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A number of unpleasant cuts
A UK region 0 DVD review of NEW YORK RIPPER by Gort
 

It's hard not to love Lucio Fulci just a bit, at least if you're a horror fan. It's certainly difficult to imagine anyone else embracing or even tolerating his specific brand of stylish low budget movie nastiness. And when I say horror fan I mean the hardcore variety – if you think an enthusiasm for Silence of the Lambs and The Sixth Sense alone qualifies you, then I can assure you it does not.

Fulci made a lot of horror films and never let things like low budgets, iffy performances or story implausibility get in the way. Now and then he'd leave his native Italy and nip over to the America and add the language barrier to this list of jollies. He actually did rather well by it in the 1979 Zombie Flesh Eaters (released as Zombie in the US and confusingly known as Zombi 2 elsewhere), one of his most highly regarded and widely seen works.

And then there's New York Ripper. You may have heard of it. Former BBFC censor James Ferman certainly has. His reaction to the film was to demand it be taken straight to the airport and deported. Had it actually had a video or cinema release here back in the early 80s, it would definitely have been classed as a video nasty. If you're too young to have heard that term then look it up. I'll likely be using it again before the year is out. Anyway, after Ferman chased it off it became a banned film in the UK and didn't resurface until five years ago. It was finally granted a UK release, but only after cuts to one sequence had been made, with further cuts ordered for this DVD release, the details of which you'll find below. I've not seen the uncut version yet (ridiculous I know, but there you are), but I can say with some confidence that this is not just about the violence, but the context in which it's administered.

New York Ripper is the sort of spell-it-out title that saves me having to outline the plot. Oh all right. It's modern day New York, or modern day for when the film was made, and there's a killer on the loose. See, told you. On the case is Lt. Fred Williams, and the only clue he has is that the killer has the voice of an animal. Creepy, huh? Unfortunately the animal in question is Donald Duck. In terms of the story, this actually makes a degree of sense. Well, eventually it does. That probably won't help you take him any more seriously – Donald Duck with a sharp knife is still Donald Duck.

Lt. Fred is fabulously slow off the mark. Told that he's had a call from someone who sounds like a duck he muses, "Like a duck. Where have I heard that before?" while the audience shout and throw fruit at the dozy bugger. To help profile his killer he enlists the expertise of Dr. Davis, a useless twit given to banal theorising and whose hilariously crap final psychoanalysis of the killer's state of mind makes that tagged-on scene at the end of Psycho play like a model of sincere research.

Fred aside, it's initially uncertain just who the central characters are. First up, there's the pretty young cyclist who cops some verbal from a driver and gets revenge by writing a rude word on his windscreen. She gets brutally killed. Then there's Jane, who goes to live sex shows to play with herself and record the action for her husband's later amusement. She gets felt up in a bar by a couple of sleazy hoodlums of Spanish persuasion, then she gets killed too. And there's Fay, who is approached by an unpleasant fellow on a deserted subway train and runs straight into the arms of the killer. But she survives. Aha!

Surprisingly, all of this works heavily in the film's favour, busying the plot beyond the expected straight-line route through a series of bloody murders to the killer's eventual unmasking. A big but obvious red herring is thrown into the mix, Lt. Fred's favourite prostitute Kitty is grabbed and tortured for him to hear over the phone, and the killer's identity, though not too hard to guess, at least has a half-interesting story attached to it.

Fulci's sometimes canny knack for the right camera angle and a nifty edit keeps things moving at a busy pace, and while we may not get to know anyone well enough to care too much for their fate, there's still one genuinely tense scene in which a tied-up and abused woman has to silently escape her sleeping captor. And hey, Dr. Davis's pap aside, the ending has class.

But it's the violence that caused the trouble and for which the film is largely remembered. It's bloody, usually involves blades and is always inflicted on young women, some of them naked. Where genre devotees will recognise the influence of Italian giallo horror, others will see only misogyny, particularly in the most notorious sequence, where a naked woman is tied to a bed and sliced up with a razor blade. It's here that the BBFC have stepped in with its censorial scissors.

Even it its reduced form, New York Ripper is likely to repel the sensitive, but this is a film with a specific target audience, one that is already familiar with the unsafe morality of this particular breed of cinematic horror. And unless you've successfully imported Anchor Bay's director's cut from over the pond, it's rather nice to have the chance to see what the fuss was all about, even if we're still denied access to its full gratuitous brutality.

the cuts

Having been refused a certification outright back in 1982, New York Ripper was finally resubmitted to the BBFC in 2002. 22 seconds of cuts were ordered, which the BBFC details thus:

Cuts required to detailed, close up sight of a woman's stomach, breast and nipple being cut with a razor blade, in accordance with BBFC guidelines and policy on sexualised violence, and in line with the requirements of the Video Recordings Act 1984. The cuts also take into account current interpretation of the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

A further submission to the BBFC was required for this DVD release, and with rules even tighter on what goes out on home video, a further 12 seconds of cuts were required, bring the total to 34 seconds. The BBFC details the reasons as:

Cuts were required to remove sexualised violence (a naked and bound woman's stomach and breasts being mutilated with a razor) in keeping with BBFC Guidelines, Policy and the Video Recordings Act 1984.

In the USA, Anchor Bay released a DVD of director's cut of the film back in 1999, but there's little chance that making it to the UK, given that it would still be subject to BBFC censorship.

sound and vision

One question – why no anamorphic print? This is a real shame, given the quality of the letterboxed 2.35:1 transfer here, which is sharp, reasonably clean and with good contrast and colour. Indeed, as letterboxed prints go, this one blows up rather well. But still...

The Dolby 2.0 mono track more readily betrays its age, with a slight background hum and a treble bias to some of the dialogue and sound effects. It does the job.

extra features

The only one here is the original trailer, which includes enough of the violence to get the genre fans interested. There are also trailers for six other upcoming Shameless releases, which you'll have to manually skip through if you want to get straight to the movie. They can also be accessed from the main menu.

summary

The first of a pair of releases for new UK DVD label Shameless (the other is Phantom of Death) establishes the label's intentions from the off, complete with bright yellow video cases that will warm the heart of any giallo devotee. That we have a cut version of here is down to the BBFC and the Video Recordings Act. That we have it on DVD at all is a plus for horror fans. Pity about the non-anamorphic transfer, but other than that it looks better than I was expecting.

New York Ripper
Lo Squartatore di New York

Italy 1982

87 mins

director
Lucio Fulci
starring
Jack Hedley
Almanta Suska
Howard Ross
Andrea Occhipinti
Alexandra Delli Colli
Paolo Malco
Cinzia de Ponti

DVD details
region 0
video
2.35:1 letterboxed
sound
Dolby mono 2.0
languages
English
subtitles
none
extras
Trailers
distributor
Shameless
release date
1 October 2007
review posted
22 October 2007

related review
New York Ripper Blu-ray review
Manhattan Baby
Black Cat
The House By the Cemetery

See all of Gort's reviews