A brutal killer stalks young women who inhabit the ‘Big Apple’ in this graphic slasher from Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci, who terrified 80’s audiences with flicks like “Zombie” and “House by the Cemetery.”
The story opens with a guy walking his dog along the East River. They engage in a game of fetch and the guy manages to toss the stick behind the only bush for miles. When his dog returns it has a human hand in its jaws. Cut to Detective Fred Williams who believes it is the work of the titular bad guy who has been terrifying the city.
The harried Williams, who always looks like he is about to have a coronary episode, has nothing but problems. He is next seen getting chewed out by his boss for giving the story to the press. Then creepy coroner can’t shed much light on the case either and seems to get a perverse thrill talking about the damage the killer inflicts on his victims. When Williams finally catches a break it is from the killer himself. Turns out he likes to talk about what he’s doing but disguises his voice by imitating a duck when he speaks.
Williams surmises that the murderer is really smart (huh?) and goes to a young, and smug, psychologist who offers to help if the city will pay him. The doc hears all of the evidence and also concludes that the killer is bright. He postulates that the psycho will keep doing it and will continue to taunt Williams.
Sure enough both of those things happen. The killer continues to strike and each murder is graphically played out for the camera. In fact this film sports some of the most impressive gore ever relegated to an 80’s slasher -style flick. The 80’s were infamous for cutting away when killers struck(as in the Friday the 13th series) but Fulci’s camera zooms in just when others’ would fade out.
This boils down to a series of flashy murder sequences filmed against scenic backgrounds(like the view of Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry) . Visually it is an exciting film to watch . Fulci stages some impressive set pieces such as a tense escape from a sleazy hotel room. He milks every last drop of fear out of this situation as a repressed housewife realizes the man who has just nodded off beside her may be the Ripper . She comes to this realization while tied to a bed post as a radio announcer ticks off a description of the killer. She studies the sleeping form of the man beside her as the announcer reads out a description which matches him in every detail.
The film also works as a historical document of the sleaze atmosphere that pervaded the Times Square area in the early 80’s before it was cleaned up to attract tourists. Hookers, adult novelty stores, and strip clubs are lovingly captured by Fulci’s cameras which seem to revel in the squalid settings. The characters behave pretty badly too . The film is chock full of cheating wives, ladies of the night, and raincoat rocking guys who keep their hats pulled over their eyes.
This was deemed too rough for audiences and never got a wide release like Fulci’s previous films but it still stands as one of the nastiest entries in the knife wielding killer genre of 80’s cinema. The actors are poorly dubbed and most of the dialogue stinks like the subway after a wino convention but it is never dull. Worth a look for 80’s horror fans and anyone interested in what 42nd Street looked like before it got rehabilitated.
Best Lines: “You’ll never understand me, you’re too stupid. Quack, quack, quack.”
“I’m a prostitute, not your wife. If you want coffee, make it yourself.”
“It was good, efficient butchery.”
Tom Doty is a columnist for The Floyd County Times.