The New York Ripper and the Case of the Jumbled Up Scenes (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

I not only own Lucio Fulci's most controversial film, The New York Ripper, I've double-dipped on it. I've triple-dipped on it. And I've read article after article and forum post after forum post about the variant releases, and I was still confused. And ever since I first came up with the notion of starting DVDExotica, I've known this was one of the films I was going to have to tackle and get straight... just as much for my own benefit as any of you guys reading this.
Why is it so controversial? Well, one it's pretty graphically extreme. And when it was in vogue to attack horror movies for being sexist and violent garbage, blaming it for the ills of our society, etc... You could defend most other horror movies. Like, oh come on, Romero, Argento and those guys were operating on a much higher level than their critics were giving them discredit for. But New York Ripper pretty well fit the attackers' bill. Like now with people going after video games, New York Ripper was sort of the Grand Theft Auto of its day. Random beautiful young women are stalked, captured and tortuously killed using sexually punishing methods. Sure, there's a reason for it when the mysterious killer's identity and motivations are finally revealed, but that doesn't change that this is one sleazy film. The fact that it was set in New York and yet dubbed just added to the trashy, amateurish vibe, and since this movie lacked the stylish flourish of Fulci's more fantastic films, it was an easy film to point to and say "no artistic value."
And fair enough, there's no getting away from that. But still, it's Lucio. Especially now that we can see it restored in widescreen, it's clearly a well crafted film... even moreso than many of his others. The mystery actually works, leaving you genuinely going back and forth on who you believe the killer to be, the production values are high, some of the murder scenes are powerfully unnerving (certain shots are surely still vivid in viewers minds who only saw this once, decades ago), and the effects are really good. It's also unique - yes, this is the movie where the killer talks like Donald Duck; and what is up with the subplot with the wife and her little tape recorder? - in a time where slasher films were really struggling with a lack of originality. And dare I say it, it's even fairly smart and logical, which is quite a rare thing in the world of Spaghetti horror.

But because of its dubious reputation, it's often been censored in its many releases around the world. And considering the cut bits are also the parts this film is best known for, it's become just as important for fans to secure an uncut version. Watching The New York Ripper without the most shocking close-ups in it would be like watching Chicago without the musical numbers in it - at that point you should just pick another movie.
So when Anchor Bay first released it on DVD in 1999 (and later re-issued by Blue Underground in 2008), it had to be just uncut version. And thankfully, it seemed to be. Certainly, that's what they claimed and everyone believed. But then it came out that a scene wasn't actually missing, but there was still a problem with the edit. One scene was totally out of place, put in the wrong order. And a new, fixed version was being released on a pretty sweet "Special Restored Edition" from Another World Entertainment, a Scandinavian label, in 2007. Hurray! You had to import, but here was an even better version.

But did Blue Underground's re-issue still have the wrong order? In 2009, they released it on blu-ray (and a corresponding third US DVD edition, different from their 2008 disc)... did they fix the shot or what? Go ahead, do some online research and try to get a clear answer. I certainly tried, multiple times. It doesn't help that these discussions just get more muddled as other editions are still being released with other cuts and missing scenes. And since some of these cuts seem to be pretty subtle (more along the line of "guy walks down the street" than "somebody gets their eye stabbed out"), most people don't even catch the differences. You pretty much have to simultaneously watch two versions side-by-side all the way through to figure it out. Well, I've got the Scandinavian DVD, I've got Blue Underground's blu-ray, and I've done just that.
shot missing from Blue Underground's blu.
Here's the scene that was out of order on the old Anchor Bay and Blue Underground DVDs. It's not really an entire scene onto itself so much as the second half of a scene that's been in all versions of the film, in the right place. As you see on the Scandinavian disc, the cop is talking to the doctor on the street, he gets into his car and drives off, and then the camera pans back to the doctor, who turns. Then the shot freezes into a still frame and fades to black. That last bit may seem odd, but that's because Italian films in those days were often shown in their home country in two parts, so they had act breaks. The pacing of Lamberto Bava's Demons, for example, actually makes more sense when you watch Arrow's blu-ray with the chapter cards still in them. So it freezes and fades to black because that would've been intermission time. When the films were released in the US, those breaks were trimmed out and the two halves glued together as one long, standard movie.

The only weird thing, is the Anchor Bay version apparently cut the end of that scene, so the shot ends with the cop's car driving away, but then stuck the shot of the doctor on the street much later in the film, towards the climax, where it makes no sense. So the six million dollar question now, is: how does that scene play on Blue Underground's blu-ray? Did they fix it?

