I admit that Lo Squartatore di New York (The New York Ripper) is perhaps not the kind of film one would take a girl or a guy to see on a first date. On the other hand, it is only a thriller. Yes, it contains some violent scenes, but that is true of many other films. So what is all the fuss about?
You may have read exaggerated viewer testimonies about how horrible this film is. You may be aware of the fact that all the copies of Lo Squartatore di New York were deported from Great Britain in 1982, not allowing the film premiere to take place. There is no denying that there is certain notoriety in the air concerning this film. It is also undoubtedly true that the censorship authorities have persecuted Lo Squartatore di New York so much that the uncensored copies have been very hard to find. That is not fair towards the director, one and only Lucio Fulci, or towards the common people who want to enjoy their movies as they were meant to be enjoyed: with no parts removed by the authorities.
To the joy of many Fulci and giallo fans, Another World Entertainment released a Special Restored Edition DVD in 2008. This release not only contains all the violence and nudity, it very slightly reorganizes the structure of the movie. Namely, the hawk-eyed viewers had noticed that some versions had one short scene that was, strangely enough, inserted into a completely wrong place in the movie. It was located near the end, even though it was supposed to be in the middle. Not surprisingly, correcting this silly misplacement slightly improves the film. It is not that the scene has very big significance, but it does have some, and it is great that the scene is now back in its proper place, making the plotline work a tiny bit smoother.
Lo Squartatore di New York is a very sleazy and down to earth movie. Fulci depicts New York as a gloomy, sinister and even somewhat sick place, where all kinds of weirdos "do their thing". There are lots of suspicious characters in this film, and as you may have already guessed, one of them must be the insane ripper who terrorizes the city. The most striking feature is the killer's peculiar, duck-like, quacking voice. The strange voice is revealed because of the annoying and teasing phone calls the killer makes, and because the quacking voice often accompanies the ripper's brutal killings.
Sometimes reviewers claim that a quacking murderer is ridiculous, but I do not agree. I think the duck-like sound only makes the killer appear even more mysterious and insane, which of course adds nicely to the movie's suspense. While I do not want to give away too much of the storyline, I also wish to point out that the duck theme is quite important to the story. Many reviewers have also noted that Fulci had already used the duck theme in Non Si Sevizia un Paperino (Don't Torture a Duckling). That is naturally true, and it is a bit odd, but maybe Fulci had a special fascination with ducks. I have no idea why he reused this theme, but whatever the reasons, it works quite well. And despite the superficial similarity, compared to Non Si Sevizia un Paperino, the duck theme is completely different here in Lo Squartatore di New York.
From a technical point of view, this is a good movie. Cinematography is great, Francesco De Masi's soundtrack is fine, but the acting is a little clumsy at times. The character development is really rather weak, which is common for almost all the Fulci films of this period (roughly, 1979 - 1982). I keep repeating myself, but this is yet another example of the comic book like movies Fulci has made. There is, of course, the psychological aspect behind the killer's insanity, but that theme only becomes apparent near the very end. During the bulk of the movie, the characters really just wander from scene to scene without that much coherence. But on the other hand I understand why the movie has been structured like that: clearly Fulci wants to introduce many potential suspects, and in that I think he succeeds well.
There is lots of suspense in Lo Squartatore di New York, and the film does have some shocking scenes. In fact, watching italian movies like this, one gets the feeling that absolutely anything could happen. This is a big bonus compared to the tame horror movies that are targeted to achieve ratings suitable for kids. In this film you know that when the ripper is out there stalking people, you had better be scared. If you contrast this with the teen horror movies made in United States, the difference is nothing short of staggering.
What is more, Fulci is not afraid to include some nudity. It seems to me that nowadays the american audiences are so hysterical about nudity that it is a kind of neurosis. Just think about it: the folks in the US sue television companies for showing a glimpse of Janet Jackson's boobs at the Super Bowl. The poor bastards claim they have suffered mental damage and seek monetary compensation. Yet the same country produces shitloads of porn, so I really do not know what they are thinking there. There is so much neurotic hypocrisy and pure greed that it is astounding.
Nevertheless, back to the movie. In a video interview done in the middle of the 1990s, Fulci himself says that Quentin Tarantino has seen Lo Squartatore di New York 25 times. That is right, twenty-five times. I can actually believe that. There is no reason for Lucio to lie about it. Obviously, this film has a solid fan base, and if the film had been easily available in an uncensored form for many years, I am sure it would have even more fans than it has today. I have probably seen Lo Squartatore di New York at least ten times too, and I must say that the new, uncut DVD prints are a great improvement compared to the blurry VHS copies we had back in the 1980s.
In conclusion, I recommend Lo Squartatore di New York to horror and giallo fans who have experience with sleazy and rough movies. I do not recommend it to those who are just beginning to explore horror films. This film is not for people with weak nerves - you have been warned.