Don’t Torture a Duckling

| October 6, 2017

There are few names in the pantheon of Italian genre directors that can instantly conjure an image for fans quite like Lucio Fulci. Like many of his contemporaries, Fulci directed a wide array of films over his long career. He may be best known for his gruesome and frequently surreal horror films like Zombie and his “Gates of Hell” trilogy (City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and House by the Cemetery), but Fulci also directed a few well-regarded gialli. Perhaps his best giallo (and arguably best film, period) is 1972’s Don’t Torture a Duckling, in which Fulci gave the familiar genre a few grim twists that make it an unforgettable experience.

The small village of Accendura is terrorized by a rash of child killings. Locals suspect the “witch” Maciara (Florinda Bolkan), and as the body count rises the fear in the town threatens to boil over. Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milian), a reporter, arrives in town and launches his own investigation into the murders. Terrifyingly, there is no shortage of suspects. Even Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet), a young woman who joins Andrea’s search for the truth, has made a hobby of indecent exposure to minors. The police are useless, and the church is just desperate to keep the peace. But as Andrea and Patrizia begin to uncover the dark secrets of the town, they find themselves in a desperate race against time to stop the killer before any more children die–and before the townspeople finally snap and lynch Maciara.

Fulci brings the same preoccupation with violence to Don’t Torture a Duckling as he did to the Spaghetti Western (the brutal Massacre Time) and his infamous later horror films. But here, it’s played to a more powerfully queasy effect than usual, especially in a horrific scene of mob violence and a finale that is so outrageous it would border on comical if it wasn’t so cathartic. There weren’t many gialli that dealt with child murders, and Fulci’s other gialli were much more in line with their contemporaries. Perversion Story dealt with an elaborate insurance fraud scheme, and A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin takes place among the idle and depraved rich. But this film followed Aldo Lado’s classic Who Saw Her Die? into theaters and may have been influenced by its success. Both are excellent mysteries that use a backdrop of terrifying violence against children to explore how adults deal (or avoid dealing) with the conditions in society and in their own relationships that allow such things to happen.

While Fulci is often dismissed as a trafficker in gore and cheap shock–an argument that his later work would do little to refute–Don’t Torture a Duckling is a genuinely intelligent and confrontational film. Due to its openly critical stance on the Catholic Church, the film was difficult to see for decades after its original release. Whether Fulci felt obliged to bow to market pressures and avoid such defiance in the future or whether he felt he had said what he needed to say on the subject is uncertain, but his work would never deal so openly with such topics again. Don’t Torture a Duckling absolutely deserves a place among the classics of giallo cinema, and hopefully with Arrow’s beautiful new Blu-ray/DVD edition packed with special features will help increase its reputation both inside and outside the horror/exploitation community.

Arrow Video released Don’t Torture a Duckling on Blu-ray/DVD on 3 October 2017. Special features include a feature-length commentary by Troy Howarth (author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films), a video discussion entitled “Giallo a la Campagna” with Michael J. Koven (author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film), a video essay entitled “Hell Is Already in Us” by film critic Kat Ellinger, a 1988 audio interview with Lucio Fulci, interviews with Fulci, Florinda Bolkan, cinematographer Sergio D’Offizi, assistant editor Bruno Micheli and assistant makeup artist Maurizio Trani, and a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Timothy Pittides. The first pressing also includes a booklet with new writing on the film by Barry Forshaw (author of Euro Noir: The Pocket Essential Guide to European Crime Fiction, Film and TV) and Howard Hughes.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium: www.medium.com/@rabbitroom
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