Monday, 27 June 2011

New York Ripper (Lucio Fulci, 1982) Blu-Ray Review

The murderous, neon-lit landscape of New York Ripper (1982) looks better than ever on Blu...

Lucio Fulci's classic 80's slasher has rode a wave of controversy in the UK ever since it was rejected by the BBFC in 1984, when chief censor James Ferman ordered all existing prints to be deported from the country. Despite never liking Fulci's work, Ferman's anger may have been raised due to current social concerns, especially with the recent conviction of Peter Sutcliffe, aka The Yorkshire Ripper. But even now the film remains cut, and the infamous scene where prostitute Kitty (Daniela Doria) has her breasts sliced by a razor blade is almost non-existent in this re-mastered print. Indeed, the scene remains butchered beyond recognition, save for the eye-dicing finale, and it's a crying shame that we're still not allowed to choose for ourselves what we can and cannot see. But let's not linger on decades-old debate; New York Ripper has much to offer even in incomplete form, and I think it's about time all charges of misogyny were dropped...

It's true that Fulci always shot female murders in a more explicit and visceral fashion, and on a Blu-Ray extra writer Dardano Sacchetti expresses discomfort in the way the director always made those murders about sex. Filmmakers have a choice, he says, in scenes where a knife rips a blouse, to show or not show the flesh underneath. And yes, Fulci always lingered on the event, his victims were always nude, and much of New York Ripper's tone is lurid; the 25¢ sex show is followed by a particularly nasty (but effective) set-piece where the killer assaults his victim by stabbing her in the crotch with a broken bottle. Later in the film a woman is fingered against her will, and the aforemntioned set-piece involving a razor blade has obviously troubled censors for years. It's also true that when men are murdered in his films, Fulci shows noticeably less interest, and frames the set-pieces in a much more uninspired fashion. But on the same extra Fulci's daughter Antonela says that the killer does not hate women, just their beauty. The final twist of the film informs us as to why, and therefore the murders are executed with motive and psychological reason. Perhaps Fulci lingers on them for too long, but there isn't much more excess here than in any other giallo, and studying the works of Bava, Deodato and Argento will prove as such. Perhaps Fulci was more brutal, and his worldview more nihilistic, but these are not criticisms, simply auteurist traits.

What New York Ripper does succeed in is style, and there's plenty of it. Antonela Fulci describes the film as a "horror-melodrama" and certainly its colour scheme would attest to that fact (as would the ripe dialogue and overacting). The aforemntioned bottle set-piece is a masterpiece of style, whatever your reservations about the content. The sex show itself is a vidid slice of erotica, with the soundtrack and lighting giving the fleapit theatre a sleazy appearance, and the saturated close-ups on mouths, eyes and self-pleasure are captivating. Corridors are draped in red light, directly juxtaposing with the neutral green of the performer's (Zora Kerowa) dressing room. Soon that red light begins to creep under the door of the green room, and fear sets in. The sound design amps up a little; there's somebody else there. Once the (gruesome) murder is complete a red light once again drapes itself over the corpse, denoting the savagery that has been committed. The killers quack (yes, you read that right) can still be heard in the mind of the viewer, echoing, and I've always seen this as a reference to the whistling child killer of Fritz Lang's M (1931). It's an exceptional set-piece, beautifully rendered on Blu-Ray, and is worth the price tag alone...

A similar pattern recurs through most of the movie; a claustrophobic corridor book-ended by red 'EXIT' signs, and the slow ascent of a flight of stairs by a character who will be met by a red door, holding all manner of secrets (a murder also happens here), stand out. Fulci's colour-coding may be a little obvious, but his understanding of lighting ensures that we never feel condescended, and his technical proficiency and developed style elicits as much tension and excitement from the scenes as possible. They also look stunningly beautiful, like much of his work from this era. The dialogue may be atrocious ("Fred, have you flipped out or are you trying to give me an ulcer? A smart-ass coroner comes out with a little verbal diarrhea and you immediately go around declaring there's a maniac loose in the city!") and the acting wooden (Howard Ross is effectively creepy), but there's a lot more to New York Ripper than many would care to admit.

Personally I also see some subtext in the way surrounding is used to inform character; the South Bronx stands in for 42nd Street where neon signs hang over the dirty streets advertising Slavers (Jürgen Goslar, 1978) and The Unseen (Danny Steinmann, 1980). They remind us of the perverts, prostitutes and sickos who inhabit the region, especially the duck-voiced antagonist of Fulci's piece, based on Disney's Donald, who the director deemed an "anarchist." Through casual camerawork (it's frenetic in the set-pieces) Fulci lures us deeper into his world, subconsciously building the fear with posters, colours and shadows. It's not quite a masterpiece, but New York Ripper still comes highly recommend, and even in cut form remains one of the best giallos on the market.

The Disc/Extras
Of course, the film looks incredible. DP Luigi Kuveiller has been well served by this transfer, and I struggle to find any fault with it. An accompanying booklet by Stephen Thrower, taken from his book 'Beyond Terror, The Films Of Lucio Fulci', is hugely entertaining and informative. The extras are brief but solid. The original theatrical trailer is excellent, but the second feature, an 18-minute interview with Antonela Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti, is excellent, and fans of New York Ripper will find much to enjoy, especially the anecdote about Ross checking out of his hotel room. I wish there were more extras (some kind of commentary would have been welcome) but this is still an essential purchase; the film just looks too good to miss.

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