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The sharpest cut
A region-free UK Blu-ray review of THE NEW YORK RIPPER – FAN HIGH RES EDITION by Gort
 

Maybe it's just me, but when I first heard about it, the idea of putting a Lucio Fulci film on Blu-ray felt a little perverse. Those of us who grew up with Fulci's uniquely nasty horror works under UK censorship law will have done so largely through a combination of heavily censored cinema screenings and equally butchered VHS video tapes. And after the Video Nasties furore (more on that here), those VHS versions would likely have been under-the-counter, second generation knock-offs. Thus some of our key memories of Fulci's cinema are visually fuzzy, cropped to the 4:3 aspect ratio, and missing the very footage that drew us to them in the first place.

Mind you, tracking down his 1982 film, The New York Ripper [Lo squartatore di New York] was a task and a half in pre-digital days. The then chief censor James Ferman loathed it so much that he ordered it deported before it could damage the sensitive brains of a horror-hungry UK audience. The timing of the film's intended release didn't help, coming not long after the conviction of serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, a man who had been dubbed "The Yorkshire Ripper" by the very same tabloid toads who were baying to see such videos banned. Then along came DVD and the wonders of internet shopping, and if you had one of these clever multi-region players and were willing to risk the possibility that the disc might be grabbed by customs, you could import the film in its full uncut glory.

For us distracted souls who never got around to doing so (shame on me), the arrival in 2007 of new UK DVD label Shameless was exciting news. Their mission was to resurrect and restore once-banned horror films from the 70s and 80s and release them in as complete a form as our more relaxed current censorship would allow. And we loved them for it. One of their first releases was New York Ripper (that's not a typo – there was no leading 'The' on the title of the DVD version), but our initial excitement was muted just a tad by the news that the BBFC had still insisted on 34 seconds of cuts.

If you're new to the film and want to know more about the censored scene in question then you can read my review of that disc here.

It seems somehow appropriate that the film chosen by Shameless for their first Blu-ray title was also one of their first DVD releases, and as such is an ideal candidate for an upgrade. Although the image on the DVD was very good, the picture was non-anamorphic at a time when letterboxed transfers were already rare (I griped at the time without fully appreciating the constraints under which small independent distributors working with rarely seen material are sometimes under). There were also no extras apart from a trailer, making it relatively easy for a re-release to expand on its humble predecessor. A new Blu-ray edition offered a number of possibilities, and within minutes of hearing the announcement I had drawn up a short wish-list for its content:

  1. An uncut version of the film. Optimistic, perhaps, but it's been a few years since the film was last submitted to the BBFC. Maybe they now appreciated that as a cult film from the early 80s it had a very specific audience and was not going to find itself being given to 12-year-old Johnny to enjoy over Christmas.

  2. Improved picture and sound quality. OK, so I have a nostalgia for the pirate VHS days, but even the previous non-anamorphic DVD showed that an Italian giallo thriller could look every bit as handsome as a mainstream American release. And frankly, if you're going to re-release a film on Blu-ray, there's nothing more annoying than a transfer that would have looked just as sharp on an upscaled DVD.

  3. A better set of extra features. The DVD only had a trailer, and the controversy over the film's banning and subsequent censorship should be worth a featurette in its own right. And what about something on the restored footage and the decision to re-edit the most notorious scene (more on that in a second)? I'd even tolerate an expert commentary if it was done by Alan Jones, a genre aficionado and one of the film's most enthusiastic fans.

So how did Shameless do? Let's take that wish list in order...

the restoration and recut

Hopes that we'd finally get the uncut version are dashed at the film's start by some introductory text announcing that the BBFC have refused to budge on what they still regard as sexualised violence. What we do have is some restored material that wasn't in the DVD version and a re-edit of the scene that caused all the fuss. A re-edit? Yeah. Now here I have a problem. The new edit restores the scene to its original length using existing reaction shots, some of which have been slowed down to fill the gaps. It's an alteration announced in that opening text, which is accompanied by the assurance that the results are "un-noticeable". Well, they are and they aren't. There's nothing wrong with the editing on a technical level, but you won't have to have watched too many horror movies to know full well that something is missing here. The earlier murders are violent and bloody, and there's just no way that a climactic mutilation in a Lucio Fulci film is going to be comprised primarily of reaction shots, particularly when the even more violent face-slicing that follows has been left intact. And slowing shots down in a film that otherwise plays at full speed does tend to highlight their deviation from the norm, particularly as post-production slo-mo is markedly different from the silky smooth version you get by shooting at a faster a frame rate.

