Lucio Fulci takes a break from his supernatural slasher movies (see: The Beyond, House By The Cemetery and City Of The Living Dead) to revisit his second favorite genre, the Donald Duck related slasher.
His first go around with Disney’s miserable mallard was detailed in Don’t Torture A Duckling. In that film a Donald Duck doll was an important clue to the identity of a raving madman. In The New York Ripper, it isn’t a Donald Duck doll that figures prominently, but a killer that taunts the police by calling them up on the phone and talking like Donald Duck, complete with quacking noises!
As I listened to this goof go on and on (less time calling in threats and more time carrying them out please!) I couldn’t help but think that his voice sounded closer to Batman’s tubby nemesis the Penguin, than to Donald Duck, though admittedly the quacking was very well done.
It all starts when a man and his dog are playing fetch along the river in New York City and that dumb dog goes off and brings back a severed hand instead of the driftwood the old coot threw to him!
You get an idea of what level Fulci was working at when the opening credits roll over a still shot of the severed hand in the dog’s mouth. Fulci realizes though that most of his audience are expecting a little more than a doggy bag of left over body parts, so we get a big kill scene on a ferry.
Our first real problem crops up when we meet our cop in charge of investigating this string of homicides. Lt. Williams is an old skinny guy who walks around in a Columbo trench coat and has the personality of an old, skinny cop in a trench coat.
His first big break is from the nosy landlady of one of the dead girls who says something about how she accidentally overheard a phone conversation where a guy was talking like a duck to this girl.
Williams has seen enough serial killer movies to know that he should check with one of those eggheads that spends equal parts time studying the demented forms the human psyche can assume and grooming their beards.
In this case, the bearded one is Dr. Paul Davis. He’s played by the same guy that was the lead in House By The Cemetery and he does little else in this movie except play chess against a computer and ramble off the standard psychobabble about serial killers. (He’s smart, from a good family, and is freaking nuts!)
Lt. Williams then gets a phone call from Donald Duck while he’s trying to enjoy time with his favorite hooker, Kitty. Donald is on the line talking to Lt. Williams and he knows that Lt. Williams likes to shack up with Kitty and isn’t it so scary that he followed him there and watched him. Of course, I don’t know how he knew which apartment he went into, who lived there, or how he even got her phone number.
So who is this Donald Duck character and what’s his problem? Suspicion naturally falls on the three-fingered Greek guy who is out there seducing and trying to rape some women. Of course, the viewer’s suspicion is that this is surely a red herring since if you were a three fingered Greek guy, you already have a gimmick and wouldn’t need to impersonate water fowl.
Donald Duck calls Lt. Williams again and this time they trace the phone call to a booth at the waterfront, but that tricky devil is using a walkie talkie set next to a phone! He babbles on and on about dedicating a killing to Williams and the next thing we know Williams realizes with utter horror that Donald Duck is going to kill his favorite hooker, Kitty!
It’s really as dumb as it all sounds, but you do get to see Lt. Williams blast a hole in the killer’s face at the end of the movie.
Fulci sets up an interesting world view in this movie, where everyone and everything is involved with sex. The problem is that the whole payoff doesn’t involve any of that.
The killer isn’t motivated by any of the sexual hangups portrayed in the movie and seems to be driven by some misplaced sense of revenge and anger. Among the things that Fulci was able to do in Don’t Torture A Duckling was connect up his killer’s motive with the rest of the film’s themes (fear of outsiders and progress).
That movie was also much more successful because the violence was shocking in its viciousness and advanced those themes. In this movie, the violence doesn’t have any bearing on the motive or the theme about omnipresent sexual appetites. It’s there to purely to titillate (like many of the movie’s non-violent scenes) and provide an avenue for Fulci to display his trademark gore.
There isn’t really anything going on by either the doctor or the cop that leads them to discover the identity of the killer. They move from crime scene to crime scene, taking calls from Donald Duck, talking amongst themselves and eventually by process of elimination show up at the house of the only suspect, while the suspect is trying to kill again.
With the lack of mystery, the movie has to rely on the charisma of its characters (none) and the atmosphere it generates (seedy yet uninteresting) and without any of those it all feels like an empty vessel designed to showcase a few gory killings. A sleazy and violent epic of Fulci-style cinema (bad music, exaggerated camera work, exaggerated gore, and bearded guys) that he handled with much more aplomb in the far superior Don’t Torture A Duckling.
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