Monday, May 9, 2011

The New York Ripper (Lucio Fulci, 1982)

What would you say is the sexiest part of female anatomy? If you said, "eyebrows," what the fuck is wrong with you? Why would you say that? I'm getting the willies just thinking about what kind of person would choose eyebrows as the sexiest. The image of them cowering naked in some nondescript basement, surrounded by posters of women with robust eyebrows, is so vivid, so real, that I can practically taste the unplucked awkwardness on my chapped lips. However, if you're able to admire a tastefully orchestrated close-up of a woman's eyebrows and surrounding eye region every now and then, and are not a complete weirdo about it, you'll definitely enjoy The New York Ripper, Lucio Fulci's grisly tribute to misogyny and downtown homicide. Wait a minute, did you say, "grisly tribute"? Why, yes, I did. You see, in order to savour the eye-flavoured camera work in this film, you're also gonna have to endure a fair amount of ghastliness. It's what we in the eyebrow appreciation business call a "trade-off." Let me put it this way: No-one in their right mind is gonna allow someone to make a movie solely about eyebrows, and no-one in their right mind is gonna allow someone to make a movie solely about murder. This Manhattan set slasher film attempts to strike a balance between the two subjects by giving the bloodthirsty sickos in the audience the over-the-top carnage they so wantonly crave, while at the same time throwing a bone to the eyebrow crowd. And in that regard, I think this film will definitely silence the critics out there who think extreme gore and eyebrow fetishism can't co-exist with one another.

Proving that gore and eyebrows can live together in cinematic harmony is one thing, but does The New York Ripper work as a gripping thriller? Yes and no. Remove the attributes I just mentioned, and all you're left with a pretty standard murder mystery. For example, the stuff revolving around the police investigation, as is usually the case with movies like this, was pretty tedious. Yet, when you take in account the New York setting (lots of great shots of 42nd Street in all its sleazy glory), its generous throng of Italian actresses, and the fact that the killer talks like duck, the film starts to get more and more interesting by the minute.

The place: New York City. The date: 1982. The situation: There's a killer on the loose. Well, actually, there a thousands of killers on the loose in New York City; that's what made the city so great. No, this particular killer is unique in that they prefer to butcher their victims in a manner that makes sadism seem quaint. The first person to get their Fulci-approved eye area close-up is a cranky shopkeeper who finds a human hand while walking his dog underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. The close-up occurs while his dog is in the process of returning what he thinks will be a stick. Getting in real tight on the upper part of the man's weather-beaten face, Fulci's camera captures every detail of his shocked expression as he realizes that ain't no stick.

The owner of the severed hand was apparently a fashion model who was murdered a few weeks ago, and according to Mrs. Weissburger (Babette New), the model's nosy neighbour, she received a telephone call on the day she died from an individual who talked like a duck. Dismissing the duck chatter as complete nonsense, Lt. Williams (Jack Hedley), the veteran homicide detective in charge of the case, basically tells the garrulous woman to get lost. Nevertheless, pressured to solve the murders by his boss (Lucio Fulci), the detective decides to employ the services of Dr. Davis (Paolo Malco), a "Chess Challenger" playing doctor, with the hope that his intellectual prowess and his manly beard will help shed some much needed light on things.

The first victim we actually get to see come to face-to-face with the duck-voiced assailant, and receive a Fulci-approved close-up, is Rosie (Cinzia de Ponti), a lanky cyclist, who, according to an annoyed motorist, has "the brain of a chicken." Taking the verbal tongue lashing from the irate sexiest pig in the red Volkswagen Beetle in stride, Rosie, sporting teal short shorts and a white windbreaker with multi-coloured stripes on the shoulders, rides aboard the Staten Island Ferry with a carefree, "I'm totally not about to be brutally murdered" brand of elan.

Hoping to get back at the chauvinistic commuter by defacing the windshield of his car with the word "shit" written in lipstick, Rosie meets a stranger just as she is about to put the finishing touches on her work of petty vandalism. Congenial at first, the encounter turns slightly menacing the moment Rosie notices that the stranger is scoping the exquisite length of her first-class gams. There's nothing wrong with that; long legs have been known to be scoped from time to time. However, things go from slightly menacing to extremely menacing once the stranger pulls out a switchblade and starts quacking like a duck. Just as the stranger, who the cops dub, "The Ripper," is about to strike, the camera pulls away from the inside of the car. This lulls the audience into thinking that the stabbing will be occurring off-screen. As we're enjoying the tranquility of the bay as the ferry chugs along the water, it dawns on me that no-one gets stabbed off-screen in a Lucio Fulci film. And boom, just like that, the next images we see are that of a shiny blade being plunged into Rosie's abdomen combined with close-up shots of her much anguished eye-region.

