An elderly man is taking his dog for a walk in New York City by the harbour when he throws a stick for it to catch, which the pooch dutifully does. However, the second time the stick is thrown, it comes back not with a piece of wood but a severed human hand - something rum is afoot, and for Lieutenant Fred Williams (Jack Hedley) it's a new case, as all signs point to there being a serial killer loose in the area. Can he work out who it could be before they strike again?
The answer to that is no, because no sooner has Williams identified the problem than another young woman is murdered on the ferry, and in graphic detail for The New York Ripper was one of the most notorious Italian horror flicks ever made. The man at the helm was Lucio Fulci, coming off a series of more supernaturally flavoured shockers by returning to the giallos he had made in the seventies, except that many more viewers found this objectionable than your average mystery thriller thanks to the unmistakable misogyny that soaked every frame.
The accusation often levelled at the slasher movies of this period was that they were the product of filmmakers who hated women and were encouraging audiences who shared that same unlovely outlook. Actually, more often than not these movies would feature a female as the protagonist, and while they still played on fears that misbehaving sexually would entail a visit from some bloodthirsty madman (or madwoman) it was undoubtedly the woman who we were meant to identify with most of the time. With this tawdry little item, on the other hand, the feeling was that the filmmakers were only too keen to slice up the lady victims as some kind of vaguely defined punishment.
This naturally led to trouble with the censors across the world, with the film suffering cuts in the United States and being outright banned in Britain, with chief censor James Ferman rather absurdly having all prints escorted out of the country by the police. But while you can certainly see the point of view that The New York Ripper was offensive, it would be hard to imagine many adopting the frame of mind where they would actively endorse the violence onscreen. The fact that every victim was presented as a loose woman to some degree should have rendered this oppressively anti-female, but it was all laid on so thick that it became ridiculous, and finally wearisome.
You may find it hard to believe that a film with such lurid bloodletting could be boring, but once you'd gotten used to the idea that this was effectively a horror flick for grumpy and frustrated old men, then boredom began to set in. There were attempts to keep the killer's identity a secret for the big surprise at the finale, but Fulci included a massive giveaway to that halfway through, then tried to cover it up in a hamfisted fashion, so that when the big reveal did arrive you were more likely to think, oh, right, just as we suspected. In the meantime the most memorable aspect for many was that the murderer taunted the cops by putting on a silly voice, complete with Donald Duck impressions, leaving it hard to take them seriously, as if anyone other than Fulci and his cohorts did that in the first place. A last ditch try for sentimentality only made this more resistable, but really this was more deadening that sensationalist. Music by Francesco De Masi.
[Shameless' Blu-ray presents a handsome-looking print, although they fully admit the British censors have ordered a nineteen-second cut from one murder scene. Extras are trailers and a couple of interviews.]
Italian director whose long career could best be described as patchy, but who was also capable of turning in striking work in the variety of genres he worked in, most notably horror. After working for several years as a screenwriter, he made his debut in 1959 with the comedy The Thieves. Various westerns, musicals and comedies followed, before Fulci courted controversy in his homeland with Beatrice Cenci, a searing attack on the Catholic church.