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The New York Ripper (1982)



Probably infamous Italian horror "maestro" Lucio Fulci's most ridiculous film, New York Ripper ("Lo Squartatore di New York" in Italian) blandly genre hops to an awkward conclusion. The only positives are Fulci's use of gore (duh), one or two truly suspenseful scenes, and the ever-present unintentional humor.

New York Ripper opens with an older man walking his dog under the Brooklyn Bridge (now there's an unusual shot of New York City). His dog plays fetch with him, and when the stick is lost in the bushes, the dog brings back a dismembered human hand instead.

Here we cut to the titles, which in an amazingly bad move, run over a freeze frame accompanied by ultra-cheesy 70's television show music. At this point, and during a few sequences to come, New York Ripper looks like nothing if not Fulci's version of Columbo. Fortunately, the television cinematography doesn't continue non-stop, even if the bad score does.

Detectives quickly track down the hand's former owner (just how is never explained; the Italian horror genre is infamous for this as well as its occasional reliance on deus ex machina cop-outs), an attractive young woman who is now deceased. When they query her landlady, she tells them that she heard a phone call the young woman received just before her death; the caller sounded "like a duck," she says.

Soon, other bodies start piling up, and quicker and easier than they should, perhaps, the detectives realize they have a serial killer on their hands-the New York Ripper. Since a Fulci film has to have gore in it (that's one of the major attractions to the horror fans who love him so), we see the killer in action early on, and realize that the landlady wasn't exaggerating-the New York Ripper sounds like a cross between Donald and Howard the Duck.

Now it's almost impossible to believe this, and maybe I'm a buffoon for doing so, but apparently we're meant to take these scenes seriously, and not as if we're watching, say, a Leslie Nielsen film. I don't see how anyone could take this seriously though, and rather than reveling in the gore (which is good but not that over the top; plus, occasionally the effects look very fake-sorry CGI haters) or seeing the scenes as creepy or scary, I couldn't help but respond as I did to Scary Movie-with hysterical laughter.

There are some indications that Fulci really meant New York Ripper as a comedy. For instance, after detectives take their latest nubile serial killer victim to the coroner's, the coroner says (I'm paraphrasing) "I found some blood of a different type mixed in with the victim's. I had it analyzed and it could belong to any one of a million people. But we do know that he's between 28-30 and has lived in New York all his life." The detective responds with, "Maybe I'll get a psychological profile on him." During a later scene, the detective asks the husband of a newly deceased wife, "Tell me, doctor, how well did you know your wife?" These bits of dialogue had to be intended humorously. Just in case I'm wrong, though, subtract another point off my rating.

Fulci's typical washed-out colors are present (I don't think that's a flaw, just a stylistic tendency) and we have the obligatory Italian-horror-film subway scene. While Fulci plays by the book most of the time, there are scenes that are sloppily directed, as well. For example, during the struggle on the automobile deck of the Staten Island Ferry, we quickly cut between the serial killer's point of view inside an automobile as he looks at his next intended victim, and a third person point of view from outside the car as the victim tries desperately to escape. Unfortunately in each of the two p.o.v.'s, the victim is in a completely different spot. What should have been an intense, suspenseful scene-in absence of the absurd quacking, that is-is ruined by the continuity gaffe.

Even more inexplicable are the softcore porn aspects of New York Ripper. Yes, the killer is obsessed with sex (perhaps), and yes, horror films are known for their occasional gratuitous nudity (and I certainly don't object to that in itself), but New York Ripper has at least three softcore porn scenes that stretch out forever, are pointless in context, and kill any momentum the film had going for it. If Fulci really wanted to direct one or two of those really bad, softie Playboy flicks, he should have committed himself for the duration, rather than inserting it into an otherwise ridiculous unintentional comedy-er, horror film.

There are a couple times when New York Ripper succeeds as a serious horror endeavor. Probably the best scene is the attempted escape by the woman who was tied to the bed-beginning with her hearing the news story on the radio and ending, well, the end of this sequence is obvious. Almost as good is the very last chase sequence, but damn it if that ludicrous quacking doesn't bookend it.

I'm actually surprised that New York Ripper is admired by Fulci fans-to my knowledge, humor, intentional or not, isn't usually cited as an attribute of the genre. In fact, I recall many conversations with proclaimed Fulci/Argento fanatics where they rail against the intentionally cheesoid and black comedy horror flicks for that very reason. With all the loose ends and unexplained events in this film, on top of the bizarre combination of genres, New York Ripper is really for fans of camp horror and enjoyable bad films. I can only recommend it in that light.