The New York Ripper (Lo squartatore di New York) (4K UHD)

Director: Lucio Fulci
Screenplay: Gianfranco Clerici and Vincenzo Mannino and Lucio Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti (story by Gianfranco Clerici and Vincenzo Mannino and Lucio Fulci)
Stars: Jack Hedley (Lt. Fred Williams), Almanta Suska (Fay Majors), Howard Ross (Mickey Scellenda), Andrea Occhipinti (Peter Bunch), Alexandra Delli Colli (Jane Forrester Lodge), Paolo Malco (Dr. Paul Davis), Cinzia de Ponti (Rosie), Cosimo Cinieri (Dr. Lodge), Daniela Doria (Kitty), Babette New (Mrs. Weissburger)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1982
Country: Italy
The New York Ripper
The New York Ripper

To say that The New York Ripper (Lo squartatore di New York) is Italian splatter-master Lucio Fulci’s most notorious film is a statement of some magnitude, given how notorious so many of his films were—and still are. To his fans, Fulci is an underappreciated genius whose no-holds-barred approach to sex and violence marked the apotheosis of Italian horror in the 1970s and ’80s, an era of one-upmanship among horror filmmakers that resulted in many such films being banned in various countries (The New York Ripper was banned in the U.K. for years, as the BBFC refused to even consider it for licensure, and it was barely released in edited form in the U.S. two years later). To his critics, Fulci is a misogynistic hack who relies far too much on cheap sensationalism, incoherent plotting, and lurid violence that pushes far beyond any sense of artistry or even purpose beyond rubbing the audience’s nose in the gore. While many of Fulci’s films have isolated moments of Hitchcockian suspense and memorable atmosphere, far too often his faults—and his excesses—drag his films down, making them all but unwatchable to all but the most passionate (or perverse) horror aficionados.

Such is the case with The New York Ripper, which clearly earned its notoriety and has maintained it in the decades since its release. If anything, the film feels even grittier, sleazier, and more nihilistic than it did when it premiered in 1982, the year after Fulci’s The Black Cat, The Beyond, and House by the Cemetery (say what you will about him, but he was productive). The film marked Fulci’s return to the giallo—the uniquely Italian take on the murder-mystery genre—after making primarily supernatural horror films for the previous five years, and even though it was shot by Luigi Kuveiller, who had previously shot Billy Wilder’s Avanti! (1972), Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) and Blood for Dracula (1974), and Dario Argento’s Deep Red (1975), there is nothing visually distinguished about the film, save a few isolated setpieces and some dramatically lit shots.

Instead, Fulci digs as deep as he can into the visual cesspool of early ’80s New York when the Big Apple’s downtown was its most rotten, seething with sex clubs, porn theaters, graffiti-covered subways, and fleabag motels. It is the same milieu that Martin Scorsese mined for such unnerving dramatic effect in Taxi Driver (1976), which spawned dozen of imitators, including films in the horror genre such as Abel Ferrara’s Driller Killer (1979) and William Lustig’s Maniac (1980). Scorsese made the moral rot embodied in Times Square’s neon, trash-strewn garishness central to his film’s significance, whereas Fulci appears to be doing little more than exploiting it for background atmosphere. As it turns out, the decay of the city has nothing to do with the film’s serial killer, who slices up attractive young women with razor blades, switchblades, and, in one particularly gruesome scene, a broken bottle. Fulci lavishes his trademark close-ups on all the skin splitting and blood gushing, often to the point of near absurdity, as it requires the victims to simply stand there and scream while being cut up, rather than struggling and trying to run.

The screenplay was originally written by Gianfranco Clerici (Cannibal Holocaust), Vincenzo Mannino (House on the Edge of the Park), and Fulci, although Dardano Sacchetti, who had had a hand in several of Luci’s most recent films, including City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), and The House by the Cemetery (1981), was brought in late to do substantial rewrites. The ostensible protagonist is Lieutenant Fred Williams (Jack Hedley), a world-weary, on-the-edge-of-retirement police detective who is tracking the killer, although with little intensity or drive. He is surrounded by an odd cast of supporting characters, including Fay Majors (Almanta Suska), a young woman who is a rare survivor of one of the Ripper’s attacks; Jane Lodge (Alexandra Delli Colli), a wealthy hedonist who enjoys degrading herself at sex clubs and scummy bars; and Dr. Paul Davis (Paolo Malco), an arrogant young psychoanalyst who is brought on board early in the film and basically hangs around so that he can supply some kind of psychological explanation for all the violence at the end. And then there’s Mickey Scellenda (Howard Ross), the primary suspect who is simply too obvious a culprit to actually be the Ripper. But that doesn’t stop Fulci from squeezing every bit of misdirection he can out of the character, although this does result in the film’s one genuine stand-out suspense sequence, when a character learns via a late-night radio broadcast that she may very well be tied up in bed with the killer and has to figure out how to untie herself and escape without waking him.

