New York Ripper (1982)"The duck became a sort of outside avenger..."
Why the furore? Well, quite simply, this is Fulci at his best - and by 'best', I mean his grittiest and sleaziest. Even if you're more of a fan of Fulci's supernatural horror, his uncompromising development of the giallo genre here brings it bang up to date, far outstripping (geddit?) his earlier work in terms of sexualised violence and gore; if any of his films actually deserved the epithet 'nasty', it's this one. The black comedy thread which undeniably runs through the film only adds to that nastiness: Fulci is playing with the audience here, making us laugh in disbelief almost as soon as our boundaries of taste have been given a good slicing.
The plot, put simply, consists of a gruesome whodunit which takes place in the low-end strip joints and rat-runs of contemporary New York. A man walking his dog near the river gets an unexpected result from their game of 'fetch': Fido brings him a human hand. There's a serial killer on the loose in the Big Apple and he's targeting young women: the city's mortician confirms that the modus operandi for the recent victims is the same. The cops are baffled: all they have to go on so far is that their suspect has a 'strange voice'...
Suspecting that a sex killer might well enjoy hanging out in the seamier parts of the city, Lieutenant Williams (Jack Hedley) heads to the underworld in the hope of gleaning some clues - but the police are always a step behind their man, who is now making mock duck phone-calls to them. As the Ripper hacks his way through a glamorous array of girls, are the cops on the right trail at all? It looks as though a near-victim - with a vested interested in getting the right guy - may be best-placed to help crack the case...
Like it or not, you can't help but pick up on the strong current of misanthropy in this film. People are duplicitous, or indifferent, or both. One of the things which strikes me about New York Ripper is the sense of contrast between these very grisly murders and life just carrying on in the city: a man walking his dog almost walks straight past some decaying human remains; ferry workers ignorant of the mutilated corpse in a vehicle just impatiently shunt the car along; then of course, the ending of the film - as Stephen Thrower points out in his excellent Fulci book Beyond Terror - shows us the tail-end of a tragedy just fading out beneath the drone of traffic outside. People are complacent and wrapped up in their own lives, and this lends an additional nihilism to an already bleak film. All the characters involved in the plot are squalid caricatures; these are people with secret, cynical, often sordid double lives. Piled on top of that we have prolonged murder scenes with unprecedented levels of gore and sex, where people are being reduced to component parts - eyes, mouths, hands. The camerawork cuts people up before the killer does.
And then, alongside this gratuitous nastiness we have elements which border on farce. The killer's voice at the very least stops you from lapsing into a mode where you believe you are watching a straightforward piece of horror cinema; the molestation of Jane (Alexandra Della Colli) by big toe at the very least stops you from lapsing into a mode where you believe you are watching a straight-faced piece of erotica. Then there is an abundance of that hallmark of Italian horror cinema of the 70s and 80s - a bizarre pop music accompaniment! How does Fulci want you to take all of this? I'll say it again - there's a current of misanthropy here which extends to us, the viewers. If you get too familiar with the horror, here comes something humorous - and vice versa, until the credits roll, and by this time we've had the shadow of child neglect thrown into an already intense mix.
Shot in an uncompromising style with an unflinching brutality which remains beyond the pale for the BBFC nearly thirty years after it was first released, New York Ripper is a well-paced, deeply-involving, tense and fucking bleak film, and - as much as I love the high weirdness of The Beyond - New York Ripper is for me Fulci's best-developed and best-executed movie.