Week 33 – New York (Part 1)
Manhattan Baby aka Eye of The Evil Dead (1982) – directed by Lucio Fulci, written by Elisa Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti , with Christopher Connelly, Laura Lenzi, Brigitta Boccoli and Giovanni Frezza
Lo squartatore di New York aka The New York Ripper (1982) – directed by Lucio Fulci, written by Gianfranco Clerici, Lucio Fulci, Vincenzo Mannino and Dardano Sacchetti, with Jack Hedley, Almanta Suska and Howard Ross
When most people think of New York City and film, a number of directors inevitably spring to mind – Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee and Woody Allen. The casual movie fan probably does not associate The Big Apple with Italian horror and Giallo (crime fiction and mystery) films. Then again, the casual movie fan probably doesn’t watch a lot of Italian horror and Giallo movies, which is understandable, since they can be an acquired taste; however, one group of miscreants ate these films up and always came back for seconds.
Italian genre cinema found an enthusiastic audience in the brave souls who frequented New York City’s grindhouse theaters which, along with porno theaters and sex shops, lined 42nd Street in the 1970s. Additionally, more than a fair share of Italian blood and guts classics were at least partially set and filmed on location in New York City. Lucio Fulci, in particular, often used New York City as a shooting location, most famously the ending of Zombie (aka Zombi 2 in Italy), where an army of lumbering corpses is seen marching over the Manhattan Bridge toward the city.
For viewers today, these films serve as time capsules revealing a city unfamiliar to youngsters not familiar with New York City as it had been prior to Times Square being turned into what it is today – an era in which a trip to the city was an adventure not for the weak at heart – an era that’s easy to romanticize when you haven’t been mugged by a tranny in a public restroom or puked on by a homeless guy or stepped in something sticky and hoped to god it was just spilled soda.
At least that’s what I had hoped to get out of a pair of movies released in 1982 by Fulci, the Italian Godfather of Gore.
I should have known better. My expectations weren’t high for Manhattan Baby and The New York Ripper – maybe a little higher for the second than the first because of Ripper‘s notoriety (“One of the most controversial Italian horror films ever made!” according to the cover of Blue Underground’s 2008 DVD re-release). I’ve been disappointed by Fulci before and both of these films were made at a time when the quality of Fulci’s films was on the decline. What I didn’t realize was that Manhattan Baby and The New York Ripper were both made as Fulci’s relationship with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti was coming to an end. Sacchetti was a factor in some of Fulci’s best films, including The Beyond, City of The Living Dead, and Zombie. The two would split for good after Fulci took off to Mexico to make his infamous sword and sorcery epic Conquest (which you can read all about here), which Fulci made without the help of his long-time partner. I don’t agree with people who argue Fulci was a hack and that Sacchetti was the brains behind “Fulci’s” horror classics. I’d rather think of them as the Lennon and McCartney of Italian horror – if The Beyond was their Sgt. Pepper, Manhattan Baby and The New York Ripper were their Let It Be, a messy swansong.
I know. Comparing Manhattan Baby and The New York Ripper to Let It Be, is probably overstating things a bit, but it was too nice of a metaphor to pass up. Plus, if you’ve seen any of Fulci’s post-Conquest films, you’ll probably agree that nothing he did prior to then is that bad. To understand what I mean, read my review of New Gladiators.
And yet, these are the types of movies which make me want to just choose “safe” movies to review rather than quirkier, more obscure fare. There are reasons why some movies remain “undiscovered” to the casual movie fan. It’s because they’re just not very good. Sadly, that’s been my experience with a lot of Italian horror and Giallo movies. I’ve seen some really great stuff, but I’ve had to wade through the dregs to get there. Sometimes I have to ask myself, “Is it worth it?”
Think of your children, Matt. Your dear children, who have had the misfortune of walking in on sights that no child should ever see, like the seizure sex scene from Showgirls. That kind of thing can scar a child for life.
Think of your poor wife, who has had to endure some of the most god-awful cinematic crimes ever – all because of you.
