The New York Ripper is the hardest, roughest, bloodiest and sleaziest of Lucio Fulci’s films. That’s saying a lot. It has a lot to live up to, with the horrors that had come before. If you backed off of the gore and roughness of the film, you’d be left with a somewhat decent detective film. But what got made…
It’s like Fulci watched William Lustig’s Maniac and said, “This movie is for pussies.”
Literally, the photo below is the very least of what happens:
Seriously, as upset as people get by some movies these days, I’d like to warn anyone easily upset to avoid this movie at all costs. Some see it as Fulci’s rock bottom, reaching out to the lowest common denominator. But once his violence is removed from the fantastic, it seems much more horrifying. It’s also a film where all of Fulci’s tics — especially injuries to the eye — are not held back. In fact, fucking nothing is held back by this film. It’s brutal. This isn’t a warning like at a fun house or sideshow, hyping up what is to come inside with overblown carny barker snake oil. This is legitimately a brutish, punishing film.
An old man complaining about his balls hurting is walking his dog, who finds a rotting human hand that once belonged to a prostitute. Fulci predates Law and Order with this beginning, which is how every episode starts. Police detective Lieutenant Fred Williams is on the case, but he’s been beaten down by New York City. This isn’t the NYC of today, this is 1982 end of the world cesspool that Fulci would travel to as a tourist. This is a bleak, nihilistic world with people that are either taking advantage of one another, being taken advantage of or so cold that they have shut off all humanity.
As Lt. Williams investigates, he learns that the first victim had set up a meeting with a john who used a Donald Duck voice. Yep — this is the first hint that you are watching Fulci at his most insane. It’s either going to freak you out, draw you in or shut off the movie because it’s too strange. Me? I’m in.
A young woman rides her bike through the city. She’s tough. She’s spunky. She gives it right back to guys who come at her with sexual misogyny, particularly a man who nearly hits her with his car. She notices his car on the ferry and scratches up his car. As she commits her vandalism, a man walks up to her. She tries to speak to him, but his duck voice stops her, as well as his knife. She’s brutally slashed open and this being Fulci, the gore is not off camera. It’s as in your face as possible.
Cut to the morgue, where a pathologist tries to link this killing to the body that started the film and another murder in Harlem. Lt. Williams informs the press that a serial killer is at work, which upsets the chief of police (Fulci) and starts phone calls from the Ripper. Realizing he needs help, the cop turns to Dr. Paul Davis (Paolo Marco, The House by the Cemetery), a psychotherapy professor who wants to help him create a profile for the killer.
Meanwhile, Jane Lodge (Alexandra Delli Colli, Doctor Butcher M.D.) attends a live sex show along with her tape recorder. She’s much better dressed than anyone else in the theater and is obviously out of place.
The dangerous looking man with two missing fingers is not out of place, however.
Meanwhile (I feel like with all of the detours that this movie takes, I’ll overuse this word), the female performer (Zora Kerova, who was infamously hung by her breasts in Cannibal Ferox, as well as Anthropophagus and The New Barbarians) we just watched on stage is decimated by the Ripper, who has a broken glass bottle as his weapon. Kerova did interviews afterward where she claimed that Fulci didn’t hate women and was really warm to her, but that’s nearly impossible to conceive upon watching this scene.
Lt. Williams goes to see his girlfriend Kitty — or at the very least, his favorite prostitute — where he gets a duck-voiced call from the Ripper.
Remember Jane? Well, she has an open marriage with Dr. Lodge, who likes to listen to the recordings she makes. She goes to a rough bar where two men taunt her. One uses his foot on her — yep, exactly what I just wrote — and exposes her to the entire bar before she runs away.
Finally, we meet our heroine. Fay Majors rides home alone on the subway when she notices the man missing two fingers. She runs into a dark alley where the quacking Ripper attacks her by stabbing her in the leg and slashing at her. She escapes into an apartment building and locks the door before passing out. She has a vision of watching cartoons in a movie theater as her boyfriend, Peter Bunch (Andrea Occhipinti, Ilias from Conquest), arrives and slashes her throat with a straight razor. She awakens in the hospital, where Lt. Williams and Dr. Davis determine that the killer is left-handed and has to be the man missing two fingers.
