Of the three main maestros of Italian horror, it is Lucio Fulci who is regarded the most lurid, gory, even the trashiest of the trio, or at least he might have been once upon a time. Following many of the tropes associated with the genre, this Giallo also touches on prostitution, child murder, paedophilia, religion, truth, loss, and motherhood, Don’t Torture a Duckling is replete with symbolism and depth, the term ‘masterpiece’ has been somewhat cheapened over the years but this could well be Fulci’s.
Opening in rural Southern Italy, the landscape is split by an ugly concrete motorway bringing with it a bit of modernity; prostitutes, and the ‘outsiders’ (following the first of the murders) in the form of rich ex-drug addict Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet) and city journalist Andrea (Tomas Milian). The idyll of the small village is rocked when the first of the boys, Bruno, goes missing. His brutal murder is quickly followed by the senseless deaths of his friends Michele, and Tonino. Suspicions soon lead to a local ‘witch’ Magiara (Florinda Bolkan), one-time student of eccentric black magic-practitioner Francesco (George Wilson), and of course because of her difference – even after she is exonerated – some local men take the law into their own torturous and contemptible hands, little do they know that the real culprit is much closer to home. It is down to Patrizia and Andrea to work together and expose the killer before he/she strikes again.
Mixing the thematic and stylistic tropes of the giallo with Gothic horror, Fulci makes women the interesting subjects in the narrative, especially Bolkan who is not only the most sympathetic character but whose performance is exceptional. In a film about the destruction of innocence and child murder, it isn’t actually their disturbing deaths that are the most shocking. Fulci builds the superstition and style, mood, tone and atmosphere with light and bright wide exterior shots and juxtaposes them with claustrophobic dark interiors and yet subversively, just as the killer comes from within the community so, too, are these children killed outdoors.
Violence is, as one can expect, never shied away from and a truly gripping story intensifies to an emotional and visceral crescendo which is unforgettable thanks mainly to the editing and that slightly grating piece of pop music used to accompany the brutality. Yes, the effects are a little dated and the acting, a tad histrionic but it’s in keeping with the genre and boy, what a social commentary it provides. Traditional, old-fashioned values and small-town mentality are pulled apart and what goes hand-in-hand with that? Religion. Understandably, this film courted controversy in the eyes of the Catholic Church especially given the film’s ending, which is almost gleeful in its transgression (the director’s own Catholicism making it all the more delicious and rebellious) especially considering it’s length, audacity and those gratuitous close-ups.
While Lucio Fulci never seemed to have the sumptuous production value of Mario Bava or the operatic visual mania of Dario Argento, he’s integral to the period, Gialli, and Italian horror – Don’t Torture a Duckling more than proves that and now, thanks to Arrow Video you can view it in all its lurid high definition gory glory.
The Blood of Innocents (30 mins) – This video essay is delivered by Dr. Mikel J. Koven from the University of Worcester and author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film. He discusses the concept of ‘vernacular cinema’ (those films which tend to avoid the bourgeoise mainstream audience) with enthusiasm and makes this a fascinating lecture. While it is ultimately a bloke behind a desk, the essay is intercut with many clips of multiple film texts which fall under the Giallo umbrella including work from Sergio Martino, Dario Argento, Pupi Avati, and Antonio Bido.
Hell is Already in Us (20 mins) – Written and narrated by Kat Ellinger, this audio essay focusses on violence and gender with Ellinger defending the claim that Lucio Fulci was a misogynist filmmaker. She refers specifically to his 1982 New York Ripper and Don’t Torture a Duckling to state her case; that Fulci confronts the taboo and uses his art-form to comment upon civilisation and depicting oppressive patriarchal society in all its evil glory.
Audio Interview (Part 1: 20 mins/Part 2: 15 mins) – In August 1988, journalist Gaetano Mistretta sent a letter with a list of questions to the filmmaker and Fulci recorded an audio tape complete with all his answers and sent it back to Mistretta. It’s a great listen full of personal anecdotes about his process, his grandchildren even though we all know, he adds with a chuckle, that “children are monsters”, his favourite filmmakers (Argento, Cronenberg, Kubrick and Bava) and the correct length of a horror film (it’s 80 mins btw).
Interview with Florinda Bolkan (27 mins) – Filmed for Freak-O-Rama in 2016, one of Don’t Torture a Duckling‘s leading ladies chats about her experiences on set with Fulci (having completed A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin the previous year with him), whom she deemed a gentle man and genius. Discussion turns to that scene and despite never viewing it in its entirety, she agrees to watch it for the first time in 44 years, and is understandably horrified by it. Additional segments from this 2016 programme are also contained in the special edition content , all include those involved with Duckling including: The DP’s Eye (45 mins) – time spent with cinematographer Sergio D’Offizi, From the Cutting Table (25 mins) – assistant editor Bruno Micheli takes us through his process and in Endless Torture (15 mins) make-up artist Maurizio Trani talks his history with make-up, Fulci and the special effects used during the Bolkan scenes.
Audio Commentary provided by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films.
Reverse sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Timothy Pittides.
First pressing only: collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Barry Forshaw and Howard Hughes (not available for review).
Region: AB 1/2|Rating 18|Language: Italian/English|Subtitles: English|Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1|Audio: Mono|Colour|Discs: 2