But there's another issue here, one of authenticity of authorship. The re-edit was not carried out by the late Lucio Fulci but by the good people at Shameless, who for all their fine intentions were not involved in the original production. The recut may well restore the scene to its original length, but not as Fulci and his regular editor Vincenzo Tomassi shaped it, and in that respect the results are no better than BBFC version with the excised shots. The footage is still missing, the scene's impact is still softened, and the editing rhythm of the sequence is not as it should be. We know it's still cut, we can see it's still cut, and the caption at the film's start admits it's still cut. So why go to the trouble of pretending it's not? Either way, the BBFC's determination to protect us from Fulci's gleefully warped vision is rendered absurd by the fact that the entire film is, at the time of writing, freely available in its uncut state on YouTube, a site accessible by just about anyone of any age.

And so to number 2 on the list...

sound and vision

While I was expecting some improvement over the original, non-anamorphic DVD release, those VHS memories just kept nagging at my trust gland, making it hard to imagine a version of the film looking as good as we've come to expect from a Blu-ray transfer. But that's exactly what this disc delivers. Digitally remastered from the original negative, the picture quality here far exceeds anything I was expecting – the image is sharp and detailed, and while there is considerable variance in both the contrast and colour, at their best both are absolutely spot-on. There is also far more detail in darker scenes than on the DVD. The restored footage, which includes a whole new scene with the dopey Dr. Davis, was taken from a non-HD source and is thus not of the same quality, but is still in good shape and doesn't stand out as much as you'd expect. If there's a down side to this improved definition, its that we can now clearly see that the razor blade that stars in the censored sequence is about as sharp as a jelly baby in a fluffy cotton dress.

The original Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack has been joined by a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that has a little more volume and a tad more clarity, but is otherwise in the same ball park. The range is narrower than the current norm and there's a little background crackle to be heard in some scenes, but otherwise this is a very serviceable job. Also included is a DTS-HD Master Audio Italian language track, which is a little more crispy than the English track but in solid shape otherwise and properly mixed to the location acoustics, plus the DTS-HD Spanish dub, whose dialogue is louder, sonically cruder, and sits atop a sometimes very audible background hum.

extra features

Ah yes, number 3, a better set of extra features. Well we don't get a commentary or an archive interview with director Fulci (should there be such a beast, of course) or even the hoped-for documentary on the restoration/recut. But we're still up on the DVD, with the Trailer from that release joined by a couple of rather good extras.

Interview with Antonella Fulci & Dardano Sacchetti (18:27)
Fulci's daughter Antonella and co-screenwriter Sacchetti recall the making of The New York Ripper and discuss the film's notorious treatment of women, about which the two tend to differ – Antonella dismisses the idea that the film is hostile to women, while Sacchetti firmly believes there are misogynistic elements, though assures us that none of them were written by him. Antonella reveals that the New York exteriors were shot guerrilla style, and that the South Bronx was a terrific place to shoot thanks to the friendliness of its residents. Sacchetti finishes off with a small but enjoyable dig at the opportunism of a certain Quentin Tarantino.

Antonella also provides a brief introduction to the film itself, which plays before the main feature.

Booklet
A 6-page booklet (I don't count the covers) containing an enthusiastic and entertaining essay on the film by Stephen Thrower, adapted from his book Beyond Terror, The Films of Lucio Fulci. Like the previous extra, it carries a viewer-friendly warning about spoilers contained within.

summary

Well it's still the cut version, but despite that and the pointless re-editing of the scene in question, Shameless's first Blu-ray still scores on its picture quality, the inclusion of previously missing footage, and two worthwhile extra features. It also, rather thrillingly, retains the distinctive yellow box and reversible cover of the label's DVD releases. A little unfortunately for Shameless, it's up against an uncut American Blu-ray release from Blue Underground that is (apparently) region free, though with different extras and, as far as I know, missing the restored footage. I can't testify to the picture quality of that disc (yet), but it leaves any potential purchaser with an option that could lead to a seller of American discs. Horror completists, of course, will want both, and on the evidence of the transfer quality, I'm personally excited about the prospect of future Shameless Blu-ray releases.

The New York Ripper – Fan High Res Edition
Lo Squartatore di New York

Italy 1982

90 mins

director
Lucio Fulci
starring
Jack Hedley
Almanta Suska
Howard Ross
Andrea Occhipinti
Alexandra Delli Colli
Paolo Malco
Cinzia de Ponti

disc details
region free
video
2.35:1
sound
Dolby 2.0 mono
DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
languages
English
Italian
Spanish
subtitles
English
extras
Trailers
Interview with Antonella Fulci & Dardano Sacchetti
Booklet
distributor
Shameless
release date
27 June 2011
review posted
13 July 2011

related reviews
New York Ripper [DVD review]
The Black Cat
Manhattan Baby

See all of Gort's reviews