Remember Jane? Well, she gets picked up by the man with two missing fingers for some rough bondage, which includes him beating her and making whispered phone calls to other people, but she’s also pretty insane, so it’s left to your own judgment as to whether she wants this treatment or not (positive depictions of BDSM relationships, of which this is not one, are rarely presented in any cinema, much less grindhouse films). Post-sex, as the two sleep next to one another, she hears a radio DJ ask the Ripper, the man missing two fingers, to leave those ladies alone. It sounds so much like the DJ from The Warriors that it can’t be an accident (Fulci would use a similar narrative device in Zombi 3). This is the best scene in the film, as Jane has to untie herself without waking up the man who, worst case, is the killer and best case, is a maniac, next to her. There’s a ton of suspense here. As she finally makes her way into the hallway and gets away, she walks right into the Ripper, who stabs her to death.
Lt. Williams listens to Dr. Lodge defend his open marriage as they tell him that his wife is dead. Williams takes the man to task, as obviously the recordings she made were for him, possibly against her will. The police determine that the killer is Mickey Scellenda, who has an apartment filled with porn, drugs and photos of most of the Ripper’s victims. But Dr. Davis has his doubts, as the Ripper is intelligent and Mickey isn’t.
Also, there’s a long scene of Davis buying male pornography here, revealing that he’s a repressed homosexual. He goes to ask more questions of Peter and Fay, which keeps him suspicious. After he leaves and Peter goes out, Mickey attacks Fay. Peter returns just in time to save her.
Lt. Williams then gets a call where the Ripper dedicates a kill to him. The police set up a trace and Williams keeps him on the phone until they find the telephone booth where they think the killer is, but it’s just a walkie talkie. The killer is really at the home of William’s favorite prostitute, Kitty, and taking his time killing her. This is where Fulci gives in to his worst impulses and has a long, gory razorblade sequence. If his previous eye injury gore has ever upset you, well, you shouldn’t even be watching this film. This is the hard part of watching Fulci. So much of this is indefensible sleaze, but so much of it is also well done, as Williams fighting to get to the crime scene and save Kitty, with traffic getting in the way and even his body giving out are powerful. I’m not sure how many people will get past the grimy murder scene to appreciate it, though.
Days later, Mickey’s body is found. He’s killed himself by what looks like self-suffocation. That said, the coroner thinks that Mickey has been dead for eight days, which means that he can’t be Kitty’s killer. Dr. Davis explains that this fits into his theory — the Ripper hates women and is an incredibly intelligent man who has used Mickey to keep the police off his trail.
Fay visits a hospital where Peter’s daughter from his previous marriage, Suzy, is dealing with a rare bone disorder that has led to her losing her left arm and right leg. Williams and Davis later visit the girl and notice her nurse reading Donald Duck stories to her, which leads to them racing to Peter and Fay’s place to arrest both of them.
At their house, Fay has disappeared after a call from the Ripper. Peter leaves dinner only for her to attempt to stab him, which makes you think that she is the killer. However, he rises and begins quacking, throwing her down the stairs. He grabs the knife and just as he is about to kill her, Williams arrives and shoots him in the face — another incredibly graphic scene that shocked me.
As Fay is taken away by an ambulance, Williams explains that her boyfriend hated sexually active women because his daughter would never get to enjoy the chance to live life.
The film ends with Suzy calling for her father, begging for him, as her voice is covered by the traffic of New York City.
Again, imagine Law and Order filled with beyond graphic gore, sex scenes and a lack of any heroes and you’ll have something close to The New York Ripper. Except that it’s so rough, it’s going to take a strong stomach to get through it. There have been people upset with mother! earlier this year, as it feels like a movie that attacks the audience. This film does less of that. But as upset as people get about things today, this is a hard movie for me to tell others to watch. It’s a giallo, sure. But where so many of those films are satisfied with the flash of the blade and the suggestion of gore and sex, Fulci wallows in it. There’s a lot to like in this film, but it all depends on how much you can handle.
UPDATE: This is streaming for free with an Amazon Prime membership.