The New York Ripper has been frequently described as misogynistic for the way it lavishes such time and energy on the physical maiming of screaming young women, which is not exactly unique to Fulci’s film. Women have almost always been the victims of violence in the horror genre, and directors as gifted as Alfred Hitchcock, Dario Argento, and Brian De Palma have unapologetically exploited this tendency, often to critical acclaim. The problem with Fulci is that he foregrounds the violence against women so emphatically and makes the rest of the film so empty that the gendered bloodshed literally becomes the film itself (it doesn’t help that the violence is so interconnected with graphic sexuality and one of the film’s main female characters can only express herself via willful sexual degradation). It leaves you with a sour taste, especially since Fulci and his screenwriters fail to provide us with any redeeming or even mildly interesting characters. I have to say, though, that one aspect of the film that has often been mocked I found to be deliriously and unexpectedly effective: the killer’s use of a high-pitched quacking voice when he (or she) calls and taunts the victims or Lt. Williams. The concept sounds positively ludicrous, I know, but somehow it works on-screen in a weird, unnerving, genuinely subversive kind of way, which makes one wish that Fulci had focused more on making The New York Ripper intriguing, rather than just sleazy.

The New York Ripper 4K UHD + Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio2.40:1
  • English Dolby Atmos
  • English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio surround
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 monaural
  • Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 monaural
  • French Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish, Italian
  • Audio Commentary by film historian Troy Howarth
  • “The Art of Killing” video interview with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti
  • “Three Fingers of Violence” video interview with actor Howard Ross
  • “The Second Victim” video interview with actress Cinzia de Ponti
  • “The Broken Bottle Murder” video interview with actress Zora Kerova
  • “‘I’m an Actress!’” video interview with actress Zora Kerova
  • “The Beauty Killer” video interview with Fulci scholar Stephen Thrower
  • “Paint Me Blood Red” video interview with poster artist Enzo Sciotti
  • “NYC Locations Then and Now” featurette
  • Poster & Still Gallery
  • Trailer (3 min.; HD)
  • DistributorBlue Underground
    Release DateAugust 25, 2020

    The New York Ripper’s original 35mm negative was scanned in 4K 16-bit for this new 4K UHD release (the same source used for the restored Limited Edition Blu-ray released earlier this year). In addition to the new scan, the disc features a high dynamic range color grade in Dolby Vision (with HDR10 available, as well), and it looks impressive, especially in comparison to previous releases. The color palette looks quite a bit different, with more subdued and realistic tones that match the film’s grim look and feel. Blacks are dark and heavy, but manage good detail, and there is a solid presence of grain to give it a filmlike appearance. The image isn’t overly sharp, in keeping with its original look (DNR and artificial sharpening marred some of the previous releases). The soundtrack was been restored and given a new Dolby Atmos mix that sounds generally well-balanced and is effective in opening up the oddball musical score and some of the atmospheric sound effects without pushing the original monaural mix too far.

    All of the supplements have appeared on Blue Underground’s previous DVD and Blu-ray releases. Film historian Troy Howarth supplies an excellent audio commentary; Blue Underground has tapped him to record commentaries for a number of their recent releases, including Two Evil Eyes, Zombie, and House by the Cemetery, and for very good reason. Howarth, who is the author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films, is consistently engaging, insightful, and full of the kind of information that genuinely makes one appreciate the film in new ways. His critical analysis is always thoughtful and erudite, and he gave me some new perspectives to consider in The New York Ripper, which he describes as Fulci’s “darkest, meanest, and most misunderstood” film. The rest of the supplements are primarily interviews with various members of the cast and crew: screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti (29 min.), who doesn’t mince words about his relationship with Fulci and his dislike for the very kinds of movies he has made his career writing; actors Howard Ross (15 min.), Cinzia de Ponti (12 min.), and Zora Kerova (there are actually two with Kerova, a 9-minute interview from 2019 and a 10-minute interview from 2009). We also get a first-rate interview with Stephen Thrower, author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci (23 min.), who is cogent and thoughtful in his analysis (and defense) of the film, as well as the film’s production history, its place in in Fulci’s career, and the intersection between giallo and horror. Finally, there is a 17-minute interview with legendary artist Enzo Sciotti, who has created paintings for some 3,000 movie posters, including many for Fulci’s films. We also get a 4-minute “NYC Locations Then and Now” featurette, which compares shots from the film of New York circa 1981 to the same locations circa 2009 (what a difference a few decades makes!), a poster and stills gallery with close to 70 images of international posters, video cases, newspaper ads, and lobby cards, and an English-language trailer.

    Copyright © 2020 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Blue Underground

    Overall Rating: (1.5)

    James Kendrick

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