Think of humanity as a whole, who benefit from these reviews by not having to suffer through the same bad movies as you. Think of what a service you do for society.
For the greater good, I press onward.
Here’s why only the most hardcore Fulci fanatics should watch his “Films of 1982” while any sane person should avoid these movies. Let’s start with Manhattan Baby.
Manhattan Baby is a weird movie, even for Fulci. It starts off in Egypt where George and Emily Hacker are on what could be a vacation or an archeological expedition based on their actions. The couple, who are from New York, have their 10-year-old daughter Susie in tow, so it sort of seems like a vacation, but George – played by American television actor Christopher Connelly – decides to go off exploring an ancient tomb. Since he’s an archaeologist, that sort of seems like work and – as a general rule of thumb – you should try and keep your family life and work life separate. Especially when there’s the chance that your daughter might be approached by a strange woman and handed a mysterious blue amulet.
Meanwhile, George Hacker is struck blind by a mysterious blue light during his exploration of the tomb. George’s assistant is killed when he falls into a booby trap and is impaled on spikes, because as most people know, it wouldn’t be a Fulci movie without a little gore. (Although, as Fulci films go, this one is surprisingly – or disappointingly – bloodless.)
The Hacker family returns to New York and we meet Susie’s little brother Tommy, played by Giovanni Frezza, the creepy little boy from Fulci’s House By The Cemetery. Soon, weird things start occurring. Scorpions and snakes and desert sand starts appearing in the Hacker’s apartment. The kids keep on disappearing from their rooms at night. People around the family start dying in freak actions. A work colleague of George’s wife Emily visits the home and is sucked into an inter-dimensional portal in Susie’s closet. George regains his eyesight. The children tell their parents that they have been going on “voyages.”
I’m not going to bore you with all the details, but eventually Manhattan Baby takes an Exorcist-like plot twist in which Susie is possessed by the blue amulet and the Hackers enlist the help of a man who works in an antique shop to help them break the curse. I wish the antique shop owners in South Jersey were like that in real life – mysterious, magical folk like the old Chinese guy from Gremlins. Instead, most of the antique store owners I’ve met are semi-racist hoarders who like to yell at children (“You break, you buy!”) and charge you ridiculous amounts of money for junk even the Antique Roadshow folks would tell you has no value whatsoever. Fifty bucks for a steel Jeff and the Pink Lady lunchbox is not a fair deal, unless it has some kind of ability to break curses brought about by magical amulets. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Manhattan Baby‘s biggest flaw is that it’s boring. Its second biggest flaw is that it makes no sense. It’s okay sometimes for a movie not to make sense. David Lynch has built a career out of movies that don’t make sense. Fellow Italian director Dario Argento’s films rarely make sense – yet they tend to make up for it in atmosphere. I didn’t get that with Manhattan Baby. The acting was too bad. The dialogue was too cheesy. I could not get into this movie. I tried and I failed – or the movie failed me.
So let’s talk about The New York Ripper instead – “the most controversial movie ever” or something, according to the DVD cover. The claim is based on the fact that the film has been banned in a number of countries due to its “extreme” content. By extreme content, we’re talking about nudity and gore – usually a combination of the two. Anyone who has seen a Fulci film before probably won’t be too shocked at the content, but to the average viewer it’s some pretty over-the-top stuff. Eyeballs are sliced in two. Nipples are sliced in two. A woman is stabbed in the crotch with a broken beer bottle. Do I need have to tell you that the biggest complaint about this movie is that its critics believe it to be misogynistic? When every time a beautiful woman takes off her clothes she winds up on the end of a sharp implement, it’s hard for me to argue that it’s not.
The New York Ripper is about a serial killer who … wait for it … quacks like a duck. I’m serious. Like Donald Duck. It’s funny, even if it makes it hard to take the movie seriously.
