FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 10, 2023

Day 10 - "It was good, efficient butchery."

As a bonafide, certified, deep-fried fan of Lucio Fulci, I've long been a woman torn over whether or not I should check out his 1982 sleazsterpiece The New York Ripper. Every once in a while my curiosity would get me on the brink of diving into it, only for me to think about its notorious reputation and my lack of love for misogynist brutality and promptly pull myself back. Over time, I admit, I came to be a little bit afraid of it, if you know what I mean. But hey, you know what? Back in 2020 one brave soul said YES, The New York Ripper is one of my favorite films! And so now I find myself thinking...what's the harm? I'm standing here looking at The New York Ripper the way that Dr Loomis looked at Michael Myers at the end of Halloween II, and I'm saying "It's time, Michael movie." 

If somehow you had any idea that a film directed by one Lucio Fulci called The New York Ripper would be a classy affair, that notion will be dispelled moments after it begins, when a dog finds a rotten, disembodied hand under the Brooklyn Bridge and we get a loving, freeze-framed close-up of it over the entire opening credits.

From here the movie is a ludicrous, often mean, often silly journey through the the muck in early 80s New York. Someone out there is carving up young women--someone who quacks and speaks like a duck during the crimes and while taunting the cops over the phone. A rogues' gallery of red herrings comes and goes, and we're supposed to suss out the killer along with the world-weary lead detective (Jack Hedley, who seems to be tiredly thinking "I left the West End for this?" throughout the proceedings. Who could the quacking killer be? Is it:
  • the gigolo who is missing two fingers on his right hand?
  • the secretly-gay psychoanalyst who is working with the police?
  • the pervy woman who makes audio recordings of live sex acts for her husband to enjoy later?
  • the pervy man whose wife makes audio recordings of live sex acts for him to enjoy later?
  • the young woman who looks like Reese Witherspoon and who narrowly escaped being assaulted by the gigolo?
  • the young woman's handsome boyfriend, who seems perfectly normal?
Perhaps it's fun to try to figure it out as the suspects removed from the suspects list in various ways, before it all culminates in a last-minute reveal and explanation that will leave you saying "Ehhhhh, sure." After all, we're not really here for a masterful story, are we? (Pssst: why are we here?)

On one level, the explicit violence here feels like the explicit violence in every other Fulci movie: he loves nothing more than to gross us out and make us squirm. But the sexualized nature of much of the violence here--violence aimed exclusively at women--makes it difficult to ignore the misogyny at play. But ultimately, Fulci doesn't just hate women, he hates everybody! And that makes it...okay? Right? Haha? 

I'm not trying to be an apologist. The New York Ripper is absolutely a repellant film. Maybe it's just that all the build-up in my head over it, it was all just too silly (and often too dull) for me to get worked up over, I don't know.

Still, I do wonder what this movie is trying to say...assuming it's actually trying to say anything at all. Is this a sex = death horror movie thing? There are some finger-waggingly cautionary scenes with shades of Looking for Mr Goodbar here, and every manner of sexual! depravity! is on display. But surely there's a difference between getting your jollies by having a stranger fondle your down belows with his bare foot (gawd, that scene went on forever) and getting your jollies by slicing up a woman's nipple? What are we to take from the scene of the analyst buying a male nudie mags on the downlow? Is this a misguided attempt at some kind of "Hey man, we're all perverts, so don't judge!" message? Again, this could all be sound and fury signifying a big nothing, and it's likely a fool's errand to overthink it. Maybe the four (!) writers on The New York Ripper simply leaned into the seediness that's amply on display as we travel up and down The Deuce and gander at the flashing marquees promising all manner of nudie thrills.

In fact, the time capsule effect of this movie is probably the most interesting thing about it. It's a real sleazy slice of the Big Apple, way back before the XXX theaters became M&M stores. It's easy to romanticize that grindhouse era, to bemoan Times Square turning into a bland, Disney-fied playground in the decades since this movie was shot. But here and there Fulci also manages to convey just how dangerous the city was at the time, in particular the dark, graffiti-covered subway. The scene in which Fay (Almanta Suska) finds herself alone in a locked car with a man who has definitely noticed her is genuinely rife with tension and a palpable air of menace. It calls to mind William Lustig's Maniac, Ripper's smarter, more subdued (!) predecessor. I warned you not to go out tonight...quack quack!

