No one would ever accuse notorious Italian gore master Lucio Fulci of being a particularly subtle filmmaker, but even in the wide Fulcian seas of splinter eye gougings, coughed-up intestines, and little braided girls getting their heads half blown off by shotguns, his 1982 giallo thriller The New York Ripper gives even his ardent fans a moment of pause. Nasty, sleazy, misanthropic, and unpleasant, the movie is essentially a more extreme and singularly Italian take on William Lustig’s Maniac, with overtly sexual kills and one of the oddest murderers in the whole of the subgenre. Though it’s absolutely not for everyone, it does have a certain kind of squalid power, and to be honest, the restored version of it that was released in 2020 by Blue Underground looks incredible, with beautifully framed shots and gorgeous color grading. It’s a massive improvement from the crappy old VHS releases of the 1980s; if you’re going to watch trash, at least watch it in all its grotesque and masterfully-shot glory, the way it was originally intended.
Like many of Fulci’s films during this time period, the exteriors were filmed in the United States (obviously in New York City, in this case), but the interiors were all shot in Rome. The discrepancy is not all that noticeable, at least to me, and the film definitely has the grimy, ominous vibe of NYC in the late 1970s/early 1980s, where life was cheap and every encounter with a stranger was fraught with peril.
Curiously, The New York Ripper was initially meant to be directed by Ruggero Deodato, and was to center around a serial killer who suffered from progeria, a disease which causes rapid aging. The cops trying to solve the case would thus have a difficult time catching the perp, as his appearance was constantly changing. This sounds like a fascinating idea, and Deodato would actually utilize it later in his 1988 film Phantom of Death, but when Lucio Fulci got hold of the concept, he and frequent co-writer Dardano Sacchetti opted instead to make their version of the New York Ripper quack like a duck, and no, that is not a typo. Whether or not they made the right decision is entirely up to the viewer.
The film opens with a man playing fetch with his dog, but it doesn’t take too long before the pups returns not with a stick, but with a decomposing human hand. Mmm, ladyfingers. Turns out the hand belongs to a model named Anne Lynne, who has been brutally butchered. Her landlady tells police that she had been eavesdropping on the young woman’s calls, and noted that prior to her death, she had set up a date with a man who talked like a duck.
Several weeks later, another young woman is murdered, this time in a car on a ferry in broad daylight. At this point, the world-weary investigators and the pathologist are beginning to suspect a serial killer is on the loose, but the police chief (played by Lucio Fulci himself), admonishes everyone to keep their lips zipped so as not to provoke a citywide panic.
Meanwhile, a superfreak named Jane, who is really into massaging the muff while watching live sex shows, and also recording the orgasmic moans of the performers for later enjoyment, is spotted by a sinister-looking dude with two fingers missing from his right hand. Not long after the sex show ends, the female performer is in her intensely giallo-lit dressing room when she is summarily shanked in the vag by a broken wine bottle, multiple times, causing her to bleed to death. There are some who say that Lucio Fulci had some problems with women; I’m just putting that out there.
The next potential target is Fay, who is approached on the subway by the Eight-Fingered Wonder, but manages to escape for a time, though her leg is viciously slashed when the attacker catches up to her. There then occurs what appears to be a nightmare sequence, in which her dashing young boyfriend Peter slashes her to death with a straight razor. She awakes in the hospital, decidedly unslashed, with Peter there and being his loving, supportive self. She tells him about her dream and speculates as to why she might have dreamed that he killed her (something about not understanding about someone named Suzy), while Peter just sits there and looks very obviously shifty.
We then check back in with Jane, who is getting her rocks off by sitting in some dive restaurant and allowing one of a coterie of scumbags to toe-fuck her under the table. She then makes an appointment to engage in some light bondage with Fingers McMissingMan, but upon hearing the news that the now-dubbed New York Ripper is also short a couple digits, she frees herself from her bonds and beats feet, only to be hacked to death in the hallway of the fleabag hotel where the rendezvous had been taking place.
I neglected to mention that this entire time, Stooge McDuck has been phoning the police, taunting them in his ridiculous-ass voice about them not being able to catch him. In a horrifying turn of events, the killer savagely murders the lead cop’s favorite prostitute, Kitty, by slicing through her eyeball and nipple and lots of other places with a razor blade. It wouldn’t be a Fulci film without some squirm-inducing eye trauma, and you get it here in loving close-up.
Another thing I forgot to acknowledge is the character of Dr. Paul Davis (played by Paolo Malco, who was also in Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery, among other things), a smug, chess-playing psychologist who is brought onto the case as a profiler and butts heads with head investigator Lieutenant Fred Williams over the characteristics of the potential Ripper.
The cops are convinced that the menacing Greek man with the missing fingers is the killer, but a plot development later in the film casts doubt on that assumption, though to be honest if you’re watching the film with even half your attention, it will be pretty evident who the Ripper actually is. That doesn’t really tarnish the seedy allure (?) of the movie, but don’t go into it expecting it to be a big mystery whose reveal you won’t see coming. Having said that, I will point out that this movie does have a pretty bizarre motivation for the killer’s crimes, that does as a matter of fact involve a duck, after a fashion.
If you’re a Fulci fan, I can’t imagine that you haven’t seen this, as it’s regularly touted as one of his most controversial works. Shortly after its release, it was, naturally, relegated to the UK’s Video Nasties list, and the film was actually banned outright there until as recently as 2002, and is still only available in a censored version. It’s a mean-spirited, scuzzy, borderline pornographic flick that slaughters women in appallingly gruesome and very sexual ways, and makes the streets of New York City seem like a neon-lit hellscape where everyone you see is out to exploit or physically harm you in some way. Not gonna lie, I’ve always kinda dug it, though, and the stunning restoration of it demonstrates Fulci’s brilliant way of artfully framing the vulgarity for maximum effect. It’s not among my favorite Fulci films, but for lovers of ultraviolent gialli with a massive side helping of smut, you could certainly do a lot worse.
Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.