Well, sort of. The shot is no longer stuck in at the end of the film where it doesn't belong. But it's also not back where it does belong. BU's shot of them two on the street still ends with the cop's car driving away. So Another World's DVD is a little more complete, because it does have that moment in, but at least BU no longer has that weird, out of sequence error. Plus, you could argue that since the fade out is part of the act break, that the film version maybe shouldn't have that moment anyway. I've seen it argued online that the camera returning to the doctor is there to make him appear suspicious, but watching the film, I don't think it does that. There was nothing there to indicate to me, oh wait, maybe the doctor's the killer! He just seems to be contemplating the severity of the issues he and the cop were discussing. And having the shot freeze frame is a little unnatural, since that doesn't happen anyplace else in the film. It's just leading up to an act break title card that never appears. In a perfect world, I might prefer a version that includes the camera panning back to the doctor and just cutting right at the moment it freezes. But at this point, it's all splitting hairs. The important thing is the out-of-sequence error has been fixed.
shot missing from Another World DVD.
And besides, there's actually more to this! Sure, you can be a hardcore completist and opt for the AW cut over the BU cut for having that extra bit of footage, except for one thing. I haven't seen any sites even hint at this, but Blue Underground's blu actually has a whole scene that's missing from the AW release! I wasn't expecting to stumble across that. And it's not just the tail end of a pre-exisiting shot; it's a whole scene with dialogue. Very late in the film, at approximately the 84 minute mark, the cop and the doctor are talking on the street (again!), and the doctor is explaining a new theory on who the killer might be. While I wouldn't call it a "crucial" scene, I think it's more important than the chapter break footage from the AW disc. So I'd actually say BU's is the best cut of the film yet.
Another World's 2007 DVD on top; Blue Underground's 2009 blu-ray underneath.
Now, in comparing their quality, the overwhelming advantage obviously goes to BU for being an HD blu-ray, but there are still some interesting differences to point out. The color timing is obviously quite different, with BU having much whiter whites, and overall a stronger, more contrasted look. The framing is also different, with two films being in slightly different aspect ratios: AW at 2.30:1, and BU at 2.35:1. This gives BU more picture on the right and a sliver along the top. However, a couple moments have some interesting exceptions.

BU shares AW's 2.30:1 aspect ratio during the opening and closing credits, as well as one other time... Their exclusive scene with the two cops on the street. All the 2:30 stuff is slightly pillar-boxed, and the picture quality also looks a little softer in those scenes. They've obviously cut it in from another source. Of course, I'm glad they did, mind you.

BU features lossless the English audio in both the original mono and a 7.1 track, with optional English and French and Spanish subtitles. AW has additional optional the English audio in stereo with optional Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish subs.
Extras-wise, Blue Underground comes up surprisingly short. It's still a step-up from their previous, completely barebones editions, though. It features one interview, with Zora Kerova, who played one of the ripper's victims, and runs just under ten minutes. She's the only person represented on here. Besides that, there's a very brief (under 5 minutes) look at some of the NYC locations from the film as they look today, and the theatrical trailer. That's it.

Here's where Another World steps back into the ring. They've got a very substantial, nearly hour long feature on the film's composer, Francesco De Masi. This covers his whole career and goes quite in-depth. Then there's an almost 20 minute interview with Ripper actor Renato Rossini. And there's a really cool, pre-Paura retrospective on Lucio Fulci, which runs about 45 minutes, interviewing tons of his collaborators and fellow filmmakers, from Fabio Frizzi to Sergio Salvati. All great stuff, and all have English-language options. And AW's also got the trailer, a couple bonus trailers, some galleries and a nice insert with notes, though they're not in English.
So, Blue Underground kinda quietly replaced Another World's DVD as the definitive version, although you still might want to pick that disc up for the nice collection of extras, especially since BU is pretty light in that department. And if you still want more extras, Shameless put out a blu in the UK with a couple additional interviews, but their print is censored, so you probably won't want that to be the one you watch for the movie. There's also a French 2-DVD set, which is loaded with extras, but apparently none of them are translated to English. So there you go. It turns out the Blue Underground blu is even better than I thought, and easily recommendable.

2 comments:

  1. Big thanks for doing the grunt work on this so the great of us slobs can make informed purchases. Tip of the hat.

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  2. Correction, "great" should be "rest" .

    ReplyDelete