Well, I've seen it. Was it as mind-meltingly violent and hateful as I thought it would be? No, not even close, though it certainly still won't be finding it onto my next list of favorite horror movies. But to that one person out there who loves it, I say hey man, we're all perverts. I'm not judging!


Steve K said...

ugggggggggggggh - This movie was on my list. I'm so sorry! Mea maxima culpa You would be right to judge me.

Since 2020, I have seen dozens and dozens of more movies than I had in the previous decade, and it would not be on my list now. But I think I know why it was then. I do really love pre-Giuliani gritty sleazy NYC. (I'm fairly certain I voted for Brain Damage, too - which has one of my favorite NYC tracking shots as our protagonist walks down St Marks); at that point I hadn't seen Basket Case, Ms. 45, or even non-horror goodies like Smithereens or Midnight Cowboy.

My penance is that the 300-unit building I live in faces a large duck pond, and the ducks are numerous and loud, and every g.d. day I am reminded of this stupid movie, no lie.

Stacie Ponder said...

Hahaha no shame necessary! If nothing else I can finally put this one to bed after all these years. It really does capture an era quite well--like I said, it's SUCH a time capsule. Check out Driller Killer (and of course Maniac if you haven''s another sleazy ride!

Steve K said...

I can't believe I neglected to mention Maniac as another glorious film I caught up when I had all that extra time during the pandemic. That snuffly breathing -- I don't think I've ever heard a sound design quite like that since. I thought I saw Driller Killer, but now that I think about it, it was actually Slumber Party Massacre.

Nicholas Kaufmann said...

I don't think there's anything deeper here than some folks wanting to make a movie that has a lot of nudity and gore in it. It's sleazy, misogynistic, and so by-the-numbers that even as a thriller it's boring. All just my opinion, of course, but I think Fulci made so many better movies than this.

matango said...

I may have come around on this movie? I had seen this sometime after I saw Zombi 2 and City of the Living Dead, and I thought it was gross and generally bad. Since then I have seen a lot of other Fulci movies of the not especially gory variety. Most notably, Don't Torture a Duckling, which "illuminates" this movie for me. Troy Howarth wrote about New York Ripper, and points out that there sort of two kinds of people in the movie: the "perverts" and the squares. The perverts are actually doing fine, living their lives, having good times, and not hurting anybody. The squares include the murderer and the mostly indifferent, asshole police. The only sympathetic person aligned with the squares is the secretly gay psychiatrist.

Don't Torture a Duckling has a similar alignment of characters, but is much easier to see when you watch it. It is also much less visually disturbing.

In both of these movies, Fulci is saying traditional society, institutions, and morality suck.

Now, I haven't seen New York Ripper since I saw Don't Torture a Duckling and read Howarth's take, and I may not want to watch it again. It may just be not the right sort of disturbing for me, and I can understand why somebody else would not like it either. I tend to think most people have some "Ebert level" where they just find a movie too disturbing based on violence disconnected from its merit (Ebert liked Halloween, but called most slashers "Dead Teenager Movies" and excoriated them far more than their badness and, to most horror fans, level of violence would suggest is deserved.) I am kind of in the same boat with Martyrs, though I think that probably definitely has merit.

Rochester Swift said...

Giallo was a victim of its own success as a genre by the 80's and this is an example of that. I think Fulci would have been better off staying with historical exploitation like "Beatrice Cenci," there's always been a market for rubbing our noses in the reality of historical atrocities. He could have picked up where Michael Reeves left off with "Witchfinder General." But instead it seems to me as if he thought Bava had somehow passed the bloody soccer ball to him, since Fulci really took up extreme gore and surrealism after Bava retired. By all accounts, if you made a good impression on Fulci, he was about as far from misanthropic as can be.