There are very few options left for the serious filmmaker who wants to shake up the world of slasher movies. Even after the genre had already become a parody of itself during the ’80s, Scream came along and dissected the whole shebang and then the Scary Movie series came after and poked holes in everything that was left. And those are just the big box office dogs. There are plenty of others that brought along their own tweaks, if just on a smaller scale.
Back in 1982, Lucio Fulci threw his hat into the ring with The New York Ripper, an unwaveringly gory slasher blend with one patently ridiculous touch – the voice of the killer. To read the press on the movie, there’s plenty of talk about how many countries banned the movie, how far the boundaries were pushed, how this is “The Most Controversial Horror Film Ever Made!”, as the box touts. And so on first viewing, most folks would want to prepare themselves for some sort of bizarre, sadistic gore-fest. And while there’s plenty of gore to be prepared for, what can’t be prepared for is this voice. This maniac, who literally slices the guts out of his victims, sounds like a duck.
This is set up very early on. Lt. Fred Williams (Jack Hedley) is talking to the landlady of a girl who was just killed and this landlady, who pours the New Yawk accent on real thick, tells Williams that she once heard this guy’s voice on the phone and it sounded like a duck. Williams takes that news real serious-like, but let’s face it – that’s just funny. And it only gets funnier when the voice is actually heard – a dead on impression of Donald Duck. Whether he’s taunting Williams or stalking a pretty young thing, the voice undercuts any tension that may have been built. By the same token, it also sidesteps the old cliches of the heavy breathing perv or the raspy psycho. There is no mistaking this movie for another – this is signature stuff.
But what of the rest of the story? It’s a fairly run-of-the-mill giallo – there’s a murder mystery at the heart of the movie and a set piece every ten minutes or so where a lovely young lady is eviscerated in one way or another. The murders all reach an impressive level of intensity, even when the effects show their seams, which is frequent. It’s hard to keep things real when the blood looks the color of paint. But such are the ways of early 80’s horror and all the more charming because they are so. We meet a whole slew of damaged characters, all centering around sex in one way or another, a frequent location of the movie being Times Square, which in that era was overrun with porn shops and sex shows. Also, Fulci makes heavy use of the color red, as both passion and death. The two are inextricably linked in this story, though not in the way most other slashers go about it. Normally, this would be about punishing immorality. Not so here – in this movie, it’s the murders that are immoral. Imagine that.
And of course, over all of the murders is the voice of a raving, quacking duck.
Is it a terrible idea? Or a brilliant idea? At worst, it’s an unsettling idea, which means it works well. The voice of the duck contrasts with the serious and revolting nature of the murders in an unnerving, perverted way. There’s something childlike about the voice, something cartoonish. Something that should be innocent coupled with sex and death. It’s a lot to process in those moments, with the shrieks of the soundtrack and quacks of a duck competing with the screams of the victim. You don’t know whether to laugh or hurl.
In the end, an explanation is given, delivered via psychologist (thank God he was hanging around!) that neatly accounts for everything that came before, even the voice of the duck. The rest of the story would’ve benefitted from dropping a few more clues throughout the movie, but even with this last second exposition to clear everything up, the tone remains consistent and the idea behind what was going on turns out both creepy and bittersweet. Not a bad bit of work for a movie sold on its most b-movie traits.
The film is presented in a vibrant 2.35:1 1080p that, although popping with color, has some of the most unsteady camerawork in movies. Audio is 7.1 DTS-HD in English with subtitles in French and Spanish. The soundtrack is typical of spaghetti horror, with a generally bad dub for the speaking roles, but every quack is crisp and clear.
“I’m an Actress!” – Interview with Zora Kerova – God bless Miss Kerova, but why is this 10 minute interview the feature attraction in the special features? Kerova was a day player and the interview isn’t much of an in depth look at the making of the movie. As she goes on to comment on other directors, following a sort of “He was nice, he was not as nice but still pretty nice” train of of thought, this bit loses steam fast. (9:30)
NYC Locations Then and Now – Also something fans of the movie could do without. Not completely uninteresting – the bits that contrast 1981’s Times Square sex shops with the family friendly shops that populate that area today actually give the movie a little more umph – but there wasn’t much care put into matching the shots, so besides the fact that the World Trade Center is no longer standing in Manhattan, there’s not much impact here. (4:08)
Theatrical Trailer – Gosh but these trailers used to go on for a while, huh? (3:20)
The New York Ripper skims over the poor performances and shoddy camerawork to deliver a disturbing and ridiculous tale, perfectly suited to the giallo tradition, with plenty of entertainment to be found therein.
Fabrizio De Angelis and Blue Underground present The New York Ripper. Directed by: Lucio Fulci. Starring: Jack Hedley, Almanta Keller, Howard Ross, Andrew Painter, Alexandra Delli Colli, Paolo Malco. Written by: Gianfranco Clerici, Vincenzo Mannino, Lucio Fulci, and Dardano Saccheti. Running time: 93min. Rating: Not Rated. Released on DVD: September 29, 2009. Available at Amazon.com
Tags: Blue Underground