Directed By: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Jack Hedley, Almanta Suska, Howard Ross
Tag line: "New York City: It's a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to die there!"
Trivia: After many years of being banned in Britain the rights were purchased by UK company Vipco who issued the film originally as an export-only VHS version under close censor & police supervision
The Video Nasties craze that hit Britain in the early to-mid-1980s wasn’t particularly kind to Lucio Fulci. The “official” list of 72 films released by the Director of Public Prosecutions, which identified movies on video that, due to their violence and sexual content, could be subject to prosecution, featured three of the director’s titles: Zombie, The House by the Cemetery, and The Beyond.
One Fulci film that did not appear on the list was 1982’s The New York Ripper, and for good reason: it had been banned from public exhibition. James Ferman, the Director of the British Board of Classification from 1975 to 1999, supposedly found The New York Ripper so reprehensible that, once the review screening was over, he had the police escort the prints to Heathrow so they could be immediately flown out of the country (while some sources claim the airport story never really happened, the fact remains that the movie was banned in the UK until 2002).
Like most horror fans (or, for that matter, movie fans in general), words like “banned” and “video nasty” are enough to get my blood boiling, but after watching The New York Ripper, a film chock full of blood, guts, and naked flesh, I can’t shake the feeling that Fulci got off easy!
A serial killer is loose in New York City, and detective Frank Williams (Jack Hedley) has been assigned to track him down. With several pretty young ladies already in the morgue, Williams knows it’s only a matter of time before the killer strikes again, and enlists the help of psychologist Dr. Paul Davis (Paolo Malco) to try and determine who this maniac might be, and where he’ll strike again.
Yet, despite their best efforts, Williams and Davis are frustrated at every turn, and to add insult to injury the killer, who disguises his voice to sound like a duck, has started calling Williams, taunting him and promising that he’ll soon kill again. The break Williams has been waiting for comes when an intended victim, Fay Majors (Almanta Suska), survives her encounter with the killer. She describes him as having two fingers missing from one of his hands, which lead the police to Mikis Scellenda (Howard Ross), a petty criminal and known pervert. But is he truly the man they’re looking for?
Taking a page from the slasher films that were prominent in the early ‘80s, The New York Ripper features a number of kill scenes, some of which are downright grisly. One poor girl is cornered on the Staten Island Ferry and repeatedly stabbed (we even see some entrails popping from her wounds), and a sequence in which a prostitute is slowly tortured is tough to watch (I have to admit, I looked away at one point).
In addition to its graphic violence, The New York Ripper is also jam-packed with nudity and sex. A side story, involving a doctor’s wife (Alexandra Delli Colli) who secretly tape records her sexual trysts so that her husband (Cosimo Cinieri) can listen to them later, is risqué enough (especially a scene set in the pool hall, where the wife has a very unusual encounter with a perfect stranger), but Fulci ups the ante by also shooting a live sex show, a sequence that ends with yet another gruesome murder.
Its seedier elements aside, The New York Ripper is an often-effective horror film (we even get a few of those POV shots that were all the rage in the ‘80s) as well as a perplexing mystery (On two separate occasions I thought I had figured out who the killer was, only to find I was wrong both times). The movie also makes great use of its New York setting, with many scenes shot in areas of the city you wouldn’t want to visit when the sun goes down.
Thanks to its over-reliance on nudity and gore, The New York Ripper is definitely not for the squeamish, and is brutal even by Fulci’s standards. But if you have the stomach for it, then I do recommend giving it a chance.