Friday, February 21, 2014

THE NEW YORK RIPPER (Review)

The New 
York 
Ripper (1982)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by Lucio Fulci

Written by Gianfranco Clerici, Lucio Fulci, Vincenzo Mannio, and Dardano Sacchetti

Starring Jack Hedley, Almanta Keller, Howard Ross, Andrew Painter, and Alexandra Delli Colli
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After taking in a viewing of The New York Ripper, one of Fulci's most controversial trashterpieces, I came to an important realization: I have no real interest in seeing modern New York.

I want only to visit the New York of my cinematic childhood. The sleazy, slimy, wet city that was equal parts grime and equal parts glamour that I experienced first in children's fare like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and then, later in life, epitomized in gritty crime dramas and exploitation films like The New York Ripper. New York, in my mind, is comprised only of alleys, sewers, subway tunnels, and peep show booths.
It's for this reason that The New York Ripper appeals to me. Unfortunately, that's not enough to keep me interested. Fulci's shocking and degrading giallo of the 1980s about a misogynistic killer who speaks with the voice of a cartoon duck is predictably silly and simply sleazy for sleaze's sake.

Hey Lassie, give me a hand over here.
After a man walking his dog discovers the rotting hand of a woman, the NYPD soon realizes they have a serial killer on the loose. Somewhat like the infamous Jack the Ripper, this Big Apple psycho targets young women and, with a gloved hand, uses bladed weapons to murder and disembowel his victims. Lt. Fred Williams (Jack Hedley) and "genius" psychoanalyst Dr. Paul Davis (Paolo Malco) attempt to profile and track down the killer. The New York Ripper takes you into the sex shows, seedy alleys, and backrooms of New York City in a giallo full of red herrings and misdirection. Even up until the final act, the killer's identity isn't resolved until we see him or her speak in the killer's tell-tale voice: the voice of a ridiculous cartoon duck.

Looking sharp there, buddy.
The New York Ripper was banned in many countries and only shown in "adult" cinemas in others for clear reasons. It features some  harrowing and unflinching depictions of physical violence against women. The killer is fond of using edged blades to savagely cut at women's abdomens and chests, especially in a key scene that will make any boob-lover cringe. In it, he killer slices a nipple and breast with a razor blade. Fulci doesn't pull away from the violence; he lets it fill up the entirety of the screen. By today's standards, some of the prosthetic torsos used to give the illusion of violence look quite phony, but the breast mutilation and eye trauma remain as convincing today as in 1982. These scenes are ugly in their cinematic sadism but not their technical execution. 
What do you see out the corner of your eye?
While the term gorefest certainly suits New York Ripper, the visual direction is a tedious bore. From kill to kill, the movie moves at a trudging pace, and few kills are preceded by any real dread or suspense. In fact, the film loses much of its momentum by attempting to paint almost every character as a potential suspect. The narrative takes very unnecessary and dawdling side trips to plant red herrings in every corner of the story. After a while, all that misplaced fish begins to stink. 

The film's also a nastier piece of work than most. While the killer is clearly misogynistic, the film as a whole manipulates its female characters into roles where they are degraded and abused. Not just the killer but the overall thrust of the movie is one of hate towards women. I'm not saying Lucio Fulci hates women -- that's too broad a suggestion. It is clear, however, that he chose to make a movie with a misogynistic outlook. Was this to give the killer's own misogyny a cultural origin to make a point about how society breeds killers who take out their fury on women? I think that interpretation is a stretch and gives the script far too much credit. More likely, it was a conscious decision to shock and disgust audiences in the spirit of exploitation. 

In that tradition, The New York Ripper explores New York's salacious side through the character of Jane Lodge (Alexandra Delli Colli). Lodge gets off on visiting live sex shows, letting strangers rape her with their bare feet under the table, and being tied up in sleazy hotels. It's for this latter fetish that she crosses fatal paths with the New York Ripper. So, if you like your movies sexy in a shameless, dirty, bordering-on-pornographic level, New York Ripper's pretty much your jam.
Taking footies to the next level
Aside from its shocking violence, for some reason the creative minds behind New York Ripper decided it was a good idea to set their killer apart with a distinctive voice: the voice of an obscene cartoon duck. Yes, picture Donald Duck taunting the police on the phone and hurling misogynistic obscenities as he repeatedly stabs a woman to death. That's the New York Ripper.

Remember me, Eddie? When I killed your sister, I talked... just... like... THIS!
Why? Beats me. In retrospect, the Disneyfication of Times Square in New York takes on a morbid dimension when compared to the depiction of the sleazy Big Apple and its cartoon-voiced murderer. Watching the film, however, the ducky voice completely destroys the killer's credibility while prolonging the cult shelf-life of The New York Ripper by turning it into an oddball curiosity. I like to think that Fulci was ahead of the his time and was attempting to beat Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to the punch by revealing his giallo killer to be an actual, pen-and-ink toon. How great would that be if, in the climax of the film, a cartoon duck were actually the killer? Alas, the killer turns out to be a mere human with a paper-thin motivation tagged on at the last minute. I guess, if the killer were really a toon, the New York Ripper would be too easy to identify. After all, no toon can resist the old Shave-and-a-Haircut trick.

What to make of The New York Ripper? It's a lesser artistic work for Fulci but an exceedingly gory, socially degrading, and oddball curiosity. I found it silly and meandering, but I have to give it its due for being a straight-up gore and sex flick, duck-voiced killer aside.

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