As Duckman cuts a swathe through New York City, hacking up pretty girls, the police are on his trail. British actor Jack Hedley – who IMDb says played the part of the parrot in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only – is pretty good as Lt. Fred Williams, a burned out NYC detective. He enlists the help Dr. Paul Davis, a cocky psychotherapist who creates a profile of the killer. In spite of their best efforts, the quacking psychopath remains one webbed step ahead of them, killing a woman on the Staten Island Ferry, a sex show worker, and the nymphomaniac wife of a city doctor, all the while taunting the police with his ridiculous duck voice. Then there’s Kitty, a prostitute whose murder is the main set piece of the film. Duckie runs a razor blade slowly over her nipple and then her eyeball, in gruesome detail. In terms of special effects, it’s the highlight of the movie.
The police finally hone in on a subject, Mickey Scellenda, “the Greek.” Of course, as we all know, in this type of movie, if the police “think” they’ve found the killer, they’re probably wrong.
Can the authorities get to the real killer in time before he strikes again, possibly even taking another stab at poor Ms. Majors?
My main complaint about The New York Ripper isn’t the misogyny, which is to be expected for a slasher movie. It’s not even the duck voice, which I found amusing. My problem is that, between some pretty cool murder sequences, the rest of the movie just seemed to be filler. I know that can probably describe most Fulci movies, but it was especially bad in The New York Ripper, in which Fulci opted to include not one, but two softcore sex scenes. Really grody ones too. Do I really need to sit through a 5 to 8 minute scene in which a woman is foot fucked under a table? The shots of old-school 42nd Street were a nice touch, but Fulci wasn’t content to let us just imagine the sleaze. He has to show us a scene in which a woman masturbates in a public theater while watching a live sex show. He has to have his camera pan past numerous open porno magazines. This movie is sleazy as hell. Shower all you want when it’s over. You can’t scrub your brain clean. They don’t make Q-Tips that long.
If you’re curious about where things went wrong for Fulci, these two movies are a good start. For the rest of you folk, stick to his older stuff. Don’t Torture A Duckling is a good start. It’s probably one of his classier movies. (What is it with Fulci and ducks?) The Beyond, City of the Living Dead, Zombi, and House By The Cemetery are all pretty good too. The rest I recommend you leave buried.
Next week: New York Part II: Electric Boogaloo
Matt D.’s Top Five Extreme Horror Exports
5. New Zealand – Examples include Peter Jackson’s early films Bad Taste, Brain Dead (aka Dead Alive), and Meet the Feebles. Their contribution to the horror world may be small but future Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson’s early films, though more funny then scary, take their gore seriously.
4. Germany – Examples include the Violent Shit and Nekromantik series. One can only imagine the schadenfreude felt by German horror fans in knowing that their country’s contributions to the horror genre are among the most nauseating.
3. Italy – Examples include anything by Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, and just about anything with the word “Cannibal” in the title. Any horror movie coming out of Italy in the 1970s and early 1980s was sure to include one or more of the following components: rampant nudity, over-the-top gore, funky synthesizer music, and probably at least one scene of eyeball or genital torture. For the longest time, the most hardcore horror flicks came from the country shaped like a boot. But in the 1980s, a new star was on the rise.
2. A tie between Japan and Hong Kong – Examples include the films of Takishi Miike (Japan) or Fruit Chan (Hong Kong). A true endurance test for any horror movie fan is to make it through one of Miike’s demented masterpieces. Along with Hong Kong, Japan has found new and creative ways to use gore. What makes Asian horror so disturbing is its unpredictability. What’s behind Door #1? A murderous schoolgirl or a zombie prostitute that shoots darts from her vagina? Asian horror would take the top spot if it were a little more realistic.
1. France – Examples include Martyrs, High Tension, Inside, and Frontieres. “The new French extreme” has brought us some of the most daring horror movies of the last 10 years. These movies coming out of France are cerebral and still manage to be some of the goriest, most realistically violent additions to the genre ever. Italy, you may now relinquish your title as the splatter capital of the world. Japan, you were a worthy contender but there’s a new world leader in extreme horror. Vive la France!