A maniac stalks the streets of New York City, killing attractive women by mutilating their breasts or genitals. A New York Police Detective recruits a professor of psychology to help him find the killer.
Director Lucio Fulci’s return to the giallo genre features ample sleaze and gore. He invites us to witness a live sex show by proxy, then see one of the show’s performers stabbed in the crotch by a broken glass bottle. Later, we see a razor blade slice through a woman’s nipple. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Fulci film without ocular violence.
But all this sleaze obscures a deeper cynicism. Every character displays some sexual perversion. A wealthy woman trolls for anonymous sexual encounters and records her dalliances for her husband. Our hero, the Detective, spends his nights with a high-class call girl. The learned college professor enjoys gay pornographic magazines.
And yet, when revealed, the killer’s motive packs a wallop, revealing a devastating emotional cruelty toward the film’s lone innocent—a grade school-aged girl suffering a terminal illness.
Though it’s tempting to reduce The New York Ripper to misogynistic exploitation, the finale reveals a meditation on guilt. Corrupt characters drown their insecurities in sexual vice as Fulci grapples with whether they’re victims or monsters.
Having co-written the screenplay and shot the film, Fulci’s wallowing in those same perversions. His New York City proves a convincing hell. One whose residents struggle to ignore the shame of their own complacency.