New York Ripper, The (US - BD)
Gabe defends Fulci's most misogynistic work, and marvles at this new HD image
Lucio Fulci, like Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Powell, Dario Argento, Sam Peckinpah and Brian DePalma, gathered a reputation as a seething misogynist among critics. Personal anecdotes from those that knew him can surely say something about the director’s treatment of the fairer sex in his personal life, but on the whole his films don’t particularly speak in favour of acting hatefully towards women, at least not more than any other horror director looking to shock his audience. Women have surely died in horrible ways throughout Fulci’s films, but their death’s were rarely clearly the result of their sexual identity, or presented in a fashion specifically fitting a female. And speaking in terms of bare, on-screen facts, just as many, if not more men saw a brutal end at the director’s hands, and female characters were sometimes the ones wreaking the physical violence upon those men.
If one were to argue that Olga Karlatos’ ocular splinter violation in Zombie were some sort of representative rape, I’d counter that Giovanni Lombardo Radice’s slow motion head drilling in City of the Living Dead was a far more obvious violation via phallic weapon. Sexually speaking Fulci’s films, especially the latter horror films, weren’t particularly mature, so objectification of women is about as far as I’ve read into the sexual politics of his late-‘70s/’80s output (Note: I type all this without having ever seen Fulci’s exploration of sado-masochism The Devil’s Honey). To accuse Fulci of being a misogynistic filmmaker is an empty and shortsighted accusation, and one that requires reading far too deeply into a collection of almost purely imaged based motion pictures (he was obsessed with the idea of ‘pure film’, a film without plot of subtext). One could accuse the Maestro of making hateful films, teeming with repellent violence, and of being anti-humanist, but clear-cut misogyny seemed too pointed for the majority of the man’s career. Well, discounting this one really big exception…
The New York Ripper, which was released at the tale end of Fulci’s finest run of horror films (his follow-up career was spotted with a few entertaining bits of genre work, but no real return to form), is unmistakably, and almost unequally hateful in regards to the treatment of all the women that appear on screen (with one exception, which I’ll discuss at the end of this section of the review). The film is so deeply entrenched in angry, pseudo-pornographic violence even Fulci’s fans often disown it in casual conversation. The director’s loudest supporter in early print, Chas Balun, who wrote the first official book on the man (book is a kind word, it’s more of a pamphlet) refers to the film’s violence as ‘ugly, demeaning and frightfully pathological’, and calls the film ‘a hollow, forced, and uninspired effort that very few have rallied to support’. I’ll make no attempt to deflect these accusations, rather, I’ll lay them out for the uninitiated viewer to judge for themselves.
Our killer, or Ripper, is written as blatantly hating women, specifically women with a pronounced sexual appetite. Over the course of the film he expresses his disdain by killing a total of five women. Three of his victims are carved from crotch to chest with a switchblade (one off-screen), one of also has her breast sliced, and another is stabbed full-force in the neck. In the film’s most celebrated and reviled sequence the Ripper ties a prostitute to her bed and slowly drags a razorblade over her stomach, through her right nipple, and down her forehead, bisecting her open eye in the process (Fulci had a particular affinity for eyes, whether he was filming them in longing close-up as they dripped bloody tears, or destroying them via razors, nails, thumbs, or giant wooden splinters). I personally find the film’s second on screen murder, in which the Ripper guts a sex worker crotch to sternum with a broken bottle, much more alarming, specifically since much of the attack is filmed via the attacked vagina’s point of view. Besides these concrete kills the film also features a dream sequence where the heroine is slashed with a straight razor in slow motion across the hand, neck, and if the POV is correct, the eyes. It is possible the Ripper also kills one man, but the death is marked as a suicide by some fans. Regardless, the death happens off screen. The only other moment of bloody action comes when the killer takes a knife to the gut via his girlfriend, and a bullet to the cheek via the film’s protagonist cop.
But the villain’s prolonged (real and dream state) mutilations of innocent women isn’t the only thing keeping Fulci’s fans from admitting they like the film. The New York Ripper pushes into uncomfortable sexually pornographic arenas usually reserved for purveyors of lesser Euro-Trash like Jesus Franco, Joe D’Amato and Bruno Matei. Fulci’s violence equaled or bettered that of most of his contemporaries (though Argento’s violence was more beautiful, and Ruggero Deadato’s was more alarming), but he rarely set his sights on sexual escapades, save his more innocent minded and stylistically erotic ‘60s films, and some of the rather silly T&A found in Zombie (which was quite likely not even the director’s idea in the first place). For Ripper Fulci fully engulfed himself in the pre-Giuliani 42nd Street scene in ways that only Martin Scorsese and Bill Lustig have bested in pure, sweat-caked realism.
