Fulci even referenced that movie by gifting his killer the voice of a mallard. While this raised some eyebrows, there were other reasons why this film earned its notorious reputation.
“You women are all the same! A menace to society! You women should stay at home where you belong. You’ve got the brains of a chicken!”
Folk love nothing more than playing the old misogyny card and, anytime ladies are subjected to harsh treatment, it is suggested that a deep-rooted hatred for women is to blame. This particular criticism seems way off the mark with regards to Fulci as he really wasn’t fussy whether slaying man, woman or even child. Having said that, The New York Ripper didn’t exactly help his cause. It isn’t just the fact that the violence is aimed at the fairer sex but also that it is often degrading. Fulci was accused of manipulating his female characters into roles which depicted them as little more than whores just waiting to be ventilated. In addition, it was seen as borderline pornographic and many saw this purely as sleaze of the lowest common denominator.
I don’t buy into this particular philosophy one iota as anyone familiar with his vast body of work will be aware that his lens loved nothing more than to linger and extreme zoom has long since become a Fulci trademark, regardless of gender. But I can see why noses were bent out of shape and, when the film was refused a certificate by the BBFC in 1982 and all prints ordered to be removed from the country, I wasn’t greatly surprised. A total of 72 movies were named and shamed in 1983 and, the fact that this didn’t make the cut has nothing to do with not being deemed nasty enough. Instead, it never even received its invite onto the home market in the first place. Thirty years on it is still regarded by many as deplorable and, while admittedly harder to defend than most exploitation flicks from its era, it all seems a little much ado about nothing to me.
“He used a blade. Stuck it up her joy trail, and slit her wide open. He could have done a slightly better job if he had more time. But overall, it was a good, efficient butchery.”
After the decomposed hand of a local prostitute is discovered beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, veteran New York detective Lt. Fred Williams (Jack Headly) is assigned to the case. In no time, the paperwork begins to pile up along with the mutilated bodies as a number of beautiful young women start showing up dead. The sadistic manner in which they are snuffed out is a cause of significant concern for Williams and, to make matters worse, the killer is fully aware of his inquiry and takes great pleasure from taunting him at every turn. Meanwhile, super-intelligent track star Fay Majors (Almanta Keller) has managed to narrowly escape the killer’s clutches once and it appears as though a return visit is on the cards.
In many ways, The New York Ripper is as straightforward a giallo as they come. The dialogue is just as cringeworthy as we have come to expect and the investigation itself plays a rather poor second fiddle to the moments when our killer decides to strike. What sets this apart is the murders themselves as Fulci, riding on the crest of a deep red wave after a string of gory hits, exercises no restraint whatsoever. Dario Argento’s Tenebrae from the same year certainly had its moments but he pushes the envelope that much farther, with the atrocities including a broken bottle neck making unlawful entry into one poor victim’s vagina and plenty more besides to make us wince.
“Sweetheart! I’m a prostitute, not your wife. If you want coffee, make it yourself!”
Aside from the splatter, we are ushered behind the curtain at live sex shows, rubbing shoulders with all manner of deviants and 42nd Street gigolos. The men in general here are largely hateful towards women and one scene involving an involuntary “toe job” leaves a particularly foul taste in our mouths. Thankfully Fay’s doting boyfriend Peter (Andrea Occhipinti from A Blade in The Dark) is on-hand to restore our faith in the male species. Meanwhile, our heroine herself has an almost impossibly high IQ which also suggests that not every female walking the streets of New York during this period is a mindless bimbo. There’s also the small matter of our woman-hating duck-billed psychopath and the eventual reveal is actually reasonably well handled. Fulci himself even shows up in a small cameo as chief of police, minus the facial furniture.
It is unsurprising that The New York Ripper caused such a furor upon its unveiling as it is literally brimming with anger and resentment. As a portrayal of human nature at its most inhospitable, it succeeds in making an impact and reflects the kind of moral decline that made New York such a dangerous city to inhabit during the eighties and early nineties. However, if you’re looking for deep meaning, then I would suggest giving Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver a watch as I don’t think Fulci was ever looking to make that kind of a statement. Ultimately, it’s some way from his finest hour, and the only real flashes of ingenuity come, ironically, with the violence. If I’m being honest, that’s pretty much the best thing it has going for it. Well that and a pretty mean Donald Duck impersonation. Quack!
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 5/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: The manner in which each attack plays out makes for pretty uncomfortable viewing, should your disposition be weak. Aside from the phallic bottle neck incident, many other body parts are subjected to harsh cruelty. Throats are slashed, numerous fleshy areas punctured, and there is a glorious shotgun blast to the face which just begs for slow play. One scene in particular stands out like a pimp in a monastery and immense kudos to Daniela Doria for being so game. She suffers the indignity of being bound to her bed in next-to-nothing while our killer runs a razor blade tortuously slow and deliberately across her areola and then her wide-open eye. To this very day, this scene looks sickeningly realistic. Fulci also doesn’t hold back on the full-frontal nudity although this is not the movie to break out the hand cream for.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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