Gorgeous is not a word one would associate with a film as brutal and infamous as The New York Ripper, but here we are. For all the squalor, vice and viscera that the movie displays, somehow the new Blue Underground 4K reissue of the film is also awash in deeper colors, sharper resolution and more clarity. I wondered, “How can a low budget Italian grindhouse movie from 1982 be improved any further than the last release of this film?” Turns out I was wrong. This is a whole new look for the film.
Not bad for a film that its writer, Dardano Sacchetti, said came from a director who “nurtures a profound sadism towards women.” The New York Ripper isn’t an easy watch. In fact, a UK censor claimed was “simply the most damaging film I have ever seen in my whole life.” For all the times I wonder why some reviewers feel the need to list the trigger warnings in a film, I can admit that the entirety of this movie is basically one big trigger.
It’s also a movie that came out at the end of the slasher fad in the U.S., at a time when mainstream critics were finally confronting films that had been playing grindhouses and drive-ins for years. It barely played the U.S. in 1984 before being released in censored form on VHS in 1987. It still hasn’t been released uncut in England.
I have a slightly different view of the film than most. In a world where people obsessively watch Law and Order at all hours of the day and night, The New York Ripper offers a very similar story with one glaring difference: there is no center of morality. There’s not a single redeeming character, save perhaps Fay Majors and Susy Bunch. There isn’t a sympathetic killer nor a beaten down cop with a hidden heart of gold. This is New York City standing on the brink of Armageddon at the end of the 20th century. There isn’t room for goodness, just a struggle to survive.
Beyond Fulci unleashing every evil impulse he has when it comes to gore and destroying human bodies, the real part of this film that makes it so hard to swallow is the overwhelming feeling of misery that imbues every frame. No one is getting out alive or unscathed. Cops choose their own careers over the prostitutes that they may or may not be able to admit that they love. The very same cop, whose morality is very much in question, rails against the open marriage that is the closest thing to romantic love in the film. And the movie ends with a dying child in a hospital bed repeatedly calling out to a father who now cannot answer her. There’s grim and then there’s this film.
So why am I so excited to have this new 3-disc limited edition in my collection? Because I feel that it’s an important part of Lucio Fulci’s career. It’s nearly a bookend with another of his giallo works, Don’t Torture a Duckling. Unlike his giallo contemporaries like Argento and Martino, Fulci has no concern with fashion or hyper colors. Instead, he uses the framework of the genre — hidden killers, red herrings, psychosexual motive — to rail against the inhumanity of morality and religion, while at the same time fascinatingly being as immoral as it gets.
After this film, Fulci would create Conquest, a baffling fog-entrenched take on the sword and sorcery film that I absolutely adore, and Warriors of the Year 2072, which is the final film he’d work with Sacchetti on. It’s the beginning of a downward slide in quality and health for the Godfather of Gore, although I like some of his later period films more than others, such as Murder Rock, Aenigma and The Devil’s Honey.
This Blue Underground release is packed with extras, including audio commentary from Troy Howarth (author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films), interviews with Sacchetti (who pulls no punches, discussing just how little he cares for original writers Gianfranco Clerici and Vincenzo Mannino); actors Howard Ross, Cinzia de Ponti and Zora Kerova; a discussion of the film with Stephen Thrower (author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci); a breakdown of the film’s locations in 1981 and 2019; and an incredible feature with poster artist Enzo Sciotti, who shows how he creates his iconic posters. That interview is more than worth the price of this set alone! Plus, there’s a soundtrack of the film’s music and a booklet with an essay by Travis Crawford. I really have no idea how anyone can top the care, quality and love that Blue Underground bestowed on this release.
This isn’t a movie for everyone. It’s maximum Fulci without the benefit of the supernatural to dull the edges of the sadism on display. Yet it’s a well-made film that keeps you guessing and takes you on a near mondo tour through the uncertain haze of the death throes of New York City before Times Square was reinvented as a tourist-friendly paradise. For lovers of extreme cinema and Italian exploitation, there’s plenty to quack about here.
DISCLAIMER: I was sent this movie for review by Blue Underground, but I would have bought it regardless.