Every one of the film’s major cast (except the semi-virginal heroine) is marked as a sexual deviant over the course of the film, at least so far as perversion was defined by the God fearing members of a 1982 crowd. Before taking a bottle to the groin actress Zora Kerova participates in an on-stage sex before a 42nd Street crowd that includes Jane Lodge (Alessandra Delli Colli), who openly masturbates while recording the scene (which is filmed in the ‘soft-core’, no insert shot fashion). Later Jane shares the recording with her pale and sweaty husband Dr. Lodge (Laurence Welles), who caresses the recorder as his eyes roll back in his head. Later Jane trolls for sexual escapades, and finds her self publicly toe-raped (which of course she enjoys) in a local bar. She eventually ends her night tied to the bed of New York’s most wanted sexual predator, the mysterious three-fingered man that stalks the virginal heroine. The disheveled Lieutenant Williams (Jack Hedley), the film’s major male protagonist, has a semi-romantic relationship with a known prostitute, while his assistant Dr. Paul Davis (Paolo Malco) stops to purchase hardcore gay porn before questioning victims. None of this stuff is particularly shocking by modern standards, but the frequency of casual perversion clearly served some meaningful purpose in Fulci’s eyes, besides just creating more red herrings that is.
If it weren’t for truly and deeply disturbing work like Japan’s Guinea Pig series, or independent filth like the August Underground pictures, films even I find myself unable to watch, it's possible that I'd think The New York Ripper was worth getting worked up over. I don’t recommend the film to the faint of heart, mentally ill, or children, but I actually respect a lot of Fulci's dirty artistry. The whole woman-hating, ultra-violent, pornographic mess is really, really well made. Fulci took effort to match the aesthetics of popularized American cop thrillers like Dirty Harry and The French Connection (which were largely made in reference to French cop thrillers), and in mostly outdid many similar cheap equivalents. Some may argue that cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller utilized an excess of crash-zooms and focus pulls, but stylistically speaking these excesses are what make the film explicitly aesthetically Italian. The use of the 2.35:1 ratio (not the most common thing for Euro-trash at the time) is impressively mixed with these zoom and focus fiddlings, and striking colours to create a genuinely artistic look that doesn’t actively draw too much attention to itself, despite the palpable sense of disgust found on the mean streets of New York.
New York Ripper doesn’t only mark the end of Fulci’s golden period, but it arrived at the end of the Giallo cycle. Besides a few stragglers, like Argento with Tenebre (which was released the same year as Ripper) and Opera, the genre was at a creative dead end by the ‘80s, thanks in equal parts to the slow death of the Italian film industry, and to the rise of Giallo inspired slashers, which were a hell of a lot easier to produce. Ripper rests somewhere between the two body count genres, but Fulci’s use of colour and mystery are relatively more in-keeping with Giallo. Tenebre and Ripper are equal opposite reactions to the slasher cycle according to each director’s house styles. Both films were (at the time) the most sexually vulgar thing in each director’s oeuvre, including rather innocent trysts like Five Days of Milan (Argento) and Perversion Story or Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Fulci). Both films were also shot utilizing an increase of bright lighting schemes, which was not the norm for the Noir inspired Giallo genre (Argento once referred to the look as Neo-Noir). Both films’ killers worked from similar puritan points of view as well, and both films were quickly marked as the most controversial films in each director's collection upon release.
One of the more novel aspects of The New York Ripper is its unusually strong script, or at least strong as the word pertains to Fulci’s post- Zombie output. The story works as a mystery better than most late era Gialli (there are a few dream sequences that don’t play fair, but these afford Fulci some excuses to go wild with the more fantasy laced horror he’s best remembered), the characters are just short of three dimensional, the quantity of personalities is impressive for the type, and the dialogue is memorable, sometimes even oddly clever. This praise doesn’t extend the validation of the killer’s Donald Duck voice, because frankly the duck voice is too distracting to forgive. Technically this choice was clever from the standpoint that it’s kind of a satire of all the whispering voices used for Argento’s Gialli, and their imitators (which was often utilized to cover up the fact that the killer was a female), but man is it annoying.
The script is awkwardly unbalanced in favour of the incidental characters, but this lack of normal narrative flow acts in the film’s favor in creating an oddly European tone. The focus on Alessandra Delli Colli’s horny rich-lady Jane, who doesn’t have any real bearing on the plot, seems to be in reference to DePalma’s Dressed to Kill, which itself was made in reference to Hitchcock’s Psycho. In all three cases the character marked early as the film’s female lead dies early in the film as a ‘punishment’ for her ‘sins’. Jane lasts a bit longer than Angie Dickinson or Janet Leigh, but the parallels are pretty clear. I personally, however, mark Fay as the film’s best character achievement. She fulfills the Bava laid Giallo trope of the amateur sleuth (who is often an escaped would-be victim), but she sleuths out of necessity instead of morbid curiosity. She also inverts the film’s otherwise misogynistic nature by attacking the killer in outright rage, not simple and meek self defence. By the end of the film she’s devolved into crying, wrapped in a blanket in the back seat of a police car, and her screen time is detrimentally effected by the focus on Jane’s sexual escapades, but if she’d been fully realized folks might not find themselves ashamed of praising the film. I also have to admit that the heavy-handed coda is pretty effectively tragic, at least in the realms of Fulci’s operatic universe.
