Saturday, 26 March 2011

Ripping Yarn

The New York Ripper
(uncut and restored)
Italy 1982
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Another World Entertainment
Giallo Serien
Region 2

Warning: This article contains
slight descriptions of
nasty sexualised mutilation
crimes against women...
read at your peril!

And so the time comes to write up what will probably be my most controversial... or at the very least the most negatively received review of my blog... Lucio Fulci’s somewhat infamous (in this country at least) film The New York Ripper.

Regular readers will no doubt have made note that I’m exploring Fulci’s work a little more just recently after always having had something of a tepid or mixed-reaction to his body of work. Well this is another in that series of explorations... it won’t be my last.

The New York Ripper is pretty much banned over here in Great Britain in it’s uncut form. I would like to have reviewed the UK Shameless Screen Entertainment release of this movie but both their earlier DVD and their new Blu-Ray (and Blu-Ray is really not a band wagon I’m expecting to jump on anytime before its short demise) edition of this film suffer from BBFC cuts. So I’ve gone and bought the Scandinavian edition because, if I understand the law correctly, it may be technically illegal for a person to sell me this DVD in this country... but it’s not illegal for me to purchase it from them. Think I’ve got that right... anyway, uncut version is what I watched because I really wouldn’t knowingly like to watch a sliced up movie (which is why I’ve got American editions of movies like Tomb Raider, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom scattered around my DVD shelves... don’t want to see the UK truncated versions anymore, thank you very much).

The New York Ripper is a Fulci film where, frankly, I was expecting the worst but instead found myself being pleasantly surprised. This is a very stylish and competently made giallo... which is not what I’d set myself up for. The scenes of violence, predominantly towards women, are quite visceral but also suffer in some places from easy to spot prosthetics which kind of detract some of the gruesomeness from these shots. The crimes in question though are quite brutal and go from unconvincing eye-splitting and nipple slashing to (and it’s all in the sound design) a murder which involves inserting a knife into the vaginal cavity and pulling straight up towards the chest.

Now this is a fairly brutal act and is depicted as such but, really, I don’t think this movie quite deserved the abhorrent reputation it’s received over the years... at least not from the stance of it’s brutal murders (I’ll come back to a more substantial criticism of this film a bit later but bear with me on this stuff first). Let’s not forget, after all, that Dario Argento’s big splash in 1969, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, features an identical, genital focused female murder which I don’t believe has caused anything like the same amount of criticism as Fulci’s film and I suspect that this is because Fulci’s treatment of the same matter is brutal and ugly... whereas Argento can’t help but film everything in a beautiful, almost expressionistic manner... vaginal stabbing or not! Perhaps the honesty (on one sense it could be perceived as such) in Fulci’s imagery during these kinds of sequences are what has led to his criticism... but he, too, has some beautiful imagery in this film.

Make no mistake... this here’s a giallo and a half with some of Fulci’s most colourful lighting outside of Lizard In A Woman’s Skin. The typical style of lighting sequences with intense washes of green or red or purple bring him strictly in line with his contemporaries and this is probably the film where he could be most considered to be playing around with the kind of cinematography made famous by Mario Bava and subsequently repopularised by Dario Argento. Whether you can stomach this film or not, The New York Ripper has moments of intense beauty juxtaposed with it’s ugliness.

Also... I should point out that of all the Fulci movies I’ve seen, with all their wooden acting and heavy handed screenplays (as is typical of the Italian giallo format), this is the most successfully and convincingly acted one of the lot. Jack Hedley manages to make the portrayal of the detective assigned to tracking down the killer really naturalistic and off-the-cuff... which possibly makes the scenes of gruesome carnage all the harder to take.

The movie also has the usual pantheon of multiple suspects typical of the genre, where each and every one of them could at some stage be the killer. It also has a very strong and liberated female character for, well, about the first third of the movie. She’s a sexed up wife who goes out looking for sexual adventures and gets them in some highly charged and sometimes uncomfortable scenes. She was actually my strongest suspect for the person doing the killings in this movie... until she becomes the killer’s next victim herself (in no uncertain terms).

Actually, by the last half an hour you’ll have no trouble guessing who the killer is, it’s quite obvious despite of all the trickery to divert your reasoning elsewhere... like holding one of the red herring characters in freeze frame for a few seconds at the end of a scene. Yes... this movie features a wretched seventies style freeze frame in the middle of the damned movie! How bizarre is that?

So... let’s see what we’ve got here so far. Brutal murders, female nudity, impressive acting, brilliant lighting and some pretty cool shot compositions including a return to the compartmentalising and vertical splitting of the frames similar to the same director’s work on Zombie Flesh Eaters (aka Zombi 2) and which led me some years back to arrive at the conclusion that Zombie Flesh Eaters is the visual soul mate to Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

Ok... what I’m missing out here is the quite strong taint of misogyny that seems to be a subtext to the very male world depicted in this movie. Now directors like Bava, Argento and, indeed, Fulci have come under fire for being misogynistic in their movies before but it’s never really been an argument that holds any water for me up until now. I think these kinds of films are easily defendable because, more often than not, just as many men are as brutally and violently killed in these movies as women and, frankly, the whole “final girl” syndrome of having a lone, female survivor facing the final peril in these kinds of movies and in their less palatable cousin, the American slasher horror movie, single these films out as having the strongest and most interesting female characters in films... much more positive roles for women than in their non-giallo, non-horror counterparts. Strong roles for women are hard to come across... unless you start looking in the horror and giallo genres.

Nevertheless, I got a real sense of objectification and “women as meat” right from the bat in this movie. Not from the titular killer, who talks like a deranged Donald Duck and has his/her own twisted but semi-understandable motivations for his/her horrendous crimes but from pretty much all the other male characters in the movie. Even the detective sees a hooker for her services but treats her in almost a derogatory manner (that is until she is sliced and diced by the killer)... and I was quite surprised at the level of male chauvinistic attitude on display in this movie. Out of all of these kinds of films, I find this to be the least defensible and most deserving of the accusations of misogyny that it’s garnered over the years.. although I suspect the argument for that case has probably been so blinkered and tarnished by the brutality of the killing on display in this one for me to take that argument too seriously on its own terms.

Nevertheless the accusation stands... and I’d have to, surprisingly, add my voice to that accusation (something I never thought I’d have to hear myself doing) or at least acknowledge the presence of it in this movie.

Asides from that one flaw though... and I’m not even sure we can call it a flaw without hearing the direct intentions of the artist who directed this work... The New York Ripper is truly one of the great gialli and while not as great as some of his own entries in the genre, Fulci can hold his head up high with the likes of Bava, Argento, Martino, Cozzi etc on this one.

An enjoyable and interesting movie and definitely a must-see for giallo buffs everywhere.

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