Don’t Torture a Duckling, 1972.
Directed by Lucio Fulci.
Starring Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Tomas Milian, Irene Papas, and Marc Porel.
A rural Italian village is plagued by child murders and the finger of suspicion points to several of its locals.
Set in rural Southern Italy, Don’t Torture a Duckling followed in the wake of director Lucio Fulci’s glamorous giallo A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, a taut thriller set in the glitzy world of swinging London. …Duckling, despite also being a giallo, is a rather different beast with its gentler, less colourful location but also its themes of social upheaval, differing beliefs and that biggest of targets for this particular director, the Catholic Church.
The plot involves the quiet village of Accendura where the peace is shattered by a spate of child murders. Naturally, the residents are outraged and want the killer caught but the local police force seem to be drawing a blank despite a list of possible suspects that include the local witch, a visiting beauty with a promiscuous lifestyle, a peeping tom, the village priest and his odd mother plus a few other local characters. Newspaper reporter Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milian – Almost Human) comes to the village to try and find out who the killer is but as he and the police are crossing the suspects off their list the bodies keep piling up, so just who is responsible?
Well, all is revealed at the end of the movie of course but before you get to that point Lucio Fulci is going to hammer home a few of his thoughts on social standing, class, religion and small town ideals in a film that isn’t always easy to follow – in fact, at times it feels damn near inaccessible – and veers towards uncomfortable viewing on occasion but bubbling away underneath is a giallo that if not the most exciting you’ll ever see is at least one of the most unique thanks to Fulci’s decision not to follow the template laid down by Mario Bava and Dario Argento.
For a Lucio Fulci film the gore quota is relatively low but there is an undercurrent of barely-tamed violence that simmers throughout the whole thing, only really coming to the fore in a vicious set piece involving a character being whipped with chains; a scene that, ironically, is more disturbing once you realise the full implication of said whipping as the aftermath plays out. Elsewhere, there is some nudity that is somewhat necessary to set up one of the suspects as a person of dubious morals but had the genders (and ages) been reversed then the morals of the director may also have been called into question as well as that of the character. Gotta love the 1970s…
But for all of the good things about Don’t Torture a Duckling, like the unusual setting, the variety of characters, fun performances from Tomas Milian and the stunning Barbara Bouchet, and Lucio Fulci’s ability to create consistent unease and a claustrophobic atmosphere, there is also very little of interest to anybody not fully invested in giallo movies or Lucio Fulci completists. If truth be told, the culprit is fairly obvious from the moment we first meet them and Fulci does spend a lot of time throwing in several red herrings that could probably have been slimmed down a bit, especially as the script isn’t all that slick and the dialogue awkward. At 105 minutes the running time is also a bit too long and saps the energy from a lot of the story, with the two main (i.e. most interesting) characters who get to the bottom of the mystery only getting together 20 minutes before the end of the film. Had they teamed up earlier the pacing may have been less of a problem but instead we float between characters a little too haphazardly until it all comes together at the very end, which is where Fulci gets to let loose a little bit and we get a flash of some of the extreme splatter that the director is known for (although there are other special effects in the finale that the Blu-ray transfer has not been too kind towards).
Overall, Don’t Torture a Duckling is a good giallo thriller but not really a great one. There are enough differences between this and the increasingly formulaic gialli that Fulci’s contemporaries were putting out that mark it as an interesting curveball but it is not exciting or sufficiently crafted enough to put it up amongst the likes of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage or Blood & Black Lace when it comes to entertainment value. The Blu-ray transfer is fairly crisp and clean without being remarkable and the disc comes loaded with extras, including a fascinating video discussion with author Mikel J. Koven about gialli and how Don’t Torture a Duckling deviates from some of the clichés plus there is an audio commentary from author Troy Howarth and a few other titbits about the film and Lucio Fulci in general, so for collectors this package is probably worth dipping your hands into your pockets for but for anyone else the appeal is very limited.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★