Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lucio Fulci's NEW YORK RIPPER (1982)

I hadn't watched Lucio Fulci's NEW YORK RIPPER in about 25 years. (Which pains me to write not just because that's too damn long between viewings but also because it reminds me how old I'm getting!) But after a recent discussion with some pals about favorite Fulci flicks and giallos I realized I was long overdue for a reappraisal and – thanks to Netflix's instant streaming service – could watch the widescreen print in the cozy confines of my office. Do we live in a great world or what?

RIPPER opens in memorable fashion with a man and his dog walking along the New York riverbank – playing a game of "fetch" that's just waiting to turn ugly in the Spaghetti Splatter maestro's hands. Sure enough it's not long before the pooch has retrieved a grotesque, moldy, decaying hand from the underbrush and brought it to his master's attention.

And "FREEZE!" as Fulci displays the credits over the rotting piece of human garbage dangling from the canine's mouth. It's a directorial and editing flourish that seems particularly fitting since RIPPER paints a grimy and gross portrait of New York City in its pre-Disneyfication days of the early 1980s. Neon lights pulsate as they hawk sex shows and the last gasp of grindhouse horror, action and exploitation as Lt. Fred Williams (Jack Hedley) deals with the bodies that are piling up thanks to the duck-voiced "Ripper" who is slashing and mutilating the bodies of beautiful women and leaving them strewn about the city like garbage.

With few leads at his disposal and pressure coming from the Chief (director Fulci in a pleasant cameo) the police turn to Dr. Paul Davis (HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY's Paolo Malco) in the hope that he can help profile the killer and narrow the search. When Olympic hopeful (?!) Fay Majors (Almanta Keller) survives an attack by the killer she puts cops on the trail of a deformed Times Square gigolo named Mickey Scellenda (Howard Ross) who has been seen with more than one of the Ripper's intended victims.

Experienced giallo watchers will be quick to figure out that Scellenda – while a perfect suspect thanks to his predator's eyes and rough manner – isn't Williams' man, which puts the cops and the viewer back at square one. Despite having watched the film 20+ years ago I still found myself second, third and fourth guessing my choice of killer, not unlike my first viewing back when RIPPER came out on VHS via Vidmark all those years ago.

Though I initially left RIPPER off my list of Top 5 Fulci Flicks, my recent viewing is causing me to seriously reassess my choices. Quite frankly, while I love GATES OF HELL for its "Fulci Highlight Reel" feel and THE BEYOND never fails to creep me out while it entertains, NEW YORK RIPPER represents the best of both worlds of the Splatter Maestro.

Visually, it's Fulci at his most restrained, keeping the trademark Fulci Zoom largely in check and using the colorful New York City locations to full effect. Storywise, the tale of the quacking Ripper is a giallo classic, as we're served up a rich stew of suspects, clues and red herrings... all of which kept me guessing right till the end. And, if it's sleaze you want, Fulci never flinches – whether it's a live nude sex show turning on a slumming rich broad (who also gets "toed" in one of the flick's most harrowing scenes), close-up scenes of the Ripper plying his trade on the body of a beautiful victim, or a bloody conclusion that puts an exclamation point on Fulci's horror career.

NEW YORK RIPPER was the end of an impressive five-year run that also includes THE PSYCHIC, CONTRABAND, ZOMBIE, GATES OF HELL, THE BEYOND and HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. Though flicks like MANHATTAN BABY, CONQUEST, MURDER ROCK and THE NEW GLADIATORS would follow, none – for me, at least – would reach the same dizzying heights of his late 70s/early 80s output than ends with RIPPER.

Do yourself a favor and check out the widescreen version currently available on disc or streaming at Netflix. It's like seeing the film for the first time all over again!


Cinema Suicide said...

For some reason, this is the one of Fulci's that I've seen the least but liked the most. I like his colorful splatter but they never struck me as cohesive stories so much as dreamy weirdo scenes with explosive violence to spice it all up. New York Ripper, however, felt like the antithesis of that and actually comes together in one nice little package.

I always wondered, though. What was the deal with that scene where Davis stops and buys a gay porno mag? It never seems to play into the story at all. It's just this weird vignette where it's as if to say "Check it out. This guy is into dudes."

Mr. Xploit, Esquire said...

Nice write up. I haven't seen it though so I didn't read it all. That's funny that you didn't put it in your top 5 list and now regret it. I hate when that happens!

Dan said...

Cinema Suicide: Totally agree about RIPPER sorta being the antithesis of some of his more popular splatter efforts. It has an actual story, goes from a to z quite nicely and has a liberal amount of blood and boobs. A genre classic!

Know what you mean about the doc at the newsstand. I assume it's just to plant seeds of doubt in our mind and make. Did you notice that the kid who comes by to buy a paper is Michele Soavi in one of his splatteos (aka splatter cameos)?

Dan said...

Mr. Xploit: Thanks for the comment. I try to avoid any kind of spoilers in my reviews. I hope reading the whole thing won't take away from your enjoyment of the flick.

I have to really reassess my Top 5 Fulci Flicks... this one definitely leapfrogs THE PSYCHIC and maybe even ZOMBIE.