I wish that I had the kind of memories of my first encounter with this film as I do the others that are on this blog. Usually I break into an immediate fondness and start recalling the many who-and-whatzits of where I was in life when I first held the video box to most of these titles because I like to share the manners in which I got to know some of these bad boys and girls. Now that I think back on all those mom-and-pop shops (and the not-so-mom-and-pops) I walked through during my teenage years, I don’t ever remember seeing this on any shelf – believe me, I’d remember that fantastic poster art! (I loved it so much it’s the banner of this blog!) Hmmm, why didn’t I ever see this one if I can recall boxes for Superstition and The Seven Doors of Death? I didn’t get into Italian sleaze cinema until the mid-to-late nineties, after I’d both discovered and then ridden the Suspiria train a few hundred-or-so times. By the time I did enough reading on this to go actually out and look for it, it was readily available on DVD so I apologize for not getting that warm-and-toasty feeling when I talk about The New York Ripper – though I honestly wish I could.
I started taking time to research titles and directors and slowly started to become more and more interested in films coming from that other end of the world. I wasn’t even aware at that time that horror films came out of any other country but the U.S. – as ridiculous as that sounds - and little did I know that a great deal of these films I was discovering would top most of the stuff I’d seen that was being home-brewed here. I came across this entry about two years after I’d already seen Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond and after reading about this particular one - and other films of his - on countless message boards over the internet and learning about its infamous reputation overseas, I couldn’t resist in tracking/picking up a copy of Blue Underground’s release at the local Rapsutin’s for under ten bucks just to see what the big deal was about. I won’t go into how it was one of the original (and more infamous) “Video Nasties” in Britain, how copies of it were famously escorted out of the country, and how it was banned outfight for many years, because if you’re a die-hard as I am, you already know everything there is to know about Lo Squartatore de New York. I already knew who was in it before even sitting down to watch it: Andrea Occhipinti (A Blade In the Dark), Zora Kerova (who was in Cannibal Ferox) so with the experience I’ve had with horror films, I pretty much thought I had figured out how this was going to play out. If you’ve seen this (which you have – why else would you be reading this?), you know that I was completely wrong.
I won’t give away the details of the plot because somehow I have this pre-conceived notion that you’ve either already seen it or know enough about it to be interested in this post. And this is one of those films that I wouldn’t even think of giving away scene-by-scene because I want you, the reader, to be able to watch a film as this and form your own opinion (If you’ve read my review for “The Hazing” – you’ll note that I gave away the entire film, which actually caused someone who hadn’t seen it yet to send me a very nasty email). I do have to admit that I get such a laugh out of the film’s opening sequence and how it flawlessly breaks into a “CHiPS” kind of theme, musically. Many Italian-produced horror films (and their respective trailers) begin with (or shamelessly contain) this kind of cheesy disco-tinged track (Can you say, “Cannibal Ferox”, “The House on the Edge of the Park”?)
After a bizarre scene of a dog finding a random severed hand in a bush, we get introduced to the film’s premise: Someone in a [lousy] Donald Duck voice is killing people across New York City and the police force – complete with a closeted homosexual college psychoanalyst and a chief with a penchant for prostitutes - tries their best to solve the mystery. What ensues is nothing but trash and sleaze and still, after multiple viewings – as I’m doing now for purposes of this essay – manages to make me both cringe and howl in laughter, sometimes simultaneously. One of the film’s overall highlights, for me, is the photographing of the wonderfulness that is/was the old 42nd Street, lovingly portrayed in gorgeous colors before the camera takes us to a live sex show and the extremely brutal murder of its actress by a broken bottle right-bloody-smack in the vajay-jay. I don’t think I’ve seen a murder executed anywhere else in horror history in that same manner. There is a cold darkness and feeling of hopelessness to the film that has to be experienced to be believed. This is no happy movie and that’s something I must stress. There is nothing redeemable about sitting through this piece of horror history. I sometimes try to figure out if the intention from the beginning was to prove a point by purposely making the film in an over-the-top fashion or if it just ended up that way once things were edited and put together. There are images so darky constructed that it does give a feeling of impending doom and for brief moments, we are watching a genuine horror film whose sole motive is to offend – and that it does. Then, just as one begins to get comfortable (or not so, depending on your taste), scenes such as the infamous “toe job” scene in the tavern interrupt and become perfect halfway-points between titillating and outright revolting but yet still manage to make me burst out loud in hysterics crying out, “What the f@#* was that?!”.