Apparently Bill Lustig and his friends have a working magical wand somewhere back at the Blue Underground offices. There’s simply no other way to explain how this Blu-ray transfer can possibly look this good. When New York Ripper finally found its way to DVD it was a big enough thrill just to have the damn thing in 2.35:1 widescreen, and because so much of the film takes place in broad daylight the majority of the transfer was pretty finely detailed, at least comparatively speaking. I wish I had the ability to get screen caps off of a Blu-ray just to point out pixel by pixel how much better this transfer is than the Anchor Bay DVD release (the BU release utilized the same transfer). The details are so sharp the entire experience jumps up a level in sleaze. Now we can see underwear as it’s pulled aside by investigative toes, then we can practically count Delli Colli’s pubic hairs, and later I suddenly notice that she’s covered in scratches and bruises following her escapades with one of the film’s red herrings. Surprisingly enough even the gore effects stand up well even in newly crystal cleared extreme close-up, likely because they were designed with brighter lighting schemes in mind.
The rich colours are best represented in the scenes that take place in the porn palace. These scenes are often baked in red, green and lavender, and I’ve never seen these hues appear as bright, full, or clean. The night scenes shot on the actual streets of New York are inconsistent in brightness and colour clarity. This can mostly be blamed on the fact that Fulci obviously culled the scene from shots taken under different street lights, but the warm colours that cut into the blacks are not in-keeping with the rest of the transfer, which is mostly pure concerning black levels. The inside dark scenes fair better, but do feature more noise and grain than the rest of the film, and the skin tones are occasionally dulled to pale whites. The closest we come to a real problem with the transfer is in the consistent Gaussian-patterned noise, which is so fine it almost goes unnoticed. Once one does notice it’s a bit distracting, especially against the whitest whites. Some fans may complain about the lightness of the transfer, but this is a case where I firmly think the brightness was the director’s intent, unlike the semi-recent DVD releases of Zombie, which still look far too bright to my eyes.
Unlike every single one of Blue Underground’s other Blu-ray releases to date The New York Ripper hasn’t been presented in a surround format on DVD. Every previous release has been mono is mix. This DTS-HD 7.1 track is a good remix in that it doesn’t fill the stereo and surround channels with artificially additions and unnecessary extras (unlike those MGM Sergio Leone remixes). For the most part this is a cleaner version of the old mono mix, with well centered base elements. The stereo channels are occasionally busy with incidental noise during the outdoor scenes, and there are a few minor directional effects, but the rear channels aren’t particularly lively outside of echoes. Occasionally Fulci takes some time for some more stylistic sound effects. The whoosh of the killer’s blade during the major dream sequence always worked pretty well in mono, but by adding a bit of stereo to the effect the scene actually becomes a bit more impressive (I wonder why Fulci didn’t opt for stereo in the first place, he’d used it very well in the past).
Keeping in mind the fact that the film was recorded without sound, and that the dialogue was all dubbed in post, no matter what language the actors are speaking, the dialogue track is relatively natural, free of distortion (the old track hissed when the Duck laughed too loudly), and it’s always centered (which is more than I can say for a few of Blue Underground’s other BR releases). Francesco De Masi’s memorable score is the track’s crowning achievement. Occasionally the music is noticeably louder and clearer than the rest of the elements on the track, but its clarity is incredible, and the stereo representation is impressive (the rear channels are mostly treated in a stereo fashion when the music is at its loudest, especially during the opening and closing credits). The mono English track is also included for completests.
The disc’s extras aren’t exactly overwhelming in volume, but the two major additions are new. Things start with ‘I’m and Actress’ (9:30, HD) an interview with actress Zora Kerova, who plays the sex worker that takes a bottle to the crotch. Kerova was not prepared for her on screen sex scene, and actually found herself in legal trouble when she returned to the then Communist ruled Czechoslovakia. Interestingly enough, her opinion of Fulci as a person is pretty positive. The second half of the interview is most devoted to her memories of other films, and Umberto Lenzi, who she worked with on Cannibal Ferox. ‘NYC Locations Then and Now’ (4:00, HD) is a mix of comparison shots of the film’s most indelible locations. One might notice two very tall building missing from most of the skyline. Things are completed with the original trailer in HD.
Based on my experiences with the film, and based on various notes over the internet, this is an entirely uncut version of the film, including the full scene between Paolo Malco and Barbara Cupisti that is missing from some prints. I’m not sure about the order of the scene, which has been in question among super fans for a while now, but the scene is surely not missing. This Blu-ray disc’s high definition remastering is mind boggling at some points, making it quite possibly the best video remaster to ever come out of Blue Underground. I’m guessing the new DVD is also a marked improvement over the old Anchor Bay version, if fans without Blu-ray players were considering the upgrade. The 5.1 sound remix is also surprisingly effective, but the original mono is available to concerned parties. The extras aren’t worth the double-dip on their own, but act as enticing sprinkles on the already filling cake.
*Note: These screencaps are taken from the Anchor Bay DVD release, and are not representative of the Blu-ray's quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 29th September 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English, Dolby Digital Mono English
Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish
Extras: 'I'm An Actress!', NYC Locations Then and Now, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Lucio Fulci
Cast: Jack Hedley, Almanta Keller, Howard Ross, Andrea Occhipinti
Genre: Crime, Horror and Thriller
Length: 93 minutes
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