The New York Ripper (1982)

Also known as:
Lo Squartatore di New York

Wow. This is one Hell of a film. This piece of extreme cinema has a reputation for vileness, filth and brutality that may need a bit of extra examination before we start burning all the copies in the stores. You could watch this epic of blood and sleaze from Italian maestro Lucio Fulci, and form the point of view that it's utterly reprehensible and misogynistic. There's certainly much bloody violence inflicted on women. As most horror fans would know, there's a gut-wrenching scene of impossibly gruesome violence inflicted on a young, attractive woman quite late in the film - I'll get to that later. Yet, I don't know if many viewers got this from The New York Ripper, but I think there's a sad, meditative side to the film that may only exist in this reviewer's mind, but it's an element to the film that's worth exploring before we condemn the film outright.

Our first scene is an old man playing with his dog. He throws a stick into a bush and the dog brings back a rotting, severed female hand. The reign of terror from "The New York Ripper" has begun. Middle-aged Lt. Fred Williams (Jack Hedley) is on the case. Another young woman, Rosie (Cinzia de Ponti) is trapped in a car on a ferry and brutally murdered, the unseen killer quacking like a cartoon duck as he does her in. The killer somehow finds out who's on the case and begins to call the prostitute-visiting Lt. Williams, taunting him time and time again. Williams cannot track this crafty, quacking madman down. Dr. Paul Davis (a condescending, gay psychologist played by Paolo Malco) tries to assist, but can only really indicate how intelligent the killer is.

At a downtown sex cinema, pervert Mickey Scellenda (Howard Ross) settles in for an explicit sex show. He notices a beautiful woman (Alexandra Delli Colli) in the audience becoming aroused, who later leaves. Later, the sex performer is killed in her dressing room by the New York Ripper, who rams a broken bottle into her (now clothed) genitals. This is quite a bloody scene and probably caused the censors and sensitive viewing folk a bit of a stir. It turns out that the woman in the audience, Jane Forrester Lodge, is somewhat of a sexual deviant and with the permission of her husband, Dr. Lodge (Cosimo Cinieri), she is free to seek out sexual gratification wherever it leads her. First, it leads Jane to a bizarre (and nasty) experience with a couple of rough latino types in a bar, one of whom pleasures her tauntingly under a table with his foot! Once it's over, they mock her as she runs from the room, ashamed. She somehow runs into Mickey Scellenda, who, missing two fingers from one hand, ties her up naked, calls a radio show with his exploits and beats her (off-screen). Believing him to be the killer (by overhearing something the disk jockey says), she manages to escape, only to be viciously killed in the hallway by the Ripper.

During all this, we meet mathemetician Peter Bunch (Andrea Occhipinti) and his straight-laced girlfriend Fay Majors (Almanta Suska). Fay has a near escape from the sleazy, stalking Mickey Scellenda on a train, and ends up slashed by the Ripper on the leg. Recovering in hospital, Peter tends to her every need. He also has a sick daughter in hospital, Susy. Later we'll see just how sick and at death's door she really is. The killer tracks Fay to her home but she escapes into Peter's arms. Later, the quacking madman phones Lt. Williams and dedicates a killing to him, Kitty (Daniela Doria), the prostitute he'd slept with earlier. As far as graphic murders go, this is the brutal set-piece of the film. Keeping Williams on the phone, the killer quackingly taunts her with a razor-blade as she lies tied semi-naked to a bed. He then proceeds to slash open her stomach, slice her nipple in half, and slice her open eye in half. It all sounds terrible and it is, but if you think of how a God-awful situation like this would occur in real-life, Heaven forbid, there would be much struggling and thrashing. The way Fulci stages it, Kitty just lies there and takes the punishment, all with much screaming of course. It just doesn't come across as realistic. It's certainly offensive if you take it seriously, and I can accept that many, many people would take this depiction of violence against a woman seriously indeed.

Williams turns up too late of course, and Kitty lies dead in a bloody mess. Meanwhile some of the evidence is starting to point to the seemingly nice, mild-mannered mathematician, Peter. Fay discreetly visits Susy in hospital and sees just how fragile and at death's door the little girl - whom Peter never visits - is. She's missing a leg and arm and lives in an oxygen tent. She hears the nurse reading a duck story to Susy and begins to add things up. The chip out of the concrete near her home where the killer attacked her. The broken knife in the kitchen, identical to the one that slashed her. Williams and Davis visit Susy and after some of the clues add up, race back to Peter's home. Will they be in time to save Fay from the danger of a possible quacking killer?

On face value, this is one offensive movie. You've got the obvious violence against women, which is extreme, I won't deny it. You've got a woman, Jane, who pursues sexual gratification and is killed for it, and a prostitute, Kitty, who has sex for money who is carved up in a prolonged sequence. I can't help but feel though, that Fulci feels sorry for the female characters, at the very least for Jane. Maybe it's the acting skills of Delli Colli that convey Jane's restless humanity. She just wants fulfillment, and beastly men deny her at every turn. At least her husband lets her be free, and the two obviously shared a loving relationship while she was alive. I'm not sure why Peter tries to attack his girlfriend Fay, or why he even has a girlfriend in the first place, since it's finally revealed that he kills women out of revenge for his dying daughter being so ill, and never being able to grow up and be beautiful. Why wouldn't he want to kill Fay at all times? I don't have the impression it's only "sexy" women he wants to kill in his mental guise of "The Duck", but all "perfect", full-grown women. I don't believe Fulci wants us to identify with, or like, the killer. And let's face it, it's hard to identify with someone who speaks in a high-pitched voice and quacks like Donald Duck.

The film's been put together with much care by Fulci. It's said by some to be his last great film, and these folks may have a point. There's obviously a decent budget being employed. The lighting is particularly well-done, especially in the porno cinema where it's almost Bava-esque in some scenes. The gore effects are of course, top-notch. The actors all take the film seriously and it shows, I think Delli Colli coming out the best with her conflicted character. The ending, with the crying Susy waiting for her father to call her in the hospital, shows a humanity that many of the film's detractors would deny it. I haven't lost all perspective here, The New York Ripper has it's aspects of sickness and misogyny, but I think there's more going on than meets the eye.

Difficult to recommend, other than to horror fans with a strong stomach. Yet, The New York Ripper does have its rewards if you're willing to come to it with an open mind.

© Boris "Quackity-Quack" Lugosi, 2005.


Review written: 12/09/2005 12:55:14