If you’re a horror fan, you’re most likely aware of the works of Italian director Lucio Fulci; if you’re not, you’re probably either just getting into the genre, or have heard of or seen his films and just not been aware of it. While never really achieving the same renown as fellow Italian horror-maestro Dario Argento (which a lot of Fulci’s fans get pretty angry about), Fulci’s works have had considerable impact and influence over the genre that we all love. Films like Don’t Torture A Duckling, Zombie (a.k.a. Zombi 2), City of the Living Dead, The House By The Cemetery, and the cult phenomenon The Beyond (a.k.a. Seven Doors of Death) firmly establish Fulci as a cornerstone of horror, his in-your-face gory, graphic violence and dark, cynical storylines paving the way for much that was to follow.
While it’s certainly no exaggeration that the Italian zombie craze of the late seventies and early eighties owes a lot to Lucio Fulci, it’s one of his works more grounded in the real-life horrors of psychosis and murder that I’m gonna talk about today: his 1982 film set right here in the U. S. of A., The New York Ripper.
A game of fetch gone horribly wrong brings NYPD attention to a horrible, gruesome murder. Hard-boiled detective Fred Williams begins an investigation into the crime that will soon prove to be more than an isolated incident; indeed, across the seedy, sex-strewn and dirty streets of Manhattan, a depraved and sadistic mind will strike again and again at the young women of New York, his methods brutal and ghastly, leaving only ruined, butchered corpses and taunting, duck-voiced phone calls in his wake.
Williams enlists the aid of Dr. Paul Davis, a local university professor and leading expert on the psychotic mind, to help try to find the deranged killer before he adds too many more young girls to his list. As the body count on the dingy streets rises, one young woman who survives an encounter with the madman may prove to be the key to ending the reign of terror, but not before the killer strikes very close to Williams…
I know that summary seems kinda bare-bones, but in reality that’s pretty much the plot; let’s face it, the story here is a pretty basic one, with the few intricacies in the script telegraphed fairly early on. But the thing is, the plot isn’t really the draw to this film; it’s the exposition (ah, hell with it; it’s exploitation) surrounding the story and the methodology of the Donald Duck-imitating killer that will hold the attention of any Fellow Fan. Fulci is in full form with his lingering, close-up shots of the gory bits, the camera focusing on the blood and viscera quite nonchalantly, daring you, the viewer, to either stare along or look away.
For the time, these effects were quite impressive, and even by today’s standards will leave most gore-hounds pretty satisfied (arguably the most infamous scene in the flick, involving a razor blade and an eyeball, will definitely give ya something to think about for a bit). There’s no shortage of the red stuff here, and the way Fulci manipulates this violence and incorporates sexuality is a major factor in the enduring popularity of this flick; bad dubbing and a thin narrative spiced with some near-inexplicable behaviors (and in some cases, entire characters) notwithstanding, we horror fans can’t help but be enrapt with the film.
Where I personally find the film most successful is it’s overall feeling of a kind of hopelessness; early ’80s New York, with it’s dirty streets, vulgar graffiti and row upon row of sex shops and cheapie theaters is a character all it’s own, adding more than just a background for the dark, nihilistic behaviors of the antagonist. It’s the kind of flick you sorta feel like you should take a shower after watching; it’s guilty sleaze. You have that sensation of watching your first porn flick combined with the visceral response of being a witness to gory murder; Fulci juxtaposes these two extremes in such a way that the film’s obvious shortcomings are obscured by your gut reactions.
Finally, I’ll have to mention what a lot of people consider the maker or breaker of the film; the killer’s “duck voice”. Yes, it sounds like Norman Bates with some kind of Disney fixation, and to a modern audience, I can see where it could be off-putting; however, in the context of the film, the reasoning behind this is explained. Also, I’m of the opinion that the quacking intonations, while seemingly silly, tend to become more sinister and frightening in spite of themselves; it’s the same as a frightened reaction to a cutesy clown or evil teddy bears…sometimes, childhood comfort gone horribly awry is the most scary thing of all.
To those Fellow Fans out there that haven’t, I recommend that you check it out, if for no other reason than historical significance. As I mentioned, gore-hounds will find treats, and it stands out to me as a classic of that era just at the beginning of the slasher craze. As I’ve pointed out, cinematically it has some very evident flaws…but as a horror movie, it’s just one of those that will always have a following.
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