The New York Ripper – original title: Lo squartatore di New York – is a 1982 Italian giallo film directed by Lucio Fulci (A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin; Zombie Flesh Eaters; City of the Living Dead) from a screenplay co-written with Gianfranco Clerici, Vincenzo Mannino and Dardano Sacchetti. The score was written by Francesco De Masi.
The film was banned in many countries or released as an “adults-only” movie after heavy editing. Whilst most of Lucio Fulci’s other films have been released uncut in Britain, The New York Ripper remains censored to this day, even for its 2011 DVD and Blu-ray releases, although it can be easily bought uncut via Amazon.com
In 1982, real-life British serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, nicknamed ‘The Yorkshire Ripper’ had only recently been apprehended, so any film about a serial killer with the word ‘Ripper’ in its title became even more contentious, had it not already been undemocratically rejected by unelected British censors, the BBFC.
New York: After the dismembered body of a local prostitute is found by an old man walking his dog it becomes clear that a maniacal killer is on a killing spree.
Dispatched to investigate is the grizzled, bitter Lieutenant Fred Williams (British actor Jack Hedley) who after visiting the young woman’s landlady is given his only lead; the victim had recently been talking with a man who had a voice like a duck (presumably an in-joke reference to Fulci’s 1972 rural anti-religious giallo Don’t Torture a Duckling?).
Before the world-weary detective can investigate these bizarre claims, another young woman is viciously attacked and killed aboard the Staten Island ferry, providing the audience’s first introduction to the killer who not only sounds like a duck but a very famous duck – Donald.
Warned by the Chief of Police (Fulci himself in one of his common appearances onscreen) not to reveal details to the public for fear of causing mad panic, Williams learns that the quack-voiced foe has been trying to contact him, leading to plot-length taunting by the killing after each victim is slain.
Further hideously lurid murders take place – including a nasty green-lit fatal bottle assault on an adult entertainer – and suspicion falls on well-known drop-out called Mickey Scellenda, already convicted for drug and moral offences and with tell-tale missing fingers. Fay Majors (Almanta Keller) becomes the lynch-pin to the case, surviving an attack and confusing the issue by believing the killer is actually her boyfriend.
The Ripper’s attacks become ever-more frenzied and increase in regularity but just as the net seems to be closing in on the killer, has Williams got the wrong man/duck?
Having already covered many genres with often stunning results (the tour-de-force western, Four of the Apocalypse, and landmark living dead film Zombie Flesh Eaters to name but two), Fulci returned to the giallo genre for the first time since 1977’s The Psychic (aka Sette Note in Nero) but with a considerably colder heart and with outrageously graphic sexual violence, most of which is shown on-screen, though graphic stills suggest that even the director excised some scenes from the most intact prints.
Containing just about everything that then head of the BBFC, James Ferman, objected to in films, he allegedly ordered the print sent for certification in the UK to be escorted back to the airport where it could be flown to safety, away from sensitive British eyes. The Ripper remained uncertified for cinema screenings and unreleased on VHS. Ferman never let go of his hatred for this and several other controversial films, and years later in a Channel 4 documentary entitled Sex and the Censors, he declared it to be ‘irresponsible’.
The move away from Fulci’s recent gothic template (City of the the Living Dead, House By the Cemetery; The Beyond) and relocation to the urban squalor of New York permeates the resulting film with an atmosphere of despair and filth (reminiscent of The Driller Killer and Maniac) before the killer and his motivations even begin; it’s a cinematic sickie that is utterly without remorse.
Accusations of misogyny were flung at Fulci and his co-scripters way as the graphic scenes of womens’ bodies seemingly slashed and mutilated under the veil of what can only be described as a very thin plot, rather pointlessly winds its way to a revelation that is the cinematic equivalent of a shoulder-shrug.
The New York Ripper is one of Lucio Fulci’s most frustrating films. A sometimes gifted artist behind the camera, he resorts to slasher men-as-brutes/women-as-victims sensationalism and crudeness at the expense of a hole-filled plot and unremarkable acting and electing to ruin any tension (and promote unintentional guffaws) by giving the killer the voice of a cartoon duck.
On a first viewing this trashy giallo is actually rather entertaining, more due to novelty than genius – repeated viewings show it to be increasingly baffling and desperate. Though other films of the 1970’s and 1980’s were similarly morally dubious and little more than excuse to titillate an easily pleased audience, few do it with such brazen garishness.
On the plus side, we are given an excuse to listen to a score by Francesco De Masi, usually to be found as the writer for euro-crime poliziotteschi films (Napoli Spara) or Italian westerns (Arizona Colt). Although great fun and an excellent listen, it’s an odd mis-match to a film that though required viewing for gorehounds, is essentially a ‘greatest hits’ of sexist splatter effects with Donald Duck quacking away in the background.
Daz Lawrence, Horrorpedia
Several of these images come courtesy of the excellent http://silverferox.blogspot.co.uk/