Conversely, there are moments such as the scene in the theater (the dream sequence) that are absolutely gorgeous. The poor girl alone having being chased by someone who just brutally attacked her and there is a deep helplessness in her eyes, as she looks around to see if he, the assaulter, can see her. Then, in a blinding light, she sees a familiar face and it suddenly slashes her with a razor point-blank. She screams over and over again until she wakes up only to find the familiar face [her boyfriend, Andrea Occhipinti] in the room with her. She slowly tells him her nightmare in detail, and then reveals to him that he was the one that assaulted her. That one scene is fantastic and probably my favorite scene in the entire film. Did I mention that I have a slight crush on Mr. Occhipinti? His chiseled good looks, his brooding eyes, those amazing lips. Ever since my first viewing of A Blade in the Dark…and for the sake of this blog, I’ll stop there.
One scene that drives me into fits of uncontrollable laughter is the scene when one of the detectives (the homosexual college psychoanalyst) is seen at a corner newsstand looking through porn magazines - gay porn magazines. I giggle because maybe I, myself, remember that part of the 80’s? It cracks me up how the cashier plays it off, stuffing an issue of Blueboy into a copy of the New York Times for him ever so discreetly. Suddenly, for a few brief moments, I’m a curious teenage boy again remembering…well, (pause) just remembering. The first time I watched this scene I admittedly had to rewind it and see it a few times on repeat. As I’m writing I wonder to myself if Mr. Fulci made this movie in the manner that he did to make a political statement or maybe, a disguised social commentary? Was he trying to make a point by being grossly misogynistic? The constant shots of New York’s seedy underground sex shops and neon lights (along with a theater marquee displaying a banner for Final Exam!) pave the way for scenes such as the slashing of the girl bound to the bed. The killer, as he caresses her body slowly with a razorblade, dancing along her skin as he laughs running it down her torso, opening her up and tearing her flesh apart. The slashing of her nipple and eyeball painted vividly and in such a grotesque and realistic fashion that you can’t help but scream as you’re watching. On the imdb boards, someone even claims that this particular scene is cut and that it goes even further by having the girl get her crotch gruesomely slashed – which would make sense seeing that once the scene is over, the long shot once the cops are there shows her nether region mutilated.
The climax of the film is fantastic, which I won’t give away and though it leaves the film overwhelmingly ambiguous, it’s still great. It’s one of those downbeat endings that leave you thinking, although you really don’t want to. It will leave you confused – as it is pretty far-fetched - and wanting more but yet in its own right it does the job. The final scene will leave you guessing but I’ll leave it at that.
In actuality, this film isn’t as graphic as it’s made out to be, but you do have to take into consideration the time in which it was released. For the 1980’s it was pretty brutal (the first murder in the car, that broken bottle to the vag, the sliced nipple and slice across the eyeball). Even by today’s standards some of the murders are pretty intense. The film does deliver a dank and putrid atmosphere but somehow doesn’t do it enough to drag you into its gaping jaws the way you’re expecting it to. Some of the sexuality in the film is more explicit than most were used to then (a toe job anyone? LOL!) and its tinged with enough sleaze and coarseness to fill a stew pot and feed a homeless shelter. That last sentence should tell you everything.
I really can’t say that this would be “essential” viewing, per se, but only because it’s one of the more notorious works by Mr. Fulci do I even recommend it. Just with its history and track record in Europe (and I believe, Australia) it’s one to look at, at least once. Fulci has plenty of hits and misses in his filmography but if you’re even the slightest bit curious, seek this one out. It’s available to rent via Netflix in both DVD form and instant streaming. Your jaw will drop and you’ll gasp out loud a few times without even knowing it. The rest of the time you’ll be laughing at the utterly ridiculous dialogue and at the ultra-random WTF moments scattered throughout – three fingered red herrings and all. I would , though, probably also recommend getting a warm bath (with a good antibacterial soap) ready just before pressing play on this evil little nasty, because with the filth and stench you’re going to have to endure, you will want to wash and scrub yourself down as hard as you can over and over again after you finish this!