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Blu-Ray Review - DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972)

DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING review
A rural Italian village is ravaged by a series of child murders.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Lucio Fulci

Starring: Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Tomas Milian, Irene Papas, Marc Porel

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In the decades following World War II, Italy experienced the 'economic miracle', enjoying a newfound prosperity that transformed the country from an agricultural backwater into an industrial superpower. It also became a giant of cinema, both with homegrown productions and Hollywood's use of Rome's famous Cinecitta studios. In genres like the western and the peplum, Italian cinema was beating Hollywood at its own game. It was a great time to be an Italian, and this was reflected in the upbeat, celebratory nature of many of its films. Rural life was romanticised by the neo-realists, while life in the big cities was shown as impossibly glamorous, a world populated by handsome men like Marcello Mastroianni and beautiful women like Sophia Loren.

In the '70s, things began to change as Italy's economy hit a downward spiral. Italian movies became dark and cynical, and often contained not so subtle anti-capitalist commentaries. In the giallo genre, the sexual freedom and female liberation of the '60s seemed to be constantly punished, with nubile, carefree young women slaughtered in graphic detail by an array of black-gloved killers.


DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING

While technically a giallo, Lucio Fulci's 1972 Don't Torture a Duckling stands out from its contemporaries in many ways. Rather than criticising progressive lifestyles, Fulci takes a pop at the traditional conservatism of Italy, with the Catholic Church his main target. While most gialli took place in the cities of the North, Duckling plays out in the sun-baked rural south. But perhaps what's most notable is the film's lack of a singular protagonist, as Fulci offers an almost docudrama look at a few summer weeks in a village from hell.

Fulci opens his film with a striking image - that of a giant overpass cutting through the film's central location, the rural hamlet of Accendura. Like Bates Motel, Accendura has been left behind by progress, bypassed by the modern world. Within minutes, Fulci has offered us images that paint a horrid picture of the place. A gypsy woman digs up the skeleton of an infant. A young boy attacks a lizard with his catapult. The village idiot is chastised by kids when caught spying on the activities of a pair of grotesque prostitutes. And ominously, all is accompanied by the chimes of the local church bells.


DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING

Then we're hit with a sudden image of beauty, the naked form of Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet), a society girl from the city forced to lay low until a drug scandal blows over, lounging on her indoor sunbed. When the adolescent son of her maid enters her boudoir with a jug of lemonade, Patrizia makes no effort to hide her modesty, instead teasing the boy about his burgeoning sexuality. What must be going through the poor lad's mind?

Patrizia is the first suspect Fulci lines up in this mystery as the corpses of Accendura's young boys begin to pile up. Could Patrizia be having her wicked way with the kids before offing them? Or perhaps it's the local gypsy woman Magiara (Florinda Bolkan), who performs black magic rituals involving what appears to be voodoo dolls. Surely it couldn't be local priest Don Alberto (Marc Poreli), who spends his afternoons playing soccer with the young lads. Or perhaps it's the aforementioned village simpleton, Giuseppe (Vito Passeri).

With such a diverse group of suspects, Fulci plays into his audience's distinct prejudices. Most represent the type of people often viewed with mistrust by the conservative minded - the independent, sexually liberated woman; the practitioner of a strain of magic ungoverned by the Catholic church (hypocritically, the townsfolk are enamoured by a local hermit who practices a form of white Voodoo approved by Rome). Liberals will likely cast a suspicious eye over the cleric, or the local police chief who allows a string of atrocities to go unpunished.


DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING

Duckling is perhaps best known for a heartbreaking and anger-inducing sequence in which a group of the town's menfolk carry out a brutal attack on Magiara, despite the police having just cleared her of suspicion. It's a scene that's difficult to watch, not just for the graphic violence presented, but for how it so brutally represents the volatile nature of those with ignorant minds given an outlet to enact their prejudices in the most vicious fashion. From a filmmaking perspective however it's a thing of cruel beauty. Decades before Tarantino had Michael Madsen lop off a cop's ear to the strains of Steeler's Wheel, Fulci scores his atrocity with the sound of a car radio turned up loud to drown out Magiara's screams and pleas. A DJ introduces a series of tunes, culminating in Riz Ortolani's lush theme song, its soft harmonies providing stark contrast to the horror onscreen.

Ultimately, Fulci makes it clear which side of the conservative/liberal divide he falls on, as Patrizia becomes the closest the film has to a hero, teaming with a journalist (Tomas Milian) to expose the real killer. Fulci's choice of antagonist was quite daring for 1972, but prophetic given certain revelations that would emerge in the following decade. In the '80s, the small town prejudices of the Accendura villagers began to play out on a grand scale in western society, with those with an interest in the dark arts, or even heavy metal or horror movies, scapegoated by the real villains of the time, the church and state. Indeed, Fulci himself was targeted by the 'protest too loudly' crowd, with several of his films making the Video Nasty list. But with Don't Torture a Duckling, Fulci managed to get a few kicks against the pricks in early.
Extras:

Feature commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films; an informative discussion with Mikel J. Koven, author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo FilmHell is Already in Us, a video essay in which critic Kat Ellinger defends Fulci against accusations of misogyny; Interviews with Fulci, Bolkan, cinematographer Sergio D’Offizi, assistant editor Bruno Micheli and assistant makeup artist Maurizio Trani; Italian and English language versions of the film; and a booklet with new writing by Barry Forshaw and Howard Hughes (first pressing only).

Don't Torture a Duckling is available on dual format blu-ray/DVD from Arrow Video now.

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