Monday, April 17, 2006

Like porn


1982. New York has one of the highest criminality rates of the cities of the world. It epitomises more than any other place the modern Babylon.

1982. Giallo's golden years are far behind. In fact the genre has slowly died in the second half of the 70's, clearing the ground for new 'filones' going even further in the visual representation of violence: the most well-known being the zombies and cannibal genres.
The 'after-giallo' Italian cinema is somewhat a desperate and vain race to reach new heights in shocking audiences, against the ineluctable rise of television.

1982. Lucio Fulci's "New York Ripper" is released and soon becomes famous because of the multiple problems the film encounters with censorship boards in most countries.
Nearly 25 years after, this infamous shocker is still widely debated: a masterpiece or a rip-off? a giallo or a slasher? Should the killer have a Donald Duck voice or shouldn't he?

The anti-aesthetical core principle of "The New York Ripper" - the raw photography, the run-down locations, the miserable characters... - makes this film philosophically incompatible with Giallo.
At the same time, the complete absence of any puritanistic or moral subtext which is slasher's trademark doesn't allow to affiliate the film to this typically American genre.

It's hard to classify "the Ripper". It is so cynical and nihilistic it is almost an experimental object.

In fact, it could be compared with porn as it uses a similar parasitic approach: diverting a rather classic and well-coded cinema style to use it to its own advantage. When porn leverages any stereotypical scenaristic frame as a pretext to fit in as many porn scenes as possible, Fulci hijacks the early 80s American cop film codes and structure to stuff it with ultra-violent (and sometimes almost pornographic) sequences.

This method makes the film both very flat and very paroxystic at the same time. Flat because the scenario is incredibly predictable, linear and, at the end of the day, banal as it is a stereotypical American cop movie, of which Fulci has respected all the codes, including the cheesy score. Paroxystic because this banality is meticulously dynamited from the inside by the regular occurence of voyeuristic and disturbing peaks of violence. Hence an overall feeling of heterogeneity.

In its Italian DVD edition, "The Ripper's" bonuses consist in all the murder scenes in their uncut versions. After watching everything, you get this odd feeling that these bonuses, the murder scenes seen in isolation, embody in fact the purest version of the film. They don't need any scenaristic frame around them to work efficiently. They are its 'raison d'être'. As if Fulci, in an afterthought, had been forced to find a scenario to wrap these scenes in order to be able to produce the movie.
Again, just like porn.

That does not solve the question of the killer talking with a Donald Duck voice, a detail considered original by some, grotesque by others. What's for sure is that it is on behalf of Fulci an intentional disrespect for the rules of the American cop movie: killers don't have a ridiculous voice like Donald Duck's. But what if it was an ironic statement on US subculture?

Yes the world can also be terrorised by Disney's creatures.


"Lo squartatore di New York" is widely available in dvd (US/IT/FR) and its 80s funk influenced score can be found here.

6 comments:

Whiggles said...

The New York Ripper is an unusual film alright, but I don't think it's as devoid of plot as some have made out. The mystery itself works fairly well, although I do agree that it often takes a back seat to the gore spectacle. The look of the film is certainly unpleasant, but when I watched it again recently it no longer looked as incompetent as it had appeared to me on first viewing. There's some interesting stuff going on with colour and shadow, and the stalking of Fay Majors is beautifully photographed.

Fatally*Yours said...

I just stumbled across your blog, and I must say, very well done!

I am just now getting a bit into giallo, and hope to view some of the films listed on your site.

Sylvain L. said...

I absolutely agree that this film has a special "look", and that its apparently raw photography is in fact carefully crafted: Fulci has always been very sophisticated in his own particular trashy style.

Chris Stangl said...

Arguments about whether Ripper is giallo aside (and I don't find it nearly as dull, predictable or visually ugly)...

There is another potential reading of Ripper as a very dark comedy, which takes particular pleasure in playing, DePalma-style, with the language of thrillers a viewer's inate conservatism. Note that many of the red herrings and false suspects only work as misdirects because the viewer assumes the moral base of a slasher film is conservative at heart.

Ripper, like Lars Von Trier at his most scampish, also takes delight in building as its plot the most cruel machine possible for causing its characters pain. Does the final image of New York Ripper make you laugh and laugh, or cry?

The movie's a dirty trick, a nasty joke at our expense, and my favorite Fulci.

Meddle said...

You pose some very interesting thoughts about The New York Ripper. This film was the first Fulci film I had the pleasure to see and outside of the annoying duck voice it holds up extremely well. Personally I don’t find this film pornographic I look at it as Fulci’s take on making a film that is based in reality albeit his warped reality.

Anonymous said...

Pretty good analysis of Squatatore. Not Fulci's best, IMHO, but very weird and perhaps Fuldi's darkest film. Keep up the good work Sylvain! (A Frenchman writing in English about Italian movies, what's not to like?)