Adhering to a well-worn formula, one that centres around stylish set pieces that revolve around acts of violence followed by banal scenes where police investigate said acts of violence, The New York Ripper occasionally breaks free of its genre limitations whenever the alluring Alexandra Delli Colli shows up onscreen as Jane, a sexually adventurous woman whose overt kinkiness was not only sublime, it was mildly inspirational. We're introduced to Jane through the eyes of a man (Howard Ross) with two fingers missing from his right hand as he enters a live sex show (one that boasts "positions you'd never dream of") taking place at a theatre on 42nd Street. Taking a seat in the front row, the not-quite fingerless man notices a posh woman sitting in the across the aisle in a trench coat and grey fedora.

The question floating around inside the heads of all the perverts gathered here this evening is: What in the world is a sophisticated woman like her doing in a place like this? Well, it turns out, Jane likes to tape her sexual encounters using a small cassette recorder for the erotic benefit of her husband (Cosimo Cinieri). In this case, she records herself masturbating while two live sex performers have standard intercourse on a stage. Breathing heavily, Jane, gripping the cassette recorder with one hand, while sheepishly toying with her panitie-covered clit with the other, tries her best to be discreet. When all is said and done, other than exposing part of her trademark black silk stockings, she is able to obtain a well-deserved chichi climax.

Meanwhile, backstage, the female performer who we just saw straddle and hump her way into our hearts finds herself alone in the dark. Cursing an unseen Italian man named Joe ("prick bastard Italian!"), the live sex performer (Zora Kerova) is stabbed with a broken bottle by an equally unseen individual who can be heard quacking like a duck as they repeatedly thrust the pointy end of their makeshift weapon into the comely sex worker. Right then and there, Jane and the three-fingered pervert are added to the film's lengthy suspect list (the director makes sure to show us that both their seats were empty when the bottle murder takes place).

At this point, the duck-voiced killer starts taunting Lt. Williams via the telephone. Which, if you think about it, is no big deal. I mean, what's the point of being a killer who talks like a duck if you can't provoke law enforcement evry now and then? What irks the detective is the fact that quacking murderer called him while he was with Kitty (Daniela Doria), a prostitute who doesn't fetch coffee for her clients ("I'm a prostitute, not your wife" - you tell him, sister).

Unrelated to the murder plot, but much appreciated from a perversion point-of-view, the scene where Alexandra Delli Colli visits a rundown bar is my favourite sequence in the entire movie simply because it has nothing to do with ducks or switchblades. Sitting at a table near the bar's pool tables, Jane makes eye and crotch contact with a group of degenerates (her depraved gaze zeroes in on the trouser bulge of a shady-looking pool player in white jeans). Two of them join Jane at her table and immediately start making bets with one another. You see, one of the degenerates thinks she's not wearing panties, while the other thinks she is. In order to find out, oh, let's call him, "Degenerate #2," takes off one of his shoes and begins an exploratory campaign to unveil the pantie truth with his barefoot. Like I said, this scene has nothing really to do with The Ripper, but it does give us some insight into the day-to-day existence of a female exhibitionist with razor-sharp cheekbones.

You'd have to be an idiot not to notice that the film has been severely lacking in dirty blondes who are surly and sort of look like Amy Smart up until this point. The producers of The New York Ripper attempt to rectify this (even though there's a good chance they have no idea who Amy Smart is) by introducing us to Fay (Almanta Suska), an athlete of some kind with a creepy boyfriend (Andrea Occhipinti). Riding the subway late at night, Fay spots a strange man watching her from a distance. At first, she probably thought he was merely admiring the harmonious relationship that was taking place between her white scarf and tartan skirt. But it soon becomes to clear to her that this man, who, by the way, is missing two fingers on his right hand, has no interest in women's fashion, and that his intentions are quite sinister in nature.

After lingering on her eyebrows (which are wispy yet sturdy) for a few seconds, Fay and the finger-challenged guy play a game of cat and mouse through the streets of New York City. Is the three-fingered assailant who is chasing Fay the duck-voiced Ripper? I'm not so sure, as I haven't heard him quack once. Nevertheless, after a bizarre sequence at a movie theatre, Fay wakes up in a hospital bed to find her creepy boyfriend hovering over her.

Outside the hospital, Lt. Williams and Dr. Davis decide to take a break from the case. The detective offers to give the doctor a ride, but he says that he's gonna "take a stroll" instead. Which, as we all know, is code used by closeted homosexuals. For example, when your husband says, "Honey, I'm going out to take a stroll," it's means he's running down to the newsstand to pick up the latest issue of Blueboy Magazine. Along with the revelation that the three-fingered fella is Greek, there are many misguided attempts to trick us into believing who the Ripper is this film. Wait a minute, you mean he's Greek?!? Oh my! Well then he must be the killer. Same goes for the gay angle. Using that logic, I could say Heather (Barbara Cupisti), Dr. Davis's attractive assistant, was the killer because she has curly hair. Stupidly lame.

The third–well, fourth if you the count the brief exchange she has with her husband–scene to feature our beloved sex fiend takes place at the dingy Cavalier Hotel and shows Alexandra Delli Colli's Jane being to tied a bed by the three-fingered individual who is, get this, apparently Greek. Stroking her stockings with his good hand, the jean jacket-wearing gigolo (yep, Jane is actually paying to have this done to her) gropes her to the point of carnal madness.

It's not often that I get the chance to declare someone's incoherent blubbering as "exquisite," but that's exactly what happens when Rita Silva does a number on the space-time continuum as a frazzled landlady. She only appears in one scene, but the impression she managed to make was pretty substantial. Wearing a blue bathrobe, rollers in her hair and a thick layer of smudged mascara on her cheeks, Rita had the mental constitution of someone who had just come from the set of a John Waters movie.

Wrapping things up, the gore and eyebrow aspects of the film do come together in an extreme manner when the duck killer takes a razor blade and glides it across a woman's eyebrow before plunging it deep into her right eye. I have a feeling both camps will be upset by this scene: The eyebrow folks won't like it because it shows the killer ruining a perfectly good eyebrow (creating an unwanted Vanilla Ice effect in the process), while the gore cabal will cringe because everyone hates eye trauma; particularly people who have eyeballs that work and junk.


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9 comments:

  1. Great post, as usual. Needs more tits, though.

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  2. Ah, yes, the pre-Disney days of NYC. I remember being in Times Square when I was eight years old. I innocently said to my mother that I had to use the bathroom, which resulted in us taking the long trek back to our hotel because my mom was afraid I'd catch something in a public restroom. :D

    You might find this link informative: http://drownedinsound.com/in_depth/4142589-from-john-cage-to-liars-via-nurse-with-wound-a-brief-history-of-post-industrial

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  3. Scott Is NOT A Professional: Thanks, man. :)

    I'm afraid I don't do tits. :(

    Karim Amir: You mean to say that you denied the opportunity to catch a strange disease in a Times Square restroom? No fair. Parents suck. ;)

    There was no Disney takeover, but Yonge St. has lost some of its sleaze appeal as well. Chalk it up to changing masturbation habits and the destruction of the music industry.

    Cool industrial article (they really went back in time). It's weird that they skipped over the 80s and went straight to Stereolab.

    Just for the record, I'm not a fan of Jeopardy! categories where you have spell the question.

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  4. I'm afraid I don't do tits. :(

    Probably a very wise decision. Unless you're referring to not doing tits in real life, in which case I shudder.

    Picture the scenario: It's the mid-nineties. My friends and I are fresh out of high school. Essentially, we're a bunch of very wholesome suburban teens all hopped up on death metal, VHS porn and sleazeball grindhouse flicks like The New York Ripper which, in that era just before the Internet's total dominance of mainstream America, we either copped from the local mom-and-pop strip-mall video store or ordered from one of the many mail-order companies advertising in magazines like Fangoria.

    My then-best bud -- with his zombie/B-movie T-shirts and "limited edition" Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento soundtrack CD's -- had initally rendered Mr. Fulci's name in jokingly mispronounced form: "LOO-chee-o FLOO-chee." Of course, it stuck and became an in-joke among us, a baton with which we readily, and repeatedly, clubbed the heads of the non-hip -- the non-nerds who DARED not to expose themselves to the glories of shark-munching zombies, stabbed eyeballs and helpless naked floozies being tied down and sliced open by oddly-dubbed madmen.

    We'd pull pranks, you see. Like me rolling us through the Taco Bell drive-thru at midnight and being egged on by my friend to declare to the girl over the intercom that our order was "by the power of LOO-chee-o FLOO-chee." "For the love of Zombie 2," I might deadpan to some clueless brace-face over the radio-drone of Bush or Collective Soul, "I'd like three seven-layer burritos, two soft tacos..."

    I'm going to get a taco now.

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  5. You know what? I kinda worship you.How is possible to know such good movies? :)

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  6. @Scott Is NOT A Professional: Thanks for allowing me to picture that particular scenario. :)

    I love VHS porn. Not the act of watching it, just the fact it was out there (I'm strangely comforted by its existence).

    Our in-jokes as teens involved Belgian industrial music. But your Fulci-based one sounds just as in-jokey.

    Bush were called "Bush X" in for a good chunk of the 1990s in Canada (apparently there was a Canadian band with the same name and refused to allow them to use it up here, so an 'x' was added).

    @Axi T.: I have no idea, I guess I'm just blessed. ;)

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  7. Who the hell doesn't love porn?

    Actually, I'm not that big a fan of watching it myself these days. The idea being: "why sit here and watch other people fuck when I could be getting laid myself?"

    Of course, given that the pursuit of feminine tailfeathers has generally been my life's biggest distraction (including one of the reasons my blog is so seldom updated), perhaps I should stick to porn...

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  8. I used to enjoy on-screen copulation, but nowadays I find myself more drawn to the non-sex scenes, the clothing, and the hairstyles.

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