Fans of the film, and of Fulci's vibrant style, can rejoice because, like their awesome BD release of Jorge Grau's The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue (reviewed separately), have delivered a surprisingly impressive transfer of The New York Ripper, a film that, truncated UK and uncut US Anchor Bay discs aside, is possibly remembered by many as being a horribly dark and murky experience thanks to poor quality bootlegs and third generation rips. Well, you can rest assured, this region-free AVC MPEG-4 transfer wipes the floor with all those that have come before it.
The 2.39:1 image (2.35:1 on the packaging) retains its grain and shows no signs of digital tampering or overt noise reduction. The grain is pretty much consistent throughout and not at all distracting. Edge enhancement does put in an appearance but this, too, is not so evident as to be irksome. Artefacts, aliasing and blocking are absent from the image, and the stronger colours that this transfer can lay claim to, have no elements of smearing or banding.
Now, NYR has always been a film that prided itself on looking sickly and quite rancid in terms of its colour palette. The spectrum has always been there, all right, but Fulci and cinematographer Kuveiller had wanted the film to look as garish and as sleazy as the environment it sought to explore. In the past, this has meant muddy reds, harsh greens and ill-looking yellows bringing an earthy squalor to the image that may have reflected the sordid locations of porn-houses, neon dripping streets and doss-rooms reasonably well, but allowed too much shadow and gloom to saturate the picture. Blue Underground's transfer, taken from the original camera negative, looks sublime in its rendering of colours now, the primaries looking smoother and far more natural, although still retaining that sweaty quality that Fulci wanted. Skin-tones are more consistent - until some wavering contrast towards the end alters things, especially Hedley's face, for a brief spell - and natural. Eye colours are more apparent and there is a better and more even tone for the, ahem, expanses of flesh that are occasionally presented. Clothing is allowed more separation for patterns and neon-signs, car-colours and posters and graffiti all possess a cleaner, more vivid hue. The skies appear to have been overcast for much of the shoot, but there is a much more authentic-looking pale blue now apparent. And, hey, what about the gore, I hear you ask? Well, my fellow blood-freaks, the claret is gloriously vivid - a luscious deep red when highly illuminated, nastily dark when the lighting is subdued. The various stabbings and carvings produce some severe gore and all of it is lovingly captured with more clarity and saturation than ever before. The eyeball-slicing now looks particularly grim (or great, however you choose to consider such things) with a supreme hue and saturation. Likewise, the gruesome couple of instances when guts ooze out of a fresh gouging.
Detail, as you can no doubt gather from the descriptions of the injuries above, is also greatly increased. Facial texture, hair - even down to stray pubic tufts - now has much more clarity and sharpness, separation keenly observed. Close-ups are excellent, but the print has much more to offer. Street scenes provide a level of distant detail that has, previously, been obscured - from buildings, windows, cars and clouds, to people, trees and flesh-on-show blurb shrieking out from the sidewalk. In fact, should you be so inclined, the various items of pornography littering a suspect's apartment can now be examined in high detail. Three-dimensionality, however, isn't great, so don't go expecting much to actually stand out, despite some much improved depth to the image. Street scenes obviously benefit from this increased depth, but so do the interiors, particularly those within the big house in which the climax takes place.
Black levels are very good and they are tested quite considerably throughout the film. From neon signs and the green saturation that suffuses one murder, to the diffused lighting of the porn palaces and the flea-pit cinema that Delli Colli finds herself hiding in, the shadows keep an agreeable level of integrity and there is nowhere near the once shocking degree of detail being crushed within them.
Whether you think Fulci's film deserves it or not, The New York Ripper has a very fine hi-def transfer.
Blue Underground serve up another lossless 7.1 mix for this golden-oldie that had previously only enjoyed mono status. But, unlike the actually quite impressive 7.1 makeover that The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue enjoyed, this DTS-HD MA track is much less involving. However, it doesn't do anything wrong, in my opinion. The sound is always clear, always crisp and possesses a sharp new level of cleanliness that is certainly rewarding to hear after years of scratchy, hiss-filled, drop-out blighted transfers.
That crazy funked-up score bristles across the frontal array with a god level of energy. The dialogue may be dubbed - and pretty badly, at that - but the voices still comes across well and are never warbled, muted, or drowned-out. The outlandish “quack-quacking” of the killer is ably maintained, the giggles, screams, score and effects track all combining well during the many nasty sequences. Atmospherically speaking, The New York Ripper has plenty of knife and blade slashes that whistle and sizzle through the air, as well. These do sound good - all very sharp and vivid. The moment when the killer's blade misses Alexandra Delli Colli and takes a chunk out of the wall behind her is acutely rendered with a strong metallic twang! The tearing of flesh and gristle, as exaggerated as it is, is also very conveyed by a track that clearly wants to make the skin crawl with such things. Likewise, the protracted screams of the various victims reach out across the soundscape with horrific vigour.
