Lo Squartatore di New York
(The New York Ripper)
Synopsis: A mad killer is stalking beautiful young women in New York City. Detective Williams is on the case, but the clues are slim: the killer usually phones in a taunting message to the police before he kills, using a duck voice ("Quack quack quack!"); and one victim who managed to evade being sliced remembers the stalker was missing two fingers from his left hand.
-- James O'Neill, Terror on Tape (New York: Billboard Books, 1994)
Critics notwithstanding, this is a very convincing giallo in which Fulci's sense of irony is given free reign. The reviewers who found this extremely gory film unwatchable have forgotten that Fulci got his start in comedy. This movie manages to skewer both American movies and American attitudes by setting up all the classic misogynist slasher clichés... and then turning them gleefully upside down.
Everyone in the movie treats women like meat, either meat to play with or meat to carve, but this offensive premise is so overstated it becomes (almost) funny. The killer's quack-attacks turn even the grisliest splatter-scenes into parodies, until the deliberately ultra-exploitative ending sours all the fun.
It is the callous urban-American disregard for human dignity, especially toward women, that has pushed the killer over the edge into madness. He kills out of desperation over the plight of his daughter, who is degenerating and dying of lymphogranuloma:
in a country like America where being a winner is compulsory."
Fulci, quoted in Palmerini & Mistretta, Spaghetti Nightmares
(Key West: Fantasma Books, 1996)
In the end, when the "heroine" discovers the killer's identity, we expect the usual chase-of-the-screaming-innocent... instead, in keeping with the brutality of the whole film, the pretty young thing attacks first! The job is finished with brutal precision by the police, and the case is closed... except that the Ripper's little daughter is left alone to die. Fulci's ability to play off so many exploitation elements against each other is astonishing.
A key visual gag involves theatre marquees: the camera will pan across various Manhattan streetscapes and come to rest on either a Sex Show or a movie like "Slaughter in San Francisco". The counterpoint of sex-marquees and violence-marquees mimics the tone of the whole film, and acts as an ironic comment on the goings-on (thinking of ironic comments, Fulci himself has a cameo as the Chief of Police, warning Detective Williams not to create a panic in the press).
Finally: Why a Duck? It's the question that's been asked more than any other concerning this film (the next most common being: "why was this movie even made?", which I'm going to side-step). Foreign (i.e., English-speaking) audiences need to know that Donald Duck is called "Paperino" - "duckling" - in Italian. Lo Squartatore is filled with references to Fulci's earlier thriller, Non Si Sevizia un Paperino/Don't Torture the Duckling, including the fact that a sick child and a toy duck help give away the killer's identity. In the earlier movie, the hunt for the murderer grew uglier as the conservative country folk turned on the outcasts of their community for retribution, when in fact the murderer is one of them, killing for much the same reason; the similar irony of Lo Squartatore is that the killer falls right in line with the stereotypical attitudes of his urban community even though he thinks he is attacking them.