Lucio Fulci is a familiar name to any who’ve dove into the world of horror film that exists beyond your local multiplex. His most recognized contributions to the genre we know and love are Zombie and The Beyond, with films such as The Gates of Hell and House by the Cemetery coming in as close seconds. Before he took the low road into the grue district however, Fulci cut his teeth crafting giallo films, the gory murder mysteries from Italy that rose to the height of their popularity in the ‘70s. Don’t Torture A Duckling, in addition to being a memorable mouthful of a title, is one of the finest early examples of the genre, despite (or more likely, because of) the changes that Fulci made thruought that set this film a little outside the rest of the pack.
Don’t Torture a Duckling ditches the narrow alleys and congested streets of Italy’s cities (the standard setting for most Giallo) and instead transplants this story of death to the scenic countryside, situating the story in a small village that gives the off the impression this is the kind of place where things don’t change very often. This movie is also unique among its kin for replacing the standard female victims with young boys, a move that makes everything just that much sinister. Eschewed as well are the black gloves of the killer so synonymous with the genre, replaced here with dirty hands that shakily stick pins into rough hewn clay dolls. Most of the other genre standards are here though – musical stings, sketchy looking gore effects, weird eyeball close ups. Toss in a priest and a witch and some odd locals and you have all the makings of a classic Italian mystery by way of Fulci.
The “detective” figure in Don’t Torture a Duckling, Andrea Martelli, is actually a reporter this time around, in town to investigate the rash of child killings that have struck the village. Initially, a local “simpleton” and part time peeping tom is believed to be behind the murders and is taken in, but this quickly changes when another child is murdered. Martelli eventually joins up with a farmer model who he recognizes from the city who has been staying in her fathers house and waiting for a drug scandal she was involved with to die down. She’s been deemed a “slut” but the locals due to her choice of wearing the most scandalous of items – a sort of short skirt. so drugs scandals are fine, just keep those legs covered up i guess? We’re also introduced to a priest who runs the local parish, working with the children and considered hip thanks to his affinity for soccer. We also meet a former teacher and student of black magic who live on the outskirts of town because this story was sorely missing some witch type figures up to this point. Guess who gets pegged for the murders? The identity of the killer is telegraphed pretty early on to all but the most unobservant of viewers, but that never really detracts from the experience. There’s so many well crafted and beautifully shot pieces that go into creating the whole that is Don’t Torture A Duckling that even when you figure out what’s going to happen and how things will play out, it’s still a delight to watch it unfold.
Being that this is an Arrow remaster, you’re treated to a great transfer from the original stock as well as a boatload of extras. There are interviews with Fucli, actor Florinda Bolkan and numerous other members of the crew in addition to a commentary track provided by Troy Howarth, author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and Italian Giallo Film as well as a video essay from critic Kat Elinger. Grab a copy directly from Arrow Films here.
-Scott Floronic (@scottfloronic)