What we don't really get is any convincing use of the surrounds to carry much other than score-bleed and the odd channel-echoed effect. Mind you, whereas such things were apt to sound completely bogus on many other signal-stretched surround tracks, the lack of any meaningful wraparound and any subsequent fakery it may have brought in tow only allows the strength of the audio across the front to gain resonance. Screeching tyres and shattering glass have a keenness, too. And there is some directionality to the throwing of a broken bottle and the orgasmic moaning from the sex show. Car horns and subway train rumble, along with the usual sort of big city hubbub don't, however, make much of an ambient impact, leading to a track that is predominantly front-heavy and partial to simple, but effective-enough barrages of specific scene-related noise.
What is important to note is that the original mono track is also included and this, surprisingly enough, sounds very good indeed and has obviously been the recipient of a solid restoration. In fact, comparing the gleeful slicing 'n' dicing scenes and the more overt effects-moments, the 2-channel mono sounds agreeably aggressive and shouldn't pose a problem for purists who want their soundtrack presented without any extension.
So, with the fact that the original track has been nicely maintained and that the lossless option adds some occasional power and a wider field, Blue Underground appear to be keeping respectful to the source material and not over-elaborating things where unnecessary. The nature of an old Italian dubbed horror film does, inevitably, mean that elements of it will sound dislocated - but this is the nature of the beast and can certainly not be looked upon as a defect of the audio transfer. With this in mind, The New York Ripper sounds better than I expected it to and, with a couple of options to tide you over, gets a thumbs-up from me.
Just don't expect much in the way of surround if you go for the lossless DTS track.
As a gorehound, I find it almost heartwarming that we get a ten-minute featurette devoted to an actress who has spent her career flashing her bits and, more often than not, having sharp implements thrust through them. And in the ludicrously titled “I'm An Actress!”, we get to hear from regular flesh-bait Zora Kerova as she informs us about her tenure with Fulci and her later collaborations with Umberto Lenzi on Cannibal Ferox and Bruno Mattei, whilst we see an image of her scalp being ripped off by the great George Eastman in Anthropophagus Beast. Still attractive today - in fact possibly more so - she tells us of the trouble that playing a prostitute in a live sex show for Fulci caused her back home in communist Czechoslovakia. She ascertains how important and how dedicated she is to performing even such sleazy roles as those that came her way back in those days. And she is quick to defend the often alleged woman-hater of Lucio Fulci, citing him as being pleasant and helpful and stating that she formed a firm and happy relationship with him.
Still, this is certainly a strange little feature and it is a shame that we could not have got to meet other members of the cast, as well.
The other feature of note is the little four-minute Then and Now montage of New York City locations. Quite bizarre and somewhat arbitrary, this collection of filmed footage and stills compares and contrasts the Manhattan locations as Fulci saw them and how they look today, all set to the evocative funky score from De Masi. It is unsurprising to see that, whilst Fulci barely even showed any of the more obvious landmarks of the city, this feature makes sure to give a poignant glimpse of the Twin Towers as witnessed across the bay back then, and their lack of presence now.
This sadly meagre assortment is then rounded-off with the film's theatrical trailer ... a retrospective commentary is sorely missed.
It naturally seems wrong to label The New York Ripper as a classic, but this is most definitely what it is ... of its kind. As well as the copious gore and vastly disturbing imagery, this was proof that Lucio Fulci was becoming far more accomplished as a filmmaker and, perhaps even on his way to reaching a point where he would be able to stand toe-to-toe with Dario Argento. It is beyond doubt that his cycle of bloody epics, starting with Zombie Flesheaters and reaching a grisly pinnacle with Ripper, were getting more assured and better produced with each instalment, and they are certainly much better than anything that Argento has come up with in the last twenty years. Sadly, Fulci wasn't able to maximise on this new maturity, with his career pin-balling from one crazy new concept to another throughout the eighties, never settling on one genre for long and many promising projects never even seeing the light of day. The disastrously personal Cat In My Brain and the woeful Demonia and his final no-hoper before his death in 1996, Voices From Beyond, are not exactly the kind of thing that, in his own warped and wacky way, he showed so much potential for achieving with this and his earlier violent fantasies.
The New York Ripper remains a powerful and potent psycho-sexual thrill-ride that may have lost some of its once-alarming ferocity, but is still a defiant and historically important milestone in the genre ... and it is has never looked or sounded better than here on Blue Underground's macabre new BD release.
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