The serial killer. The modern city. Cinema. All three were born, as we know them, of the 20th century. Each share a history of fear, pandemic, distrust, fascination, media obsession and, ultimately, each has become a reality of modern life in the new century. Within Lucio Fulci’s 1982 slice of Giallo inspired horror, The New York Ripper, all of these feelings and fascinations are brought to the fore, and these phenomena of the 20th century came together to create a controversial slice of exploitation that beneath the gore and grime, explores attitudes to modern life within the city, and the fears that are forever tied to city space and death.

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The New York Ripper is a film that plays on the sense of vulnerability and geographical complexity of the city. While not as morally or topographically finessed as the finest film about serial murder and the city, Fritz Lang’s M (1933), Fulci’s film utilises exploitation style and the space of the city to create an experience that is still extremely affective and also remarkably relevant. The streets might not look as grim and apocalyptic toaday as the 1970s New York of the film, but the representation of the modern city in relation to fear and danger. This is a film that says so much about the modern city as a locus of fear and madness.

 

What makes New York Ripper such a visceral experience, is the way it both reflects stylistic trends present in other Fulci works…but it is fused with a sense of grime and corruption, inspired by the spaces of the city itself. Subway platforms, sex shows, dark alleys, dive bars…everything is tainted by the moral darkness and sense of desperate isolation at the core of the film. It is as if the film both presents the city as corrupted by the sexual evil of the ripper, but conversely the ripper as infected by the sadism of the city. The intentional vagueness around this relationship suggests that the horror of the film, and the city, is a part of a wider terror, centered around the city as a site of modernity in all its negative vices and sins.

 

Fulci fuses the distinctive nihilism of the film with a sharp streak of dark humour, most obviously captured in the ripper’s choice of a Donald Duck voice to communicate with. This choice is explained in narrative at the film’s conclusion, but it also plays on the subversion of a cultural icon, one related to youth, innocence and playfulness, making both his frenzied behaviour seem mockingly childish, and most disturbingly, drawing attention to the frenzied and dark nature of Donald duck as a figure of emotional development. It’s not just the city that’s rotten…it’s your childhood, and your culture too! This satirical and bleak humour works in relation with the gritty exploitation vibe to create a mood that lingers long after the film has ended; one that is as baroque and affective as any piece of city cinema of that time.

 

More than just Fucli at his sleaziest, more than an exploitation time capsule…The New York Ripper is an essential example of modern cinema of the city, a reflection of a time and a moral ambiguity that haunts the urban landscape. Furthermore, The New York Ripper manages to intrigue, disgust, shock and grip the audience in a way that recent serial killer and horror cinema lacks, and makes it an extremely rewarding watch